Over the last year, images of Randy Thompson in his cowboy hat have become a symbol of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the source of the rallying cry, "Stand with Randy."

As he took a break from fencing chores on Tuesday, Thompson acknowledged that TransCanada's deal to move the pipeline out of the Sandhills might not make any difference on the portion of route where his family owns land in Merrick County.

"Ironically, I may have helped save the Sandhills," he said, "but I might not have done myself any good."

Uncertainty about where TransCanada goes following Monday's announcement could be expected to run high among people who live east of the original route and west of the first Keystone pipeline, now carrying oil across the Missouri River and into Nebraska near Yankton, S.D.

Spokesman Shawn Howard confirmed that there are no plans to change Nebraska's entry point for Keystone XL in Keya Paha County. Beyond that, there really is no plan, at least not one the company is ready to make public.

So speculation hangs on the known entry point and the exit point near Steele City, as well as on TransCanada executive Alex Pourbaix's estimate of a realignment that might add no more than 30-40 miles to the 275-mile path through Nebraska.

Steele City is the connecting point along the state's southern border because it's also near where Keystone XL is supposed to join Keystone. From there, a 36-inch connection to refineries at Cushing, Okla., already is in place.

At most, the wiggle room between Keya Paha County and Steele City suggests a shift toward O'Neill. But TransCanada's Howard wasn't suggesting much at all.

"The only part of the route in Nebraska that's being examined in this process is in the Sandhills region," he said. "So the other part of the proposed right of way and where the proposed line would go -- that doesn't change."

At some point, TransCanada will be back on the original route where it already has paid people for easement access.

"We do know that," Howard said, "with the new configuration, there will be another pump station we'll have to put in and facilities to go with that."

Another kind of uncertainty also is brewing.

Now that TransCanada has agreed to move the pipeline out of the Sandhills, there could be a parting of ways between people who opposed the route, but not the larger goal of moving oil from Alberta to Texas, and others who oppose any pipeline connection whatsoever into the United States from Alberta.

Terry Frisch of Atkinson, for example, has been focused mostly on the route.

He feels better "as long as they get into the clay soil, as long as they get it away from the sandy soils and away from the aquifer."

Prominent in the ranks of opposing any route for Keystone XL and all such pipelines is Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Casey-Lefkowitz paused to salute "a really big victory for the people of Nebraska" on Tuesday.

But she intends to use it to rally opposition to a larger cause. "This should make all of us, all across the United States, fight that much harder to show it's not a pipeline that's in the national interest."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is part of a wide array of national environmental advocacy organizations that see separating oil from tarsands deposits in Alberta as the gateway to global warming and climate change.

Prominent among those who want a route change -- and only a route change -- is Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who returned from a meeting in Nashville, Tenn., to a press conference Tuesday devoted almost exclusively to pipeline matters.

In answering questions, Heineman seemed happy to distance himself from Casey-Lefkowitz and such other groups as Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club.

"I think it's very clear that environmental, leftist groups oppose any pipelines, no matter what," he said.

Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said the state membership definitely has been devoting its resources to what's been happening close to home.

"We've always opposed the pipeline, period," Winston said of Keystone XL. "But if there was going to be a pipeline, we wanted to make sure it avoided the most environmentally sensitive areas -- and that's the Sandhills and areas where the (Ogallala) Aquifer is closest to the surface."

Winston doesn't doubt there are pipeline critics somewhere who are sorry to see a compromise taking shape in Nebraska.

To some, it will mean TransCanada "has gotten the blessing of the Nebraska Legislature."

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Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com