Nebraska DEQ relays Sandhills data to TransCanada

Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality said on Dec. 29 that it has identified areas it considers part of the Sandhills region, and has forwarded the information to TransCanada Corp. as the company selects a new route for its proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline across the state.

“Obviously, the applicant cannot propose the route without knowing the area to be avoided,” NDEQ Director Mike Linder said. “NDEQ has been reviewing available information and has selected a map of eco-regions which was finalized in 2001 as best depicting the Sandhills region.”

TransCanada considers the information a very positive step, a spokesman told OGJ on Dec. 30. “Now that Nebraskans have defined where the Sandhills are, we’ll know sensitive areas to avoid and routes to suggest that will have the least impact on landowners,” he said.

Gov. Dave Heineman called the state’s legislature back into special session in early November after several officials, residents, and groups expressed concern about the pipeline’s original route, which would have crossed the Sandhills lying atop the Ogallala aquifer, Nebraska’s primary drinking water source.

The lawmakers quickly passed a bill recommending that an alternative route be developed. US President Barack Obama also announced on Nov. 11 that he would delay deciding on TransCanada’s application for the project’s cross-border permit until after the 2012 election to allow time to resolve the matter and other environmental questions. Congress included a provision requiring him to issue a decision much sooner in payroll tax cut extension legislation passed in mid-December.

The Nebraska legislature’s bill also gave NDEQ new responsibilities relating to supplemental environmental impact statements relating to oil pipelines. The provision’s first application will be for the Keystone XL project as the agency works with the US Department of State on its review of TransCanada’s cross-border permit application, NDEQ said.

Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research in Washington, said that NDEQ’s action underscores the need for the Obama administration to act immediately and approve the project so construction can commence.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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