While TransCanada remains publicly confident that the State Department will approve the Keystone XL pipeline, they’re taking no chances as a series of hearings gets underway along the pipeline’s routes.

And neither are pipeline opponents.

In Topeka yesterday, pipeline opponents participated in a rally organized by the National Wildlife Federation, while TransCanada representatives and dozens of union members, some from as far away as Tulsa, Oklahoma, attended the hearing.

The New York Times reports that the tiny town of Atkinson, Nebraska, where a hearing is scheduled for Thursday, has called in additional officers from neighboring communities to buttress its police force of three. Amid rumors that TransCanada will be busing in supporters and union members to the hearing, a company spokesman confirms that “supporters from the pipeline industry and organized labor would also be in attendance.”

And today’s hearing in Lincoln, Nebraska, is expected to be so contentious that even the government of Alberta is sending a representative. David Sands, a provincial spokesman and oil sands booster, is in town for the hearing (or perhaps just to enjoy some chicken wings), according to his Twitter feed.

Whether the “listening sessions” will have any effect on the State Department’s decision is yet to be seen. But they will nevertheless provide a clear window into the political forces involved.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.