LINCOLN — The U.S. State Department, in response to a judge’s order, has reported that operation of an alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline would pose “negligible to minor” threats to groundwater and other natural resources.
The 340-page report says safeguards used by pipeline developer TransCanada would most likely prevent a leak from causing extensive contamination of ground or surface water along the so-called “mainline alternative route” approved last year by the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
“Prompt cleanup response would likely be capable of remediating the contaminated soils before the hazardous release reaches groundwater depth,” the report says.
The draft supplemental environmental impact statement was prepared in response to an order a month ago by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana in an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s approval of the controversial pipeline project.
The judge ordered federal officials to conduct a supplemental environmental review of the mainline alternative route, a detoured route that crosses five new counties in northeast Nebraska. That portion was not part of the Keystone XL federal environmental impact study completed in 2014.
The supplemental report issued Friday still awaits public comment before being finalized.
The State Department has set an Nov. 8 deadline for written comments about last week’s environmental report and has scheduled a public hearing to take comments on Oct. 9 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Cornhusker Hotel at 333 S. 13th St. in Lincoln.
In late July, the State Department released another environmental review saying the pipeline posed “no significant adverse environmental impact.”
TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said the company plans to begin construction next year on the $8 billion pipeline, which was proposed a decade ago.
“Keystone XL has undergone years of extensive environmental review by federal and state regulators,” John said. “All of these evaluations show that Keystone XL can be built safely and with minimal impact to the environment.”
Environmental groups criticized the report and pledged to continue to fight the project. They point out that TransCanada has not announced if the long-delayed project has enough commitments from oil shippers to make it financially feasible.
Jane Kleeb, the founder of pipeline opposition group Bold Nebraska, said Monday that the State Department relied on “junk science” to make its newest conclusions.
She said that before Trump took office, the State Department concluded that the project wasn’t worth the environmental risks but that now the department is ignoring that science.
Kleeb predicted that the federal judge in Montana will reject the new report as “laughable.”
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