New route submitted for Keystone XL pipeline

Sep 7, 2012

Despite the outcome of the presidential race in November, Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean both agree, the Keystone XL pipeline will eventually be built.

“I think it’s going to be approved one way or the other,” said Barrasso, during the Democratic National Convention.

Earlier this year, Barrasso pushed for an expedited decision, to no avail. The Obama administration denied the permit, with some claiming Republicans had backed the administration into a corner with a 60-day deadline, forcing the rejection.

TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the pipeline, assured supporters that they would not give up, and last week, they came through with an alternative plan. The company submitted a Supplemental Environmental Report (SER) to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for the preferred alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska.

According to a company press release, the filing respects the NDEQ’s timelines and the overall regulatory process for determining a re-route in Nebraska, as requested by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in November 2011.

“Based on feedback from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the public, we have refined our proposed routing of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer. “The preferred alternative route in this Supplemental Environmental Report was developed based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state.”

The preferred alternative route and additional information presented in the SER addresses feedback from over 670 Nebraskans who took part in open house discussions, hundreds of additional comments submitted to NDEQ, and direct conversations with landowners along the pipeline corridor.

In addition to various minor refinements, the SER identifies three significant route modifications:

1) Northern Alternative Although NDEQ defined areas to avoid that were characterized as Sandhills, numerous comments from landowners and NDEQ indicated that there are additional areas that exhibit similar characteristics to the Sandhills, even though they are not identified this way in existing literature or agency databases. These areas include features similar to sand dunes and areas with sandy, erodible soils, with a thin organic layer of topsoil. The new re-route minimizes impact on these features.

2) Clarks Alternative During the public comment period, and through NDEQ review, Nebraskans suggested that Keystone avoid routing the pipeline west of the town of Clarks because the route would cross an area up gradient of the Clarks Well Head Protection Area (WHPA) and where the depth to groundwater is shallow and is the source of the town’s water supply. The re-route is now down gradient from the well head protection area, includes fewer areas of wind erodible soils, and crosses fewer sloped areas.

3) Western Alternative After the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published in August 2011, the city of Western was issued a new WHPA that extended further west, overlapping the FEIS pipeline route. In response, an alternative western route was developed, moving the pipeline out of the WHPA.

The SER has been filed with the Nebraska DEQ and will be available for viewing on the agency’s website, The report was also submitted to DOS in connection with an application for a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL.

Further highlights of the preferred alternative route include:

The route covers approximately 210 miles of the Keystone XL route in Nebraska and increases the length of the pipeline in the state by 20 miles to a new total length of approximately 275 miles; The Nebraska DEQ and other state and federal agencies developed a map that accurately defines the Sandhills region. The reroute respects this map and avoids the Sandhills area; The route included in the SER crosses fewer miles of threatened and endangered species habitat, fewer streams and rivers, and considerably fewer miles of severely wind erodible soils; Two wellhead protection areas have been avoided.

Work on the Nebraska re-route began in late 2011 and numerous environmental, engineering and other experts provided input into the design and alignment of the newly submitted route. The company said the experts took into account environmental, archaeological, cultural, land use compatibility, safety, constructability and economics into the route realignment process.

In addition to submitting the SER to the Nebraska DEQ, TransCanada was to provide an environmental report to DOS on Sept. 7, 2012. The environmental report is required as part of the DOS review of the company’s Presidential Permit application.

According to the news release, Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline built in America. To that end, the company will adopt and comply with 57 special safety conditions developed by the U.S. federal pipeline regulator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These conditions include: a higher number of remotely controlled shut-off valves, increased pipeline inspections, and pipe that is buried deeper in the ground.

TransCanada also uses a technique called horizontal directional drilling to drill under major rivers a minimum of 25 feet, allowing them to bury the pipe deeper on both sides of the river bank, offering protection from floods or high river levels. The pipe will be made of thicker steel as it crosses rivers, will operate at a lower pressure, and be further protected by advanced, non-abrasive coatings.

The FEIS for the project concluded the incorporation of the 57 special conditions ‘would result in a project that would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current code.’ TransCanada recently began work on the $2.3 billion Gulf Coast Project from Cushing, OK, to the U.S. Gulf Coast refining complex, a pipeline that is putting 4,000 skilled American laborers to work. If approved, Keystone XL will employ 9,000 Americans during construction and is expected to cost approximately $5.3 billion. Both of these pipeline projects offer Americans the ability to receive a reliable source of Canadian and U.S. crude oil rather than continuing to import higher priced foreign oil from unstable regions such as the Middle East and Venezuela that do not share American values. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor