LINCOLN — Pipeline developer TransCanada has won a ruling that bars Nebraska landowners and others who oppose its Keystone XL project from testifying about potential oil leaks and whether the pipeline is needed.
Former Lancaster County District Judge Karen Flowers, who was hired to conduct next week’s hearings over the proposed Keystone XL, ruled that issues such as safety, necessity of the pipeline and whether the U.S. needs the Canadian oil are beyond the purview of the state’s review.
“The (Nebraska Major Oil Pipeline) Siting Act specifically prohibits the commission from considering safety considerations, including the risk of spills and leaks,” Flowers wrote in a ruling issued Wednesday.
She issued more than 30 rulings, based on objections filed by TransCanada, about what testimony would and would not be allowed at next week’s hearings over the Keystone XL’s 275-mile route across the state.
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Jane Kleeb, a leading opponent of the Keystone XL project, said that the Nebraska Public Service Commission is asking for a lawsuit if it doesn’t allow landowners and other experts testifying in opposition.
“They’re headed for a very tough court fight,” Kleeb said Thursday.
Testimony is scheduled to begin Monday at 9 a.m. and will continue all week, as the Public Service Commission weighs whether the pipeline is in the “public interest” of the state.
The $8 billion Keystone XL is designed to transport heavy, Canadian tar sand oil from Alberta to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The southern portion of the 36-inch diameter pipeline was completed years ago, but the portion from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, was rejected by the Obama administration.
President Donald Trump revived the project after taking office in January, but now there’s doubt that enough oil producers will sign long-term contracts to make the Keystone XL financially feasible.
The world has changed dramatically since the project was first proposed in 2008: Oil prices have plummeted, unemployment has fallen, interest in mining the expensive tar sand oil has cooled, and other oil pipelines have been built or proposed, reducing the need for the XL.
TransCanada said recently that it will decide by December whether it will go forward with the project.
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