Nebraska pipeline siting bill would not apply to Keystone XL

Nebraska’s unicameral legislature gave first-round approval to a bill that would establish authority for the state to regulate oil pipeline routes within its borders, but the measure would not apply to TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project if it becomes law. Senators voted 44-0 to schedule LB-1 for select file debate.

TransCanada agreed a day earlier to work with Nebraska’s state government on a revised route for the Keystone project, and the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved an amendment on Nov. 15 specifying that the new authority would not apply to any pipeline project that had applied to the US Department of State for a cross-border permit before the bill’s effective date.

State Sen. Annette Dubas, who sponsored the bill, said it limits the state’s authority to siting because states do not have jurisdiction over safety issues. The measure would give Nebraska authority to impose conditions in the public interest, based on a proposed pipeline’s impact on natural resources in the state and evidence of methods to mitigate those impacts, she said. Evidence of a carrier’s efforts to ensure the welfare of residents along a proposed route and the views of local governments also would be included in the determination, Dubas said.

The bill would make Nebraska’s public service commission responsible for evaluating and approving proposed pipeline routes, and holding public hearings. Applicants would pay for hearings and state investigations and would not receive eminent domain rights until the project was approved. They would be required to include a statement of reasons for selecting a proposed route, evidence that other routes were considered, workforce estimates during the project’s construction and operation, and a list of locations along the proposed route in proximity to unusually sensitive groundwater areas.

DOS announced on Nov. 10 that it would defer a decision on TransCanada’s permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline project to provide more time to consider alternatives to its proposed route across Nebraska’s Sandhills area atop the Ogallala Aquifer, the state’s primary underground drinking water source. Gov. Dave Heineman (R) called the legislature into special session to consider pipeline siting issues after environmental organizations and citizens along the proposed route raised concerns.

‘Positive conversations’

Alex Pourbaix, president of TransCanada’s oil and pipelines division, announced on Nov. 14 that the Calgary transmission company would work with the state to find a different route, and that Nebraskans would play an important role. “I am pleased to tell you that the positive conversations we have had with Nebraska leaders have resulted in legislation that respects the concerns of Nebraskans and supports the development of the Keystone XL pipeline,” he said following meetings in Lincoln.

In Nebraska’s senate, meanwhile, speaker Mike Flood told lawmakers that TransCanada had volunteered to move the project’s route out of the Sandhills, and that DOS confirmed that the state could conduct a supplemental environmental impact study of any proposed route. The amendment before the Natural Resources on Nov. 15 gave Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality authority to conduct such a state, which Flood said would take about 6 months to complete.

During Nov. 15 debate on LB-1, Sen. Ken Haar said the bill would give Nebraskans a voice in determine routes of future pipelines after feeling excluded from discussions about Keystone XL’s path. The measure would require the PSC to decide on a route application within 8 months of receiving it, although an extension of up to 18 months would be permitted. No extension would be allowed more than 8 months beyond a presidential permit being issued for a pipeline, however.

Sen. Tom Carlson said the bill’s application approval timeframe was too long and that too many agencies would need to be involved. Sen. Dennis Hastings said that it would require unnecessary information unrelated to siting such as the number of workers which would be involved.

Dubas said that senators’ concerns would be addressed before select file debate begins. “By no means is this the end product,” she said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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