Pipeline company TransCanada has proposed more changes to the route of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska. But critics say the route is still risky.
TransCanada’s latest proposal is similar to the one it made in April. But it also contains changes in response to comments from the state Department of Environmental Quality and the public. Company spokesman Grady Semmens said TransCanada is responding to feedback it’s gotten. “We‘ve certainly used that to come up with this route in Nebraska that essentially does as much as possible to minimize its environmental impact, avoid areas outside of the official Sandhills area but that are still similar in terms of their soil conditions and that sort of thing…as well as trying to avoid some of the water body issues,” he said.
The company says it would minimize the impact on areas of sandy and thin soil in northern Nebraska by jogging into Boyd County. That county was the scene of bitter environmental protests over a proposed nuclear waste site in the 1980s. The new proposal also changes the route near the towns of Western and Clarks, Nebraska, to avoid water wells.
Jane Kleeb of the opposition group BOLD Nebraska said the new proposal contains some positive elements. But she still opposes the pipeline. “The new route that TransCanada has proposed is still risky. It still crosses really vulnerable areas of our state that have sandy soil which means it’s more prone to risks, to contamination,” she said. “And it still crosses the Ogallala aquifer, something that Governor Heineman as well as lots of citizens and landowners know that we want the pipeline to avoid.”
Kleeb said it would be better not to build the pipeline at all. “As America, we have to decide if we’re serious when we say we want to be energy independent and we want to get off of foreign oil,” she said. “From our perspective, the only thing that we see this pipeline doing is that we are assuming all of the risk and being the middleman for TransCanada to get their export pipeline to the highest bidder on the export market.”
Semmens of TransCanada said the project will benefit American consumers and companies as well. “Keystone XL in particular is designed so that it can pick up oil produced in the U.S. Bakken region (in North Dakota and Montana) as well,” he said, adding “A lot of the companies that are producing oil in the Canadian oil sands are American and American-based companies like Exxon-Mobil.”
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will now evaluate the proposal and then announce the date of a public hearing. It says a final evaluation could go to Governor Dave Heineman by the end of the year. Heineman will then have 30 days to indicate his approval or disapproval to the federal government, which has the final say.
Meanwhile, pipeline opponents are challenging the DEQ’s role, saying the pipeline should be evaluated instead by the Public Service Commission. That could add further delay to the project, which TransCanada first applied for permission to build four years ago.