TransCanada Updates Keystone XL Route

October 2012, Vol. 239 No. 10

TransCanada Corporation announced on Sept. 5 that it has submitted a Supplemental Environmental Report (SER) to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for the preferred alternative route for the Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska.

“Based on feedback from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the public, we have refined our proposed routing of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO. “The preferred alternative route in this Supplemental Environmental Report was developed based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state.”

The preferred alternative route and additional information presented in the SER addresses feedback from more than 670 Nebraskans who took part in open-house discussions, hundreds of additional comments submitted to the Nebraska DEQ and direct conversations with landowners along the pipeline corridor.

In response to comments regarding the proposed route TransCanada submitted in April 2012, that route has now been modified. In addition to various minor refinements, the SER identifies three significant route modifications:
1) Northern Alternative
Although the NDEQ defined areas to avoid that were characterized as Sandhills, numerous comments from landowners and the NDEQ indicated that there are additional areas that exhibit similar characteristics to the Sandhills, even though they are not identified this way in existing literature or agency databases. These areas include features similar to sand dunes and areas with sandy, erodible soils, with a thin organic layer of topsoil. The new re-route minimizes impact on these features.
2) Clarks Alternative
During the public comment period, and through NDEQ review, Nebraskans suggested that Keystone avoid routing the pipeline west of the town of Clarks because the route would cross an area up gradient of the Clarks Well Head Protection Area (WHPA) and where the depth to groundwater is shallow and is the source of the town’s water supply. The re-route is now down gradient from the wellhead protection area, includes fewer areas of wind erodible soils and crosses fewer sloped areas.
3) Western Alternative
After the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published in August 2011, the city of Western was issued a new WHPA that extended further west, overlapping the FEIS pipeline route. In response, an alternative western route was developed, moving the pipeline out of the WHPA.

The SER has been filed with the Nebraska DEQ and will be available for viewing on the agency’s website – The Report was also submitted to the U.S. Department of State in connection with an application for a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL.

“TransCanada has been working with the Nebraska DEQ, landowners, engineering surveyors and environmental survey crews since we presented our initial route analysis in April,” added Girling. “Both the route identified in April and the current preferred alternative route can support the safe construction and operation of the pipeline.
“TransCanada shares the goal of protecting key water and natural resources with Nebraskans. The identified route, along with our commitment to implement additional safety requirements above and beyond those required for any other pipeline, ensures the protection of Nebraska’s resources.”

Further highlights of the preferred alternative route include:
• The route covers 210 miles of the Keystone XL route in Nebraska and increases the length of the pipeline in the state by 20 miles to a new total length of 275 miles
• The Nebraska DEQ and other state and federal agencies developed a map that accurately defines the Sandhills region. The re-route respects this map and avoids the Sandhills area
• The route included in the SER crosses fewer miles of threatened and endangered species habitat, fewer streams and rivers and considerably fewer miles of severely wind erodible soils
• Two wellhead protection areas have been avoided
Work on the Nebraska re-route began in late 2011 and numerous environmental, engineering and other experts have provided input into the design and alignment of the route submitted. These experts took into account environmental, archaeological, cultural, land use compatibility, safety, constructability and economics into the route realignment process.

Outside of the preferred alternative route area, environmental and technical studies have already been completed and reviewed by the U.S. Department of State for areas where the route of the Keystone XL Project has not changed since the Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in August 2011.

In addition to submitting the SER to the Nebraska DEQ, TransCanada will provide an environmental report to the DOS which is required as part of the DOS review of the company’s Presidential Permit application.

TransCanada reiterated that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline built in America. The company will adopt and comply with 57 special safety conditions developed by the U.S. federal pipeline regulator PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration). These conditions include: a higher number of remotely controlled shut-off valves, increased pipeline inspections and pipe that is buried deeper in the ground. TransCanada will also use horizontal directional drilling to drill under major rivers a minimum of 25 feet. This will allow burial of the pipe deeper on both sides of the river bank, offering protection from floods or high river levels. The pipe will be made of thicker steel as it crosses rivers, will operate at a lower pressure and be further protected by advanced, non-abrasive coatings.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project concluded the incorporation of the 57 special conditions “would result in a project that would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current code.”

TransCanada recently began work on the $2.3 billion Gulf Coast Project from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast refining complex, a pipeline that it said is employing 4,000 skilled American laborers. If approved, Keystone XL will employ 9,000 Americans during construction and is expected to cost $5.3 billion.

Politicians Predict U.S. Approval

In an article published Sept. 5 in the National Journal, two prominent politicians predicted that no matter who wins the presidency, the Keystone XL pipeline will eventually be approved.

“I think it’s going to be approved one way or the other,” said Sen. John Barrassoso (R-WY) who along with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean spoke at a Democratic National Convention event in Charlotte, NC hosted by National Journal, The Atlantic, and the American Petroleum Institute.

Barrasso had pushed for an expedited decision from the White House on the pipeline. But after Republicans in Congress set a 60-day deadline for action, President Obama said there wasn’t sufficient time for a full review and rejected a permit for the project.

Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate who now works for a law firm that represents TransCanada, said he thought Obama was going to approve the pipeline, but was pushed to reject it by the ultimatum.

“I actually think that President Obama would have said ‘yes’ to Keystone,” Dean said. “They essentially forced him to block it. It didn’t get built because Republicans shortened the approval time.”

He said politics appeared to guide Obama’s initial decision a year ago to delay a permit decision until 2013. “I think he was intending to put it off till after the election for obvious reasons, because there’s a fair number of constituents that don’t like it,” Dean said, adding that he expects Obama to approve the project after the election, noting that the Canadian oil sands will be developed no matter what happens.

Proponents for the pipeline say it will provide the following benefits:

  • 10,000 U.S. jobs that TransCanada says would be created immediately if the project is approved.
  • 20,000 U.S. jobs that would be created during the pipeline’s construction.
  • $775 billion in economic benefit to the United States by 2035, with full development of Canada’s oil sands.
  • 4 million barrels of oil per day from Canada could come to the U.S. by 2020, facilitated by the Keystone XL, or twice what is imported from the Persian Gulf.
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