Keystone XL pipeline route approved

With a 3-2 vote the Nebraska Public Service Commission has approved the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, giving TransCanada, the pipeline’s developer, a permit to build the line which would stretch from Canada to the existing Keystone pipeline. This AP graphic shows the Keystone XL pipeline in red.

Nebraska’s approval was the last major hurdle to starting construction of the project, however, the Washington Post reports the Commission approved an alternate path for the pipeline which could create additional delays:

The five-member commission rejected TransCanada’s preferred route and voted  to approve an alternative route that would move the pipeline further east. The route of the new pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude, would not cross any part of the state’s ecologically delicate Sandhills region.

The commission’s decision to back an alternative route could complicate TransCanada’s plans for the pipeline, forcing it to arrange approvals from different landowners. In its submissions, TransCanada had portrayed the alternative route as unworkable.

The path of the pipeline was already being opposed by environmentalists and a handful of property owners. That will continue now that TransCanada is forced to scramble for land rights along the new path. Opponents are already promising to tie the new approval up in court. The NY Times describes the multi-year battle to build the pipeline:

Supporters of Keystone XL, including many labor unions and business groups, have called the pipeline an economic necessity that would bring more North American oil to market, create jobs and provide a safer alternative to transporting oil by rail or truck.

But the opponents in Nebraska, a bipartisan coalition of landowners, Native Americans and environmentalists, stalled the pipeline during Barack Obama’s presidency by forcing a route change and then tying up the project in court. They questioned the project’s economic merits and said it posed a grave threat to their state’s groundwater and farmland.

Mr. Obama eventually denied a border-crossing permit in 2015, citing climate change, but Mr. Trump reversed that decision this year.

Today’s approval comes just four days after a spill of an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil from the existing Keystone pipeline in a remote location in South Dakota. The Keystone pipeline was shut down and crews have been working to clean up the spill since. But the sizable spill will certainly motivate opponents of Keystone XL to renew the kinds of protests we saw against the Dakota Access Pipeline last year.