Keystone pipeline route in Nebraska to be reassessed, sources say
The Obama administration will reassess the proposed route through Nebraska for a major pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to Texas, according to sources familiar with the deliberations, a move that will probably delay the contentious permitting process for more than a year.
The State Department will make the announcement this afternoon, sources added. The agency has identified a route that traverses six states — and runs above Nebraska’s Ogallala aquifer — as its “preferred alternative,” among more than a dozen possibilities, but this has sparked intense opposition in Nebraska and elsewhere along that path.
On Wednesday night a committee in the Nebraska legislature, which is in special session to consider options for influencing the pipeline’s route, passed a measure that would require a state panel approve the route before TransCanada could begin construction on the proposed pipeline. The governor, who has declared his opposition to the pipeline, would have final control over the panel’s decision.
For more than three years, the State Department has been examining whether to grant TransCanada’s proposal to construct and operate a 1,700-mile pipeline that would ship crude extracted in Canada’s oil sands region to U.S. refineries.
Proponents of the Keystone XL extension say it will generate badly needed jobs in the United States and ensure a steady supply of oil from a friendly ally. But environmentalists and an eclectic group of ranchers, farmers and other opponents say the pipeline could threaten habitat along its route and could destabilize the climate because the oil it would transport is especially energy-intensive to extract.
The pipeline has become a political problem for the Obama administration, with environmentalists launching regular protests against it in Washington and across the country, while supporters, including some unions, have pushed for approval as a way of creating jobs and securing a reliable additional source of energy.
Obama administration officials have concluded that they are best off postponing a decision on the project, according to individuals who have spoken with both White House officials and members of the Obama campaign.
The White House declined to comment on the matter Thursday.
Formally reconsidering the route would delay any final permit decision while the government conducted a new environmental assessment. People familiar with the process say this could take a year or more.
Jane Kleeb of the environmental group BOLD Nebraska said grass-roots opposition to the project left the administration no other choice but to take another look.
“TransCanada made a poor strategic decision that they could cross the Ogallala aquifer without prompting a huge fight with farmers and ranchers,” Kleeb said in a phone interview. She added that while the delay was “a tough decision” for the president, “He should be making these tough decisions, which say the climate and our health — as well as our land and water — are too important not to have an independent review.”
In a news briefing Wednesday, department spokesman Mark Toner said a rerouting of the pipeline is “one of many issues that we have discussed that were raised during these public hearings that we held, and all of those issues are currently under review as we move forward.”
Although the agency for months has said it intends to conclude the process by the end of the year, Toner added, “We’re not going to be held to any artificial deadline.”
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the proposal has been through “an unprecedented review” that has lasted longer than the review for any other oil pipeline. Since it has undergone a full environment review, he said, “the only motivation for any shift in policy is purely political considerations.”
TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha wrote in an e-mail that a further delay would have serious consequences for the United States. “If Keystone XL dies, Americans will still wake up the next morning and continue to import 10 million barrels of oil a day,” he wrote. “Much of that oil will flow from repressive nations, without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security. That would be a tragedy.”
But environmentalists said President Obama should reject a project that would perpetuate the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“We need the president to take charge and fulfill his commitments to break our addiction to oil and reduce the pollution that is heating our planet,” said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation.
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