OMAHA -- The Canadian company that wants to build an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico responded to critics Thursday by dropping its proposal to run the pipeline at a higher pressure level and agreeing to follow U.S. safety standards for the project.
“TransCanada has listened to the concerns of the public and various political leaders, and we made a decision to withdraw the special permit application,” said Robert Jones, vice president of TransCanada’s Keystone pipelines.
The U.S. State Department is reviewing TransCanada’s proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline. Last month, the department added 90 days to the review process to allow other federal agencies more time to comment.
TransCanada officials withdrew the company’s application to the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for a special permit on Thursday, and said they would operate the Keystone XL pipeline at a normal pressure level.
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The special permit would have allowed TransCanada to operate the pipeline at a pressure of 1,440 pounds per square inch, which Jones said is in line with what Canadian regulators allow. TransCanada will now plan to follow the existing U.S. standard for oil pipeline pressure, which is 1,308 pounds per square inch.
Withdrawing the permit application won’t change other details of TransCanada’s Keystone XL plan, including burying the pipeline four feet deep, Jones said.
Keystone XL would move oil from Canada through Montana, along the border of North Dakota and across South Dakota and Nebraska. The pipeline then would hook up with another pipeline in Kansas and move oil through Oklahoma and Texas.
The proposed path crosses several rivers and the massive underground Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 2 million people in eight states and supports irrigation.
Environmental groups have raised concerns that the pipeline could foul underground and surface water supplies, worsen air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. They have also speculated about what they consider inadequate pipeline safety and emergency spill response.
Groups like Friends of the Earth aren’t likely to be satisfied unless the project is rejected entirely.
“TransCanada’s decision is a step in the right direction, but it won’t make this pipeline safe,” said Alex Moore with Friends of the Earth. “The only way the Obama administration can prevent this pipeline from inflicting harm is to keep it from being built.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, praised the move.
“This decision will benefit eastern Montana’s economy,” Tester said. “And it means work on the pipeline will move forward in a safer, responsible way that won’t put Montana communities at risk.”
TransCanada has said the pipeline would provide a reliable source of oil to the U.S. from a stable trading partner and would not adversely affect the environment.
“We pride ourselves in being able to operate the safest possible pipeline,” Jones said.