TransCanada's $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead from the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday, clearing the last regulatory hurdle in a nine-year effort to build a line needed the carry thick crude oil from Alberta's tar sands region to refineries on the Texas gulf coast.
But the five-member commission rejected TransCanada's preferred route and voted to approve an alternative route that would move the pipeline further east. The new pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude.
The 3-2 decision comes just four days after a rupture in the existing Keystone pipeline also owned by TransCanada leaked an estimated 5,000 barrels of crude oil in a rural part of northeast South Dakota. The spill, the latest in a series of leaks on the existing pipeline, raised concerns about other potential spills, economic impact, and climate change.
The independent commission had come under pressure from the Nebraska state legislature and labor unions to approve the pipeline while environmental groups and prairie populists have vowed to appeal, if necessary, to the courts and follow that up with civil disobedience.
The commission includes Frank Landis, a lawyer first elected in 1988; newly elected Mary Ridder, a cattle rancher from the state's ecologically sensitive Sandhills region; Rod Johnson, a former Republican state legislator; Tim Schram, a former county commissioner; and Chrystal Rhoades, who has worked with a variety of community organizations.
In her dissent, Rhoades said she opposed the pipeline regardless of the route. She said that the pipeline was not in the state's public interest, that jobs would not go to Nebraskans, that it would create "significant burdens" on landowners whose use of the pipeline corridor would be limited, and that she was still worried about the environmental impact.
"All human-made infrastructure degrades and fails over time," she wrote. "No infrastructure ever designed has lasted for eternity and there is no reason to believe this pipeline will be an exception." Rhoades acknowledged that the commission was not supposed to weigh the risks of spills, but she said the state's Department of Environmental Quality had included it in the record.
While TransCanada has promoted the pipeline project as a jobs creator, Rhoades said that "there was no evidence provided that any jobs created by the construction of this project would be given to Nebraska residents."
She also said that TransCanada had failed to consult Nebraska's Native American tribes. She noted that the company said it had consulted with the Southern Ponca Tribe, but Rhoades said that resides in Oklahoma. "This is the equivalent of asking a distant relative for permission to do a major construction in your backyard," she wrote.