LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a new route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Tuesday that avoids the state's environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.
The Republican governor sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying he would allow the pipeline to proceed through his state.
His announcement came one day after Obama promised in his inauguration speech to tackle climate change during his second term. Pipeline opponents have urged the president to deny a federal permit for the project, which is required because the Canada-to-Texas pipeline crosses an international border. Obama rejected the original proposal for the pipeline last year and later agreed to let construction begin on a southern leg of the project starting in Cushing.
The project has faced some of its strongest resistance in Nebraska from a coalition of landowners and environmental groups that say it would contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, a massive groundwater supply. Canadian pipeline developer TransCanada and some unions say the project is safe and will create thousands of jobs.
Surveys commissioned by the University of Nebraska, independent polling firms and industry-backed groups have shown that most Nebraska residents support the project itself, but wanted a route that avoided both the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer. Public outrage over the original route prompted Heineman to call state lawmakers into a special session in 2011, but the issue hasn't gained as much traction in the Legislature after TransCanada agreed to keep the project out of an area that state officials designated as the Sandhills.
TransCanada's pipeline is designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The company also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.
The original Nebraska route would have run the pipeline through a region of erodible, grass-covered sand dunes known as the Sandhills. Heineman said in his letter that the new, 195-mile route through Nebraska avoids the Sandhills but would still cross over a small part of the aquifer.
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Existing line ends in state
TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline ends in Cushing.
The proposed Keystone XL line would bring additional crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to the storage hub there, while continuing on to refineries in the Houston area.
The 485-mile section between Cushing and the Gulf Coast is under construction, a move the Canadian company announced last spring after the Obama administration rejected its original permit application for the full transcontinental pipeline.
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