Oil pipe­line walker hits south­east Neb.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT -

MCCOOL JUNC­TION, Neb. — A New York na­tive who has been walking the pro­posed route of the Key­stone XL pipe­line has reached south­east Ne­braska on his jour­ney from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Ken Il­gu­nas, of Ni­a­gara Falls, N.Y., told the Lin­coln Jour­nal Star as he walked near McCool Junc­tion this week that he has been av­er­ag­ing 15 to 20 miles a day.

Il­gu­nas, 29, set off on the 1,700-mile walk be­cause he ques­tions the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact the tar sands ex­trac­tion process will have near Hardisty in the province of Al­berta. He started in Al­berta in Septem­ber and wants to fin­ish in Fe­bru­ary.

“I’m really con­cerned about cli­mate change, and I thought this walk would help me un­der­stand the is­sue bet­ter,” Il­gu­nas said.

He said he was skep­ti­cal of the pipe­line and pro­duc­tion of fuel from the oil sands of Al­berta when he set out, but he be­came more com­mit­ted to his op­po­si­tion af­ter vis­it­ing the min­ing area.

“When you see dev­as­ta­tion from one edge of the hori­zon to the other, noth­ing but black and dirt and Ar­maged­don tail­ings ponds, you change your mind pretty quickly about what the pipe­line means,” Il­gu­nas said.

Tran­sCanada spokesman Grady Sem­mens noted his com­pany wasn’t ex­tract­ing the oil, only plan­ning to move it.

“We’re sim­ply the trans­porter of the oil that’s pro­duced there,” Sem­mens said.

Af­ter walking more than 800 miles, Il­gu­nas said he’s had a few con­fronta­tions.

A sus­pi­cious po­lice of­fi­cer in Peters­burg, Neb., es­corted him out of town, and he was stopped by a landowner armed with a pis­tol who thought he was up to no good.

He’s also been chased by cows and had to stay in his tent for three days dur­ing a sleet storm in South Dakota.

Il­gu­nas has been ac­com­pa­nied in Ne­braska by Rick Ham­mond, a farmer/rancher and pipe­line op­po­nent from Hordville, Neb. Ham­mond said he doesn’t have the stamina to walk the whole way, but he’ll go as far as pos­si­ble.

“I look at the com­mit­ment that Ken is mak­ing,” Ham­mond said, “and I just want to re­in­force ev­ery­thing he’s do­ing for as long as I can. I think, for the mes­sage he’s try­ing to get out, the longer I stay with him, that will help the cause.”

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