Report on Nebraska pipeline route goes to governor

LINCOLN, Neb. — A state evaluation of TransCanada’s new route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Nebraska has been sent to Gov. Dave Heineman, who will have 30 days to review it before sharing his decision with the state and the U.S. State Department.

The more than 2,000 pages include no recommendations from the Department of Environmental Quality, which began accumulating comments in April, held four public informational meetings, conferred with the project developer and conducted a final public hearing in December.

The State Department has federal jurisdiction because the pipeline begins in Canada. Its recommendation will go to President Barack Obama, who has the final say.
TransCanada’s pipeline is designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta Province across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The company also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.

A spokesman for the Nebraska Environmental Quality Department, Brian McManus, told the Lincoln Journal Star on Friday that several people expected department director Mike Linder to add his recommendation.

“But, really, our role, our mission in this, has been to put together a thorough, objective report and present it to the governor,” McManus said. “And we had not planned on including — the director had not planned on including — specific recommendations.”

Environmentalists and other opponents have said the $7 billion project could contaminate groundwater reserves and threaten ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and other states along its 1,700-mile path.

Heineman has supported the pipeline project but opposed TransCanada’s original proposed route that crossed the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. TransCanada altered the pipeline’s path to avoid the Sandhills and a couple towns’ water wells.

The completed review of the new route said there’s potential for damage to groundwater if there were a spill, but said the effects would be local rather than regional.

The department’s report noted that 57 special conditions would apply to the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline and recounted how TransCanada “has integrated a number of measures intended to prevent or detect releases during pipeline operation.”

People and groups that favor the Keystone XL project have pointed to the nation’s need for more oil and praised its potential economic impact.

The report said pipeline construction would result in $418.1 million in economic benefits to Nebraska and support up to 4,560 new or existing jobs. The pipeline operation would generate 15 new jobs, the report said, and 50 more new jobs through secondary economic growth.

TransCanada first proposed the project in 2008. In January last year Obama rejected TransCanada’s original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline. Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces.

The company began construction in August on the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. The southern section of the pipeline didn’t need presidential approval because it won’t cross an international border.