TransCanada didn't give any ground on moving its controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from the Sandhills. But the company promised to consider measures to improve response time in the event of a spill, in a meeting with state senators Tuesday.
The following is the text of the "pool" report on the meeting filed by Kent Warneke, editor of the Norfolk Daily News, the only reporter allowed in the meeting by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood:
After four hours of discussion with state senators Tuesday afternoon in Norfolk, TransCanada officials agreed to consider how they might better address key concerns of Nebraskans in regard to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
"We hear you," Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines, said to the lawmakers. "Let us get back to you on what we might be able to do on some of these issues."
The issues include:
Whether TransCanada would locate employees and equipment closer to pumping stations along the proposed route in Nebraska. Currently, TransCanada has an office in Omaha.
Whether the pipeline company would consider posting a bond to better ensure the availability of long-term financial resources to clean up any spills that might occur.
Consider additional protection for the pumping station planned in Holt County given the high water table in the area.
Determine how much of the pipeline would be encapsulated in concrete to provide additional protection.
Whether TransCanada would entertain the possibility of paying for water testing if a landowner along the route requested it as compared to testing water after a spill might occur.
"Clearly, the contamination of groundwater is the top concern," said Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, who organized Tuesday's meeting.
Pourbaix said he understands the concern. "The Sandhills are a challenge, but pipelines are built where there is surface water all the time," he said.
The issue of whether TransCanada would move the proposed route of the oil pipeline was the topic of numerous comments and questions posed by the four state senators in attendance - Flood, Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, Annette Dubas of Fullerton and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids.
But Pourbaix and Robert Jones, a TransCanada vice president who would be in charge of constructing the Keystone pipeline, didn't give the senators any reason to believe that would happen.
"We understand that the best solution from your perspective is to move the route. We don't believe that is an option for us," Pourbaix said. "But there are things we can do together to improve the situation and add to your comfort level."
Pourbaix and Jones agreed to discuss the issues raised at the meeting with other TransCanada officials and get back to Flood in a matter of days.
"This was a good discussion," Pourbaix said to the senators. "We've learned some things and, hopefully, we've shared some information that you. We'll keep the dialogue open."
The meeting at Flood's law office in Norfolk came amid continued discussions as to whether state senators would call a special session of the Unicameral to consider legislation relating to the siting of the pipeline.
Whether the session takes place was not a topic of discussion at the meeting. But the TransCanada officials offered the opinion that if Nebraska had passed such legislation two or three years ago, the discussions today might be different.
"If the concerns about the route had been made clear 2-3 years ago, we might have been able to change it. To do it now seriously jeopardizes the project," Pourbaix said.
To change the route now would almost certainly delay the project for several years - because of new environmental studies that would be required -- and render it impractical. In the meantime, oil from Canada intended for refineries in Houston that could benefit the U.S. might be shipped elsewhere and the result would be higher gas prices for American consumers, Jones said.
Early in Tuesday's meeting, the senators initially shared their concerns and thoughts and then Pourbaix and Jones responded with extensive information about TransCanada's commitment to safety, its financial stability as a corporation and the engineering safeguards planned for the Keystone XL pipeline.
They also reiterated the findings of the federal environmental impact statement that the current proposed route would have the least environmentally impact of any of the routes studied.
Pourbaix said TransCanada, when it first proposed the Keystone XL pipeline, didn't necessarily realize that it would become such a heated political and environmental issue.
"If the company had had any clue, we would have undertaken more efforts to communicate with the public," he said. "I hope it's not too late for that because what has been lost in all of this is the science and the facts."