TransCanada has refined and narrowed its proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.
We can say it's a vast improvement from the original, which plowed straight through the Sandhills, but not much different from the corridor it proposed in April.
We and the rest of the interested world now await review by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the governor, who will forward Nebraska's recommendation to the U.S. Department of State to be considered in its decision on the presidential permit for the project.
TransCanada President Russ Girling said the adjustments would add 20 miles to the alternative corridor defined in April. 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 issues. Spokesman Grady Semmens said the new route avoids all of the "official" Sandhills and reduces the distance it would pass through regions similar to the Sandhills to 36 miles from about 60 miles.
Critics were not persuaded, by any means. The route still goes over the Ogallala Aquifer and high water tables, and it still drives through some sandy terrain.
Some people still hope to stop the pipeline altogether. All along we've said we could live with it, conditionally, if it didn't go through the Sandhills, if reasonable safeguards apply, if authorities in Nebraska and Washington do their duty, if TransCanada bears appropriate responsibility for any damage the pipeline's contents may do in the future.
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 around wellhead protection areas at Clarks, 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.
The first Keystone pipeline began moving oil southward in 2010. It passes through Nebraska almost straight north to south from the South Dakota border to just west of Seward and on to Steele City.
Pipeline critic Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska asks an appropriate question: “Why keep messing with this? Why not go along the first line and develop an energy corridor in our state?”
TransCanada's response: In taking a shorter, more diagonal and more direct route from oil deposits in Alberta, the company said it saves money, disturbs less land and avoids having to cross the Missouri River a second time.
As time passes, even after TransCanada agreed to alter the route, the differences don't get any easier to reconcile. The tar sands oil called bitumen doesn't get any less difficult to deal with, environmentally or politically, nor does U.S. dependence on the volatile Middle East, nor does our now chillier relationship with Canada. We are in one of those dilemmas that test rationality and judgment, and we may not know whether we did the right thing even in our lifetimes.
We eagerly await, as all Nebraskans should, a draft supplemental impact statement from NDEQ.