Gov. Dave Heineman has received the final evaluation of TransCanada’s proposed alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.
The governor now has 30 days to accept or reject the route.
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Director Mike Linder says his department’s study of the alternative route finds that it avoids the Sand Hills.
“It is the finding of ours that the route avoids the Sand Hills region and it does avoid, in addition to the Sand Hills region, many areas of fragile soils, especially in northern Nebraska,” Linder tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Avoiding the Sand Hills was the primary objective contained in legislation approved by the Unicameral in April of 2012. LB 1161 gave NDEQ direction on how to evaluate an alternative route to be proposed by TransCanada. TransCanada’s proposed $7billion, 1,700 mile oil pipeline project was sidetracked by concerns that the original route would harm the environmental fragile Sand Hills in Nebraska.
The governor called the Nebraska legislature into special session in 2011 to address the concerns. A deal brokered by Speaker Mike Flood and TransCanada resulted in LB 4, which authorized the NDEQ to evaluate the new route. That evaluation stopped abruptly when President Obama denied TransCanada a permit to enter the country. TransCanada must obtain a Presidential Permit to build the oil pipeline from western Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.
The president left open the possibility of restarting the process and in April of this year, the legislature approved LB 1161 which made adjustments to the original legislation. On April 18th, TransCanada proposed an alternative route.
Linder says the 2,000 page NDEQ evaluation studied the potential impact on the Ogallala Aquifer should the oil pipeline leak.
“And our findings were that a leak would be detected fairly quickly either by the monitoring system that the company has or by site observation by the company or by a landowner,” according to Linder. “And, once identified, the impact would be more of a localized impact than a regional impact.”
While the alternative route would avoid the Sand Hills, it wouldn’t avoid the aquifer. Linder says the High Plains Aquifer, which the Ogallala is a part of, flows underneath the state to the Missouri River, extending well beyond the Sand Hills.
Linder says the report found that NDEQ would respond to any potential Keystone XL leak as it does to other such leaks, either from underground filling station storage tanks or other pipelines that crisscross the state.
The report projects the economic impact of the Keystone XL oil pipeline at $418 million dollars, creating as many as 4,500.
The evaluation conducted by NDEQ will be used by the State Department in considering TransCanada’s new request that a Presidential Permit be granted.
“So, we had a contractual relationship with the Department of State that the work product from our evaluation report will actually be used in their eventual environmental impact statement,” Linder says.
The NDEQ released a draft evaluation in October. It held various public meetings along the proposed route and a high-profile public hearing December 4th in Albion to receive input from Nebraskans on the pipeline. TransCanada made adjustments to initial alternative proposal, such as a move to route the pipeline away from the drinking water source for the town of Clarks.
“I appreciate the feedback that we have received from citizens, and the hard work of the Department of Environmental Quality in addressing this issue in a thoughtful and deliberate manner,” Gov. Heineman said in a written statement released by his office. “I will now carefully review this report over the next several weeks.”
To access the Executive Summary of the report click here.
AUDIO: NDEQ Director Mike Linder discusses Keystone XL evaluation delivered to the governor. [1:45]