The company that wants to build the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline through Nebraska would have to negotiate a regulatory maze to complete the project if Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton gets her way.
Dubas introduced legislation (LB340) on Wednesday that would require oil pipeline companies such as TransCanada, which wants to build the XL, to go through a complex permit process overseen by the state Public Service Commission.
Most government oversight on oil pipelines that cross state borders comes from the federal government.
Under current law, neither the Nebraska Public Service Commission nor the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality can do much to regulate safety concerns.
"This came from ... my constituents and others contacting me about the Keystone XL," said Dubas, whose district would have a portion of the XL. "Citizens were saying, 'I have questions. Do we get to have the opportunity to participate in any public hearings?'''
The XL has generated opposition because it would go through the porous soils and high-water tables in the Nebraska Sandhills. Those environmental traits mark the northern boundary of the massive Ogallala Aquifer.
The stated purpose of Dubas' proposed Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Notification Act is to "ensure that in making decisions to place pipelines through this state for the transportation of hazardous liquid the following items are taken into consideration: protection of the state's natural resources, socioeconomic impacts, informing the public and opportunity for public input."
Under Dubas' proposal, any company wanting to build, operate or manage a pipeline in Nebraska would have to file an application with the state Public Service Commission and with county officials in those areas through which the pipeline would pass. The bill does not apply to natural gas pipelines, she said, because those structures already are subject to more strict federal regulations than are oil pipelines.
The application would have to state the reasons for selecting the pipeline route and include an evaluation of the environmental impact of building the project.
The PSC then could hold meetings to solicit comment from the public.
The commission would, among other things, make sure the pipeline carrier "has demonstrated compliance with all applicable state statutes, rules and regulations.''
It also would weigh evidence that would include the environmental, economic and social effects of the proposed pipeline; the pipeline carrier's efforts to ensure the health, safety or welfare of the residents of the area along the proposed route of the pipeline; and the views of the governing bodies of the area around the route of the pipeline.
If the PSC grants the application, the pipeline carrier would be required to file a status report with the commission regarding the construction of the pipeline every six months.
Before making any changes to the pipeline or its route, the company would have to notify the PSC.
"I just want our citizens to feel like there is a state agency that is looking out for their best interests,'' Dubas said.
TransCanada earlier had completed another pipeline, the Keystone, which goes through eastern Nebraska. Oil has been moving through that pipeline since early 2010.
TransCanada's proposed route for the 36-inch-diameter Keystone XL pipeline would bring it into Nebraska north of Atkinson, continue on a diagonal line that passes just west of York and link near Fairbury and the Kansas border with the 30-inch-diameter Keystone line. The XL would bring oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
Keystone spokesman Jeff Rauh said TransCanada has not had time to study the bill and could not comment specifically on it.
"However, the potential impacts associated with the proposed siting of this pipeline already are being evaluated by the (U.S.) State Department and other federal agencies as part of the National Environmental Policy Act review," he said. "More broadly, the transportation by pipeline of hazardous liquids in interstate commerce also is subject to federal regulation, including pipeline safety regulation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation.''
Rauh had said previously that people along the proposed route have nothing to worry about.
Isolation valves and pressure sensors allow the flow of oil from Alberta, Canada, to be shut off in minutes, Rauh said.
An anti-corrosion coating that exceeds federal standards and the latest research on stronger steel for pipe walls are other reasons that those who live along the pipeline route can rest easy, Rauh said.
Rauh has said that even though the same research could allow the Keystone XL pipe to be up to 10 percent thinner, "it results in a pipeline that is as safe or safer than under the old standard."
The company says it can monitor the line for leaks.
The state Department of Environmental Quality was briefed earlier on the Keystone XL pipeline.
The department does get to weigh in on the environmental impact statement TransCanada must file with the U.S. State Department at the national level.