- By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — The reroute of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline “could have minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska,” according to Nebraska’s environmental regulatory agency.
Gov. Dave Heineman now has 30 days to review the 2,000-page report and tell the U.S. State Department.
The agency made no recommendation on whether the governor should approve or deny the project, designed to carry oil from Canada to Texas, including a new 195-mile route through Nebraska.
“I will now carefully review this report over the next several weeks,” Heineman said in a press release.
The State Department is simultaneously working on its own environmental review of the proposed pipeline, which is expected to be released soon.
The 36-inch-wide pipeline would pass through nine Nebraska counties, beginning a mile south of the South Dakota border in Keya Paha County and ending in northwest York County, where it would join with the portion of Keystone XL already approved for construction.
The state Department of Environmental Quality was charged with analyzing the environmental, economic, social, and other impacts of the pipeline, and found that the new route avoids the ecologically fragile Sandhills but still crosses portions of the Ogallala Aquifer and areas with fragile soils. In those areas of northern Nebraska where the soil is particularly susceptible to erosion, the pipeline company, TransCanada, would use “special procedures” to build the pipeline.
To improve pipeline safety, TransCanada agreed to 57 “special conditions” governing the pipeline’s construction, operation and maintenance. Those would be enforced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The DEQ said in the event of an oil spill, the impact on the aquifer “should be localized” and TransCanada would have to pay for cleanup. TransCanada agreed to carry at least $200 million in liability insurance to cover “sudden and accidental pollution incidents from Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska.”
TransCanada first applied for a federal permit to build the pipeline in 2008, but ran into stiff opposition in Nebraska. In late 2011, TransCanada agreed to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills, but the project still faces considerable opposition in the state, where about 800 people showed up for the final DEQ public hearing on the project in December.
The report also offered updated estimates of the pipeline’s impact on the state economy:
• Construction of the pipeline would create $418 million in economic benefits and support up to 4,560 new or existing jobs in Nebraska.
• Construction workers would spend about $68 million, which would multiply through the economy to generate about $98 million in new economic activity.
• TransCanada would spent about $476 million on construction activities and employ about 270 Nebraska workers during construction.
• The project would generate $16.5 million in use taxes from pipeline construction materials.
• In its first full year of valuation, the project would produce between $11 million and $13 million in local property tax revenue.
The primary opposition has been organized by Bold Nebraska, which said today the DEQ report failed to address its concerns and if the governor approves the route, TransCanada will have immediate authority to condemn land without a federal permit.
Bold Nebraska continued to pressure the governor to stand by his earlier concerns about the pipeline crossing the Ogallala Aquifer, and deny the permit. Bold Nebraska is also part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law giving the governor authority to approve the pipeline.
Bold Nebraska also disagreed with the DEQ’s conclusion that any oil spill would likely be local, not regional. But DEQ Director Mike Linder said groundwater modeling was done, and depending on how long a leak lasts, usually groundwater moves slowly – about 300 feet per year.
“The concept that a large region would be quickly contaminated is not what we found,” Linder said.
Other tidbits in the DEQ report:
• TransCanada plans to build a temporary construction camp for about 900 construction workers in northern Holt County.
• TransCanada expects the pipeline to operate for about 50 years.
• TransCanada conducted a simulated spill response exercise in November on the Keystone One pipeline, with DEQ randomly selecting the spill location. TransCanada identified the material and transmitted information about it within 17 minutes.
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