HOUSTON - Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved TransCanada Corp.'s revised route for the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for a final decision from U.S. regulators on the project that would bring Canadian oil to the Texas coast.
The new route avoids Nebraska's Sand Hills, an environmentally sensitive region overlaying the Ogallala aquifer, the state's main source of groundwater. The pipeline will still cross the aquifer, though in a less sensitive area, according to a letter Heineman, a Republican, sent Tuesday to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informing them of his decision.
"Keystone would have minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska," Heineman said in the letter. "The concerns of Nebraskans have had a major influence on the pipeline route, the mitigation commitments and this evaluation."
Heineman requested that Nebraska's environmental review and route approval be added to the study underway by the State Department, which has authority over the project because it crosses an international border. TransCanada executives have said U.S. approval for the pipeline may come by the end of March. Victoria Nuland, a spokesman for the State Department, said the review won't be ready by then.
"Keystone XL is the most studied cross-border pipeline ever proposed, and it remains in America's national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment," Russ Girling, chief executive officer for the Calgary-based pipeline company, said today in an emailed statement.
Supporters of the 1,661-mile project have said it will provide thousands of jobs and help the United States avoid dependence on energy sources from politically unstable places. Critics have turned the pipeline proposal into an environmental debate over Canada's oil sands and the heavy crude's contributions to air and water pollution. Blocking pipeline transport of the oil to markets in the U.S. and overseas may jeopardize development of the resource.
Producing and using western Canadian crude adds annual carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 6 million cars compared to conventional crude, said Anthony Swift, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Approving the pipeline would be inconsistent with the environmental vision the president described in his second inaugural address, Swift said in a telephone interview.
"We're running out of time for action, and the problem with Keystone XL is that it locks in a dirtier source of energy for 50 years," he said.