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Nebraska Approves Alternate Route for TransCanada Keystone Pipeline


The alternate route of the Keystone Pipeline approved by Nebraska. TransCanada is weighing its options.

After nearly a decade of debate, protests and hearings Nebraska officials voted Monday to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the state, a key step toward the completion of the Keystone Pipeline network.

The state's Public Service Commission voted 3-2 in favor of the expansion pipeline, just days after the existing Keystone Pipeline spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Under Nebraska law, the state Public Service Commission is not allowed to consider pipeline safety and spill risks when deciding on a permit. The Public Service Commission consists of an elected panel of four Republicans and one Democrat that functions in relative obscurity and regulates the state's pipelines, electric lines and telecommunications. In the deciding vote, two commissioners, one Republican and one Democrat, dissented.

Even with this vote, the pipeline's future is complicated by the commission's vote to approve the alternate route. The approved route enters Nebraska at the same spot and leads to the same end point at the company's preferred option. But in between, the alternate route veers east to follow the path of the existing Keystone pipeline.

Adding uncertainty to controversy; the cost has ballooned to nearly $8 billion to build the 1,200 mile artery and TransCanada is gauging the economics of this huge investment. TransCanada needs enough companies to commit to 20-year contracts required to reserve space on it. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and others are pulling out of the Alberta oil sands and on to what they consider more attractive oil shale development in Texas making Canadian and North Dakota fields in less demand. Add Enbridge into this, with its expanding its pipeline system delivering Canadian crude to the U.S.

At the hearing before the commission, TransCanada argued its preferred route was far superior to the one that the commission approved on Monday. According to TransCanada, their preferred path is said to have fewer ecological sensitive areas, fewer stream crossings and crosses the range of fewer threatened or endangered species.

Should TransCanada give its final approval, construction would not begin until 2019.

The opposition to Keystone XL had been a rallying cry for environmental activists who have long said mining Canada's oil sands would be a disaster for global climate change, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Ranchers who have farmed these lands for several generations have organized and protested the pipeline for years.

Environmentalists and landowners who opposed Keystone XL's construction have promised to try to overturn the commission's decision. Activists - including some Indigenous leaders - are threatening to mount mass protests against the pipeline.

In a released statement, Anthony Swift, of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated "There's no safe route for Keystone XL, and we will continue fighting with every tool, in every venue and with every partner, to make sure it's never built,"


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