TransCanada files new Keystone XL route with Nebraska DEQ

TransCanada Corp. filed a supplemental environmental report (SER) with Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality that contains a preferred alternative route for the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline across the state.

The Sept. 5 filing respects NDEQ timelines and the US Department of State’s overall process in developing a new route for the project through the state, TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said. “It was developed based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state,” he said.

NDEQ Director Mike Linder said it was an important step, and the state agency would thoroughly review it. “An initial scan of the report indicates that it responds to some of the comments raised by the NDEQ and the public, but a full evaluation will now begin,” he said.

Keystone XL opponents weren’t satisfied. “The new route still crosses high water tables, sandy soil which leads to higher vulnerability of contamination, and the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of Nebraska’s economy,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of BOLD Nebraska.

TransCanada said that the preferred alternative route and additional information in the SER address feedback from more than 570 Nebraskans who participated in open house discussions, hundreds of additional comments submitted to the NDEQ, and direct conversations with landowners along the pipeline corridor.

Three main modifications

TransCanada said that the SER identifies three significant route modifications in addition to various minor refinements: Although NDEQ defined areas to avoid which were characterized as Sandhills, comments from landowners and the state agency indicated there were other areas with similar characteristics, including features similar to sand dunes and areas with sandy soils which could be eroded with a thin organic topsoil layer. The new route minimizes impacts on these features, the project sponsor said.

It said that public comments and NDEQ’s review suggested that the pipeline not be routed west of the town of Clark’s Fork because it would cross an area up gradient of a wellhead protection area (WHPA) where groundwater is shallow and is the town’s water supply. TransCanada said it moved the route down gradient to an area with less soil that could be eroded by wind and where fewer slopes are crossed.

Another town, Western, was issued a WHPA extending further west and overlapping the original pipeline route after a final environmental impact statement was published in 2011. TransCanada said that it developed another route to move the pipeline out of Western’s WHPA.

TransCanada said that it began working on the preferred alternative route in 2011. It added that in addition to the SER, it would provide an environmental report to DOS on Sept. 7 which is required as part of the federal department’s review of the company’s presidential cross-border permit application.

Linder said that NDEQ expects to complete a draft of its report and make it public sometime this fall. The state agency will announce a public hearing at that time and continue to accept public comments, after which it will submit a final report to Gov. Dave Heineman (R), possibly by the end of 2012, he said. The governor will then have 30 days to approve or reject the reports, Linder said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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