WASHINGTON — TransCanada wants federal regulators to move as swiftly as possible on its proposed Keystone XL pipeline by making use of past studies of the project, while environmental groups are urging the government to throw out those reviews and start from scratch.
TransCanada filed a new presidential permit application Friday for the northern section of the pipeline that would run from western Canada’s oil sands to a hub at Steele City, Neb., where it would tie into other pipelines that run south to Gulf Coast refineries. The company is pursuing a southern segment of the pipeline separately and hopes to start construction on it this summer.
The original application for the full pipeline was rejected by the Obama administration, which said it lacked enough time to make a decision before a deadline set by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The company wrote in the new application that it would submit the Nebraska portion of the route once finalized. But it also said the State Department should make use of extensive reviews of the company’s original proposal. Spanning several years, those reviews found that the project would have little environmental impact.
In an interview with The World-Herald, Alex Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines for TransCanada Corp., said the company expects the final Nebraska route to be nailed down by October and that it shouldn’t take long after for the State Department to make its determination. He downplayed the extent of the route changes being contemplated.
“We’re not re-inventing the wheel,” Pourbaix said.
But environmental groups call for a fresh review of the project, saying the existing studies are flawed, in part because they were conducted by a contractor with business ties to TransCanada. An independent review found no bias, but did fault some aspects of the State Department process.
In a statement released Friday, the State Department said it would hire an independent third-party contractor to review the existing materials, as well as help with new analysis of the new application.
It’s clear the fight will continue between those who see the pipeline as a job creator and a boon for energy independence and those who warn of its impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the potential risk of spills.
Jane Kleeb said her environmental advocacy group Bold Nebraska, which opposes the pipeline, will continue to rally landowners against the project. The new Nebraska routes being considered were drawn specifically to avoid the Sand Hills, but Kleeb said they still would cross sandy soils and the Ogallala Aquifer.
“There should be clear criteria — things like the soil types that we think that this type of pipeline should or should not be going through,” Kleeb said.
The State Department pointed Friday to its previously identified timeline for making a decision by early 2013. Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to push for quicker approval, while allowing Nebraska’s process to continue. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., is one of those leading the efforts.
“I’m glad to see this project moving forward again,” Terry said Friday. “For too long it has been held up by politics, misinformation, and fear-mongering. ... It is time for us to get the ball rolling.”
Pourbaix said that the early-2013 timeline for federal approval works for the company and that its shippers have committed to stick with the project. But his Canadian-based company won’t get into whether political pressure from those who favor the pipeline has been a help or hindrance, he said.
“We just don’t believe it makes a lot of sense for TransCanada to wade into domestic politics,” he said. “That debate ... on Keystone is going on without our involvement or input.”
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