OMAHA, Neb. — The company that wants to build a pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries said Wednesday it has revised its proposed new route through Nebraska to avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
The latest proposed Keystone XL pipeline route is TransCanada's second attempt to satisfy state environmental regulators. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality said in July that the initial revised route crossed land that could erode easily and passed near unconfined aquifers that supply drinking water to residents and livestock.
The new TransCanada proposal tweaks that April plan, making the route veer east shortly after entering the state to avoid more of the sensitive areas in Keya Paha County, east again around the town of Clarks and west around the town of Western to avoid drinking water well fields.
"TransCanada shares the goal of protecting key water and natural resources with Nebraskans," TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said. The proposal also upgrades planned safety measures, adding more remote control shut-off valves and inspections, the company said.
Nebraska regulators said they would review the new proposal and hold a public hearing on it before submitting a recommendation to the governor, possibly by the end of the year. The governor will decide whether to approve the new route for the pipeline.
"An initial scan of the report indicates that it responds to some of the comments raised by the NDEQ and the public, but a full evaluation will now begin," said Mike Linder, director of the state agency.
Environmental groups have long opposed the pipeline project because of concerns that it could contaminate underground and surface water supplies, increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife.
Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb said the latest new route doesn't go far enough to address her group's concerns about potential erosion of the Sandhills and groundwater contamination, so she believes state and federal officials should block the pipeline.
"The route still crosses the aquifer and it still crosses sandy soil, so all of the same concerns remain," Kleeb said.
TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens said only 36 miles of the 275 miles of pipeline in Nebraska would cross sandy soils, and the new route entirely avoids the area Nebraska defined as the Sandhills.
Joe Mendelson of the National Wildlife Federation said the Keystone XL pipeline puts too much natural habitat at risk.
"The best approach is to ditch Keystone XL entirely and embrace clean energy solutions that don't spill or explode," Mendelson said.
The pipeline is designed to carry oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. TransCanada also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.
President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline in January by after congressional Republicans imposed a deadline for approval that didn't allow enough time to address questions about the route through Nebraska.
Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces. The company began construction last month on the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.