A Canadian pipeline company agreed Monday to move the controversial Keystone XL pipeline outside the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, where many feared it would threaten one of the nation’s most important agricultural aquifers.
Sen. Mike Flood, speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, announced on the floor that TransCanada Corp. would move the pipeline to another area of the state. Sources in Nebraska said it would likely be located farther east, nearer an existing Keystone pipeline that already carries Canadian tar sands oil into the U.S.
The announcement follows the Obama administration’s decision last week to postpone action on an international permit for the pipeline — one of the nation’s key environmental battle fronts as the presidential elections approach — until after 2012. Federal officials said they would explore alternative routes to the Sand Hills in Nebraska, the single most contentious location for the 1,700- mile-long pipeline.
“We were at the Capitol building, they were in special session, and Speaker Flood stopped everything and said that everything was over, and TransCanada has voluntarily moved the pipeline out of the Sand Hills of Nebraska,” said Todd Cone, a rancher who has been one of many battling the route through central Nebraska.
“We don’t have to worry about it anymore,” he said.
Matt Boever, spokesman for the speaker, confirmed that Flood had made the announcement after receiving a letter from the U.S. State Department confirming the department’s willingness to work with Nebraska state officials to explore other routes for the pipeline through Nebraska.
Sources close to the negotiations said the pipeline still is expected to enter the state at its original planned point. But legislation under review in a special session of the Nebraska Legislature would allow the state Department of Environmental Quality to work with the State Department on finding a route within the state that avoids the Sand Hills, where groundwater is often inches fr om the permeable, sandy surface.
TransCanada officials have said that some alternative routes could result in equally sensitive streambed crossings and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more. The company was expected to have a news conference discussing the announcement Monday afternoon.