Nebraska clears way for Keystone XL pipeline approval

Nebraska clears way for Keystone XL pipeline approval

The announcement in late January that Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska has given his approval to a revised route for the Keystone XL pipeline has put the issue squarely back on the White House’s plate.

In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gov. Heineman said that Nebraska’s review concluded the new route avoided sensitive lands and aquifers. This complicates the decision for the White House, which cited Heineman’s earlier objections when it rejected the previous route a year ago on the grounds that construction of the pipeline threatened Nebraska’s Sand Hills region and that a spill could contaminate the critical Ogallala Aquifer.

The American Petroleum Institute hailed Nebraska’s action, saying that it removed a critical hurdle to completion of the pipeline.

“With the approval from Nebraska in hand, the president can be confident that the remaining environmental concerns have been addressed,” said Marty Durbin, the oil lobby’s executive vice president. “We hope President Obama will finally greenlight KXL as soon as possible and get more Americans back to work.”

The Washington Post on its editorial page again called for the approval of the pipeline.

“Mr. Obama should ignore the activists who have bizarrely chosen to make Keystone XL a line-in-the-sand issue when there are dozens more of far greater environmental import. He knows that the way to cut oil use is to reduce demand for the stuff, and he has begun to put that knowledge into practice, setting tough new fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. That will actually make a difference, unlike blocking a pipeline here or there,” the newspaper wrote.

The Nebraska announcement was good news for Keystone proponents who have wondered aloud if the controversial project would ever be built.

TransCanada’s proposed extension of a pipeline from the oilfields of Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur and other Texas refineries and ports has been seeking necessary government approvals since 2008. The 1,661-mile pipeline would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of tar-sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico by crossing Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The State Department plays a central role in the approval process because Keystone would cross an international border. The resignation of Sen. Hilary Clinton and her replacement by Sen. John Kerry is unlikely to block approval, according to former Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who served with Kerry in the Senate for decades.

“(Kerry might have) some objections to this, but on the other hand, on balance, I believe the administration is going to proceed with the (Keystone pipeline),” said Lugar.

Opposition to Keystone XL from some environmentalists ratcheted up in August 2011 when activist groups staged demonstrations outside the White House, resulting in mass arrests. They stated their protests were not just against the pipeline but fossil fuel itself – a position seen as unlikely to halt approval.

But Heineman, the Republican governor of Nebraska, succeeded where the protestors had not when he called a special session of the Nebraska legislature in late 2011 to block Keystone’s proposed route. Now that the Nebraska impasse has been resolved, it should clear the way for final approval of the entire Keystone XL project.

In 2012, TransCanada secured the permits needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and began construction of the southern portion of Keystone, the 485-mile Gulf Coast Project.