The State Department has ordered an in-depth assessment of alternative routes for the Keystone XL pipeline to take through Nebraska. In a news release issued this afternoon, State Department officials said many issues have been raised about TransCanada’s proposal to run the oil pipeline from Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas, but that the Sand Hills was one of the most common issues raised.
“This is an exceptional moment for Nebraskans,” Gov. Dave Heineman said during a news conference at the Capitol. “For months, Nebraskans have voiced strong concerns about the route of the Keystone XL pipeline. Today’s announcement from the United States Department of State confirms that Nebraskans have been heard.”
The State Department has been reviewing TransCanada’s proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline since 2008.
As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska.
TransCanada has proposed building a 36” oil pipeline for 1,700 miles from western Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas. It is a $7 billion project that would go through six states that would transport crude oil extracted from tar sands.
In the news releases, the State Department, “The concern about the proposed route’s impact on the Sand Hills of Nebraska has increased significantly over time, and has resulted in the Nebraska legislature convening a special session to consider the issue.”
The State Department news release noted that though state law primarily governs routes for interstate petroleum pipelines, Nebraska has no regulatory framework.
Taken together with the national concern about the pipeline’s route, the Department has determined it is necessary to examine in-depth alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills in Nebraska in order to move forward with a National Interest Determination for the Presidential Permit.
Heineman said if TransCanada is willing to move the pipeline away from the Sand Hills and the Ogallala, he would support Keystone XL.
“I’ve said all along I support the building of the pipeline. I think that’s where most Nebraskans are at,” Heineman told reporters. “They just don’t want this route.”
Heineman pointed out the State Department announcement didn’t mean the route is changing, only that alternative routes will be assessed. The department said the additional environmental study will take time and a decision on the presidential permit might not be made until early 2013.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m concerned,” Heineman said. “This is not a done deal. They’re going to go through a review and look at the other potential routes. They said that. But there are a number of decisions they could come to. So, we need to keep a watchful eye on the State Department is doing.”