The Keystone XL pipeline will be constructed and operated at a safety level beyond that of any existing crude oil pipeline in the United States according to the recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Nebraska State agencies, local officials, emergency responders and other stakeholders played a key role in helping to ensure the safest and most environmentally-protective route was chosen and that the pipeline would be built and operated in a safe and reliable manner, with a focus on protecting the Sand Hills and the Ogallala aquifer.
"We have listened to Nebraskans and have utilized their input to ensure Keystone XL will be built to a safety level not seen before in a pipeline in the United States and that includes selecting the right route which has been done," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "They have worked with us for the past three years, offering their expertise, input and guidance."
Since 2008, the U.S. Department of State has been leading a comprehensive environmental review of all aspects of Keystone XL. The review culminated August 26, 2011 with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project. This review was the most detailed and comprehensive environmental review ever undertaken for a cross border pipeline.
In the FEIS, seven alternative routes were studied. They included one potential alternative route in Nebraska that would have avoided the entire Sand Hills region and Ogallala aquifer and six alternatives that would have reduced pipeline mileage crossing the Sand Hills or the aquifer. None of these seven alternatives were preferable to the proposed route as 'these alternatives would be longer than the proposed route and would disturb more land and cross more water bodies than the proposed route' - FEIS. The FEIS further determined these alternative routes would affect substantially more agricultural land, developed land, forested land, range land and wetlands. They would also cross substantially more streams and rivers.
The FEIS concluded that 'The analyses of potential impacts associated with construction and normal operation of the proposed Project suggest that there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project corridor.'
Key agencies that provided input in the FEIS process include:
-- Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
-- Nebraska Department of Game and Parks Commission
-- Nebraska Department of Roads
-- Nebraska Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks
-- US Fish Wildlife Service
-- US Corps of Engineers
-- US National Park Service
-- US Natural resources Conservation Service
-- University of Nebraska Lincoln
-- "Landowners for Fairness" Landowner Group
This ongoing consultation played a role in TransCanada voluntarily agreeing with the federal pipeline regulator to an additional 57 special conditions that provide an even greater confidence in the operation and monitoring of the pipeline, including: a higher number of remotely controlled shut-off valves, increased pipeline inspections and pipe that is buried deeper in the ground.
The FEIS concluded the incorporation of the 57 special conditions 'would result in a project that would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current code'.
There are currently 21,000 miles of pipelines crossing Nebraska, including 3,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines. Many of these pipelines co-exist within the Ogallala aquifer. Six thousand barrels of oil are produced daily in Nebraska and hundreds of thousands of barrels are produced in adjacent states through the Ogallala aquifer. In Nebraska, 17 of 18 oil producing counties sit atop the aquifer. Moreover, one of the leading hydrogeologists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Jim Goeke said in a recent Nebraska TV interview that the aquifer would not be at risk if there was a leak in Keystone XL.
"Professor Emeritus Goeke's points support the 36 months of rigorous environmental reviews of the FEIS process," concluded Girling. "We recognize the importance of Nebraska's water and natural resources and would never put them at risk and we remain open to discussion over ways to improve the safety and reliability of our system."
To date, through direct discussions with affected land owners, Keystone XL has negotiated voluntary easement agreements with over 90 percent of Nebraskan landowners and 95 percent of those landowners in the Sand Hills.