Keystone XL —- No Alternative Routes

No alternative routes for pipeline. Even with another gentle nudge from U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, pipeline developer TransCanada, Inc., said it isn’t considering alternative routes for a crude-oil pipeline through Nebraska’s fragile Sand Hills. “This is the smartest route from both an environmental perspective and the operation of the pipeline,” said TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard. The U.S. Department of State, which must approve the pipeline, announced Tuesday that it would extend its environmental review and seek more public comment. Johanns, R-Neb., suggested that the Canadian firm use the time to reconsider what he called “sloppy routing” of the 36-inch pipeline. TransCanada would likely avoid a long and rigorous federal review if it avoided the Sand Hills and its porous, highly-erodable soil and its rich groundwater resources, Johanns said. Aquifers under the unique, grass-covered sand dunes provide 80 percent of the region’s drinking water and 30 percent of the nation’s water for irrigation. But Howard said from his Calgary office said that while he respected Johann’s opinion, TransCanada and its environmental and pipeline experts believe their route is the shortest and the safest. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will carry crude oil from the tar sands region of western Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. “Even if there was an issue (with a leak), its impact is going to be extremely localized. It’s not something that’s going to spread,” Howard said. The State Department is expected to release a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in mid-April. Interested parties would be given 45 days to comment. A decision on whether the pipeline is safe and in the national interest is expected by the end of the year. Earlier estimates had put that decision at mid-2011. Johanns and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., have raised concerns about the thoroughness of the State Department’s review. Johanns last summer criticized the company for what he called bullying negotiating tactics with Nebraska landowners. In November, he asked for additional review of the project and for consideration of routes that avoid the Sand Hills. On Wednesday, a group of environmental organizations called on the Nebraska Legislature or Gov. Dave Heineman to be more aggressive and declare the Sand Hills off-limits to such pipelines and suggest alternative routes. The state clearly has the power to do that, said spokesmen for the groups, which included the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and BOLD Nebraska, a progressive, pro-environment website. The spokesmen, during a press conference Wednesday, said that while one survey showed that 70 percent of Nebraskans want state regulation of pipelines, the Legislature has yet to advance a bill for debate. The governor has deferred action to others, they added. “This is our state. We should not have a foreign corporation telling us what to do and the State Department telling us what to do,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of BOLD Nebraska. Heineman, during a separate press conference on an unrelated issue Wednesday, indicated he had no plans to issue any directives to avoid the Sand Hills. He plans to work through Johanns, because the pipeline is a federal regulatory issue, Heineman said. He added that Kleeb’s “aggressive, partisan, attack-style politics” don’t serve Nebraska well. Kleeb responded that such statements attempt to divert attention from his lack of leadership. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “We have Nebraskans on our side.” Last fall, after both Johanns and Nelson had expressed concern, the governor sent a letter to the State Department expressing Nebraskans’ desire that a “safe route” be chosen to protect the state’s water supply. On Wednesday, Heineman said he hadn’t decided whether to send another letter. “We want some assurance that this can be done safely and securely and in an appropriate manner,” he said. Nelson issued a statement Wednesday that he was pleased the pipeline faces additional analysis. But while the environmental groups contend Nebraska lawmakers have the ability to influence the pipeline’s route, a trio of state senators expressed reservations. An interim study last fall didn’t show that the State of Nebraska had the power to redirect the pipeline, said Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids. She introduced a bill, now stalled in committee, that increases TransCanada’s responsibility for spill cleanups and land restoration. Sullivan said she was reviewing amendments to her bill. “I’m going to ask a few more questions. I don’t know if I will get a favorable answer.” Sen. Chris Langemeier, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said he would be “the first one to say we don’t want it in the Sand Hills.” But no one has demonstrated to the Legislature how it has that authority, he said. Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, who introduced a bill ordering the Nebraska Public Service Commission review all crude-oil pipeline projects, said she has received mixed messages on whether the state can say no to a Sand Hills route. Dubas and Sullivan said they still were working on the issue in hopes of the full Legislature will debate it. ((16 MAR 2011))





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