Oil pipeline walker hits southeast Neb.
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.”