Keystone XL’s reviews hit homestretch

A public hearing set for Tuesday evening in Albion, Neb., kicked off the final phase of reviews for the Keystone XL pipeline that would ferry oil sands crude from Canada to refineries in Texas.

The hearing was meant to give residents of the state a final chance to weigh in on the project before Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman decides whether to recommend it.

The Obama administration is on track to make its final decision by early next year, possibly around March or April.

Supporters of Trans-Canada Corp.’s proposed pipeline rallied in Omaha, Neb., to highlight construction jobs associated with the project. In Washington, D.C., the American Petroleum Institute held a call with reporters to tout the plan.

API’s central region director, John Kerekes, said during the call that with the final public hearing, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality “can conclude deliberations on this project, the governor can make his decision within the next 30 days – which we believe will be supportive of the pipeline – and that decision will be transmitted to the U.S. Department of State and the White House,”

The Obama administration rejected a cross-border permit for that northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year. The State Department said it needed more study, including an environmental analysis of the proposed route through ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska.

TransCanada rerouted the pipeline’s path through Nebraska to avoid the Sand Hills region and other environmentally sensitive areas, triggering a fresh state review. Nebraska regulators are set to issue a final report by year-end. Heineman then has 30 days to issue his verdict.

Separately, the State Department is preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement that assesses the pipeline’s new proposed route. Although the State Department does not need to wait for Heineman’s decision, officials there appear likely to wrap up by the end of the first quarter of 2013, queuing up a final administration decision on whether Keystone XL is in the national interest.

TransCanada broke ground on Keystone XL’s southern leg in August, beginning work a stretch that will connect the oil hub of Cushing, Okla., with the Texas coast.

This flowchart, from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, shows the review process for the rerouted Keystone XL pipeline. (Image: Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality)