Until a final decision is set in stone – until the project is finished or scrapped completely – the dust will never fully settle for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
It’s been an ongoing saga since 2010, when the Canadian National Energy Board approved TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP) international pipeline.
It would run from the tar sands in Hardisty, Alberta in Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, where it will connect to another pipeline extending to Cushing, Oklahoma and refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast.
But the initial proposal for a Presidential Permit was denied this year – something that figured largely in the presidential debates. The denial has faced fierce criticism, but so did the proposal itself.
The Sand Hills region in Nebraska over which the pipeline would cross is environmentally sensitive, and a large freshwater aquifer is nearby.
Earlier this month, environmentalists protested outside the White House to shoot down Keystone XL.
But this week the decision moved into more productive stages. On Tuesday, a public hearing in Albion, Nebraska allowed residents that would be affected by the pipeline to voice their opinions.
Those in favor of the pipeline believe the construction jobs it will bring will help boost the local economy.
But opponents fear what it will do to the sensitive environment.
“TransCanada is still risking our aquifer and still risking the fragile sandy soils of our state,” she [Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska] said in a statement.
Over 160 people signed up to speak at the hearing, going back and forth between the pros and cons. The opinions will be compiled together in a report for Governor Dave Heineman, who will evaluate the impacts of the project.
The final decision is not his, however. Though the pipeline would pass through his state, its international status places the final decision in the hands of the Obama administration, which expects to make a decision in March or April.
Barack Obama was criticized heavily throughout the presidential campaign for his failure to approve the pipeline the first time around. According to Mitt Romney, he was shooting down a huge opportunity for domestic energy and domestic jobs.
But Obama also indicated that his decision would not be his last, perhaps suggesting that the decision would be different the second time around. TransCanada is certainly hoping so.
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It might be aided by a proposal from Roy Spalding and Aaron Hirsh of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Spalding is a hydrochemist and water quality expert at the university, and he and engineering student Hirsh proposed a new route for the pipeline.
This route, the proposal in the Environmental Science and Technology journal says, would avoid the environmentally sensitive parts of the state. Instead, it would take the pipeline through areas that are already polluted from agricultural chemicals.
Spalding told UPI:
“It was basically to introduce a new approach to siting pipelines. It was written not only for the XL pipeline but also for any future pipeline proposals that are going to carry liquid fuel.”
Jane Kleeb shot down this proposal, stating that it didn’t change anything. It is, however, a major effort to appease both parties, and one that may be taken into serious consideration in the decision.
The Keystone XL saga is far from over. If the proposal does go through, it will not be online until 2015, and it’s sure to stir up more opposition in that time. If it doesn’t, proponents won’t likely quiet easily, and TransCanada may not take no for an answer.
But the decision is entering the final stages, and we will know one way or another soon enough.
That’s all for now,
Energy & Capital’s modern energy guru, Brianna digs deep into the industry with accurate and insightful updates into the biggest energy companies and events. She stays up to date with the latest market moves and industry finds, bringing readers a unique view of current energy trends.