Six hundred pages of analysis released by state officials Tuesday on the environmental, social and economic effects of the Keystone XL pipeline set the stage for a public hearing in Albion on Dec. 4.
The analysis by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality responds to TransCanada's report in September on the effects of the pipeline on the state.
DEQ Director Mike Linder said the choice of Albion fulfilled an agency promise to have the hearing along the proposed pipeline path rather than in Lincoln.
“We also needed a facility that will have what we think is adequate capacity,” Linder said, “and the Albion fairgrounds has a couple of good buildings that we can use.”
It’s been more than four years since TransCanada announced its proposed connection between oil deposits in Alberta and refineries along the Gulf Coast.
Resistance to the Nebraska route from landowners and environmentalists worried about groundwater contamination and soil erosion contributed to the long timetable.
Approval by Gov. Dave Heineman of the company’s alternate route around the Nebraska Sandhills would become part of the federal review of the project that could lead to a presidential permit in 2013. The U.S. State Department is involved because the project crosses an international border.
“The Department of State has been active with us all along,” Linder said. “We have a memorandum of understanding that we’ve worked together on, and we believe they will be at the public hearing in December.”
Linder, who had declined comment before the release of Tuesday's report on the quality of TransCanada’s responses, offered his reaction after it was posted on the DEQ website and distributed to the news media.
View the report at deq.ne.gov. Click the link to the pipeline project review page.
“TransCanada has been responsive to all the information requests that we had,” Linder said. “And I think you’ll see, as you go through the report, it goes into pretty deep detail on many of the issues that have raised questions out there.”
One example was a DEQ query about what besides oil would be in the 36-inch pipeline scheduled to pass west of York.
TransCanada said there was nothing unusual about the chemical mixture.
“It compares pretty close to a lot of other types of crude oil,” Linder said.
A 28-page summary of the DEQ response makes a number of points. Among them:
* The proposed 194.5 miles of the Nebraska reroute would start a mile south of the South Dakota border in Keya Paha County; cross nine Nebraska counties and the Keya Paha, Niobrara, Elkhorn, Loup and Platte rivers; then return to the original route in York County.
* TransCanada has agreed to install valves every 20 miles that can be shut off manually or remotely in the event of a spill.
* The Nebraska portion of the route would be built in three segments, each of which would take six to eight months to complete.
* TransCanada expects to operate the pipeline for 50 years. Taking the pipeline out of service would be governed by state and federal requirements.
* As a matter of economic impact, TransCanada intends to employ approximately 270 Nebraska construction workers, deliver $278 million in economic benefits and support as many as 2,740 new or existing jobs in the state.
* By August, the company had identified nine sites along the route potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and still was working on that inventory.
* TransCanada has committed to $200 million worth of liability insurance to address any spills.
The 60 pages of Chapter 6 of the report cover DEQ’S review of other pipeline spills, including the Enbridge spill that polluted the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.
DEQ research of the Enbridge spill indicated that emergency responses don’t always go according to plan.
An estimated 683,000 gallons of oil came out of the pipe, DEQ said, as a result of “erroneously believing that the alarms that sounded in the Enbridge control center did not indicate that a rupture had occurred.”
John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union was among many advocates and critics of Keystone XL who had yet to dig into the DEQ report by the end of the day Tuesday.
Hansen, who wants the Nebraska Public Service Commission to have a primary role in siting oil pipelines through the state, said he would have felt better if both the PSC and DEQ were involved.
“I think we need the technical expertise of DEQ,” Hansen said, “but I also think we need the regulatory expertise of the PSC. And it’s a very poor and unnecessary choice to have to pick between the two.”
Jane Kleeb of Hastings and Bold Nebraska, another steadfast critic of the project, said she would help form a citizen and landowner committee to review the document.
"How can the DEQ do an environmental study of the pipeline route if they don't know the exact contents and chemicals of the pipeline?" she said. "Simply reviewing what TransCanada submitted is not sufficient."
Officials with TransCanada were not available for comment late Tuesday.