TransCanada nails down preferred route

2012-09-06T01:00:00Z 2012-10-31T21:14:05Z TransCanada nails down preferred routeBy ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

TransCanada has refined and narrowed its proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.

TransCanada President Russ Girling said the adjustments provided for review by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday would add 20 miles to the original route.

In a prepared statement, Girling said they are the company’s best effort to avoid not only the Nebraska Sandhills, but adjoining areas prone to erosion and other environmental concerns.

“The preferred alternative route in this Supplemental Environmental Report was developed based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans,” he said, “and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state.”

As TransCanada hits the four-year mark in trying to build its second oil pipeline, activists locked themselves to tree-clearing machines near Saltillo, Texas, on Wednesday to try to block construction on the southern leg.

“We believe we will stop the project,” said Ramsey Sprague of a group called Tar Sands Blockade. “We believe we will inspire people to rise up and defend their homes.”

At the northern end of a 1,700-mile pipeline corridor, the project still is in the permitting phase and in a more conciliatory mode.

Girling called attention to what he described as three significant route modifications through Nebraska, including as much maneuvering as possible around “features similar to sand dunes and areas with sandy, erodible soils, with a thin layer of topsoil.”

He also summarized changes in direction to account for wellhead protection areas at Clarks, located along U.S. 30 between Grand Island and Columbus, and Western, south of Interstate 80 in Saline County.

Mike Linder, director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, said it appeared the company had been responsive to questions from his staff and the public.

But Linder made it clear again that his agency does not have siting authority over the project. DEQ’s job, as he described it, is to report to Gov. Dave Heineman, “so he can transmit the Nebraska report to the Department of State with his thoughts on the adequacy of the route.”

In addition to the interaction between TransCanada and the state of Nebraska, the $7 billion connection between the oil sands of Alberta and refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast remains under federal review.

And in that realm, TransCanada announced Wednesday it will file an updated environmental report with the U.S. State Department later this week on its second border-crossing project.

The first Keystone pipeline began moving oil southward in 2010. It passes through southeast Nebraska just west of Seward.

If pipeline critic Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska had her way in siting the second one, it would be next to the first.

“Why keep messing with this?” she asked in reacting to the latest route adjustments. “Why not go along the first line and develop an energy corridor in our state?”

Speaking from TransCanada headquarters in Calgary, spokesman Grady Semmens said that’s not in the cards for several reasons.

The first pipeline used a converted natural gas line on the Canadian side of the border to carry oil farther east and allow for a U.S. route that came straight south through eastern North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, he said.

In taking a shorter, more diagonal and more direct route from oil deposits in Alberta, the company saves money, disturbs less land and avoids having to cross the Missouri River a second time.

TransCanada did offer a preferred alternative route in April that took Garfield, Wheeler and Greeley counties out of the mix and substituted a more north-south path through Antelope and Boone counties.

“Two-hundred-ten miles of the route are changed,” Semmens said, “but it only results in about 20 more miles of actual pipe in Nebraska.”

Eventually, the proposed changes tie into the original Nebraska portion of the route, which enters the southeast Nebraska area about 50 miles to the west, near York, and goes another 65 miles southeast to an exit point along the Kansas border near Steele City.

Among the answers Linder and his environmental team will be looking for in the latest response from TransCanada are what chemicals will be in the pipeline to thin the sludge-like oil and what the company’s emergency response plan will be for dealing with the possibility of a major spill.

The report’s recipients hadn’t dug far enough into the details as of Wednesday afternoon to know what light might be shed on those questions.

“Just in the initial scan, looking at the map of the route, it appears that they’ve tried to respond to the comments our department made and other comments we’ve received.”

What if the detailed answers aren’t there?

“I don’t want to speculate, and we haven’t examined it.”

But ahead on the procedural road, said Linder, are a draft supplemental impact statement from NDEQ, a public comment period and a public hearing at some point along the route.

“Our goal is still to meet our original commitment last spring to the Legislature that we will complete our process in 6-9 months time,” he said. “And that takes us out about to the end of the calendar year.”

TransCanada’s Semmens said the company also has its eye on prospects for final federal action in the first quarter of 2013 on its request for a presidential permit.

“Essentially, we just continue to work toward a final route in Nebraska that feeds into our original permit application with the Department of State.”

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

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