TransCanada, the company in charge of the Keystone XL pipeline, has announced that they would re-route the pipeline away from the Nebraska Sand Hills, where it would pass over an aquifer that provides a good deal of water for much of the Great Plains.
At a special session of the Nebraska Legislature, a state senator announced Monday that TransCanada had agreed to adjust its intended route of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region of the state.
“There had been discussions about this over the last couple of days,” said Matt Boever, a spokesman for State Senator Mike Flood. “Moving it out of that Sand Hills region is important.” [...]
“I can confirm the route will be changed and Nebraskans will play an important role in determining the final route,” Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president, Energy and Oil Pipelines, said in a statement Monday, adding that the company would support legislation in Nebraska that would shift the pipeline route.
This is a serious salvage effort for the pipeline, and it backs up my theory that the biggest obstacle to the project was not environmentalists, but lawmakers in Nebraska. If the state passed the proposed bill giving the governor the ability to veto siting for pipelines, it would have triggered a state-federal confrontation over authority. The passing of the pipeline over the Ogalalla Aquifer engendered the most sympathy in the public as well, and it gave the opposition to Keystone XL a bipartisan cast.
In response, the environmentalists have not been coddled; the Nebraska legislature has. The Bill McKibbens of the world don’t just want the project to be re-routed to protect the aquifer. Their problem is that the pipeline would carry the dirtiest carbon source imaginable, one that requires a tremendous amount of energy just for extraction. McKibben has called it “the fuse for the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” And yet the main response to the opposition has been to re-route the pipeline.
This will be viewed as a big concession, Republicans in Nebraska will move to support of the project, and after the election it will be granted, regardless of who’s in the White House. That’s the trajectory, anyway.
One goal for environmentalists could be to find whoever will replace Hillary Clinton at the State Department and get them on the record, right now, opposing the project. John Kerry should be getting a call. But to be clear, so far they’ve accomplished nothing more than getting the same pipeline carrying the same tar sands oil to follow a different route.