As a study emerged Monday in Canada raising public health concerns about oilsands, groups long opposed to TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline blasted a report released Friday evaluating a rerouting of the oilsands-linked pipeline in Nebraska by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Last Friday DEQ issued a final evaluation report (see Daily GPI, Jan. 7) regarding TransCanada’s alternative route for the northern portion of its proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the opposition group Bold Nebraska on Monday said it was “flawed,” alleging the report was done by the Canada-based pipeline company because a Nebraska-based engineering firm that does business with TransCanada (Omaha-based HDR) was tapped by DEQ to do the evaluation.

State and company officials contend that the rerouting avoids environmentally sensitive areas in the Sand Hills region of the state, and carries 57 special conditions that TransCanada has agreed to fulfill, but Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb said the new route still impacts the Ogallala aquifer group even though it skirts around the Sand Hills.

“We read the DEQ report and quickly realized it was a $5 million document written by and for TransCanada,” Kleeb said during a conference call with news media Monday. In contrast, TransCanada CEO Russell Girling said the document was “the culmination of a rigorous and comprehensive review” by DEQ, including “extensive public input” gathered during a seven-month comment period.

Among seven points that the report confirmed, Girling emphasized that it concluded that normal operation of the northern portion of TransCanada’s proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile project from Alberta, Canada to the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region would have “no effect on ground or surface water quality or use” along the pipeline route in Nebraska.

Nevertheless, Kleeb and a group of landowners and their attorneys said threats to the aquifer and impacts on the state’s agricultural economy “continue to be unanswered.” Kleeb accused the DEQ of lacking a “single, independent study on how the overall aquifer will be affected from a tar sands spill.”

Adding to opposition by environmental and landowning groups in Nebraska were reports in the national news media Monday about a new report by university researchers in Ontario, Canada indicating that a half century of oilsands development in Alberta has affected water systems nearly 100 kilometers from the development and more study of the potential harmful impacts needs to be done. The study focuses on cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons getting into lakes and rivers from the oilsands.

Opposition landowners also are challenging a law passed last year by the Nebraska state legislature (LB 1161) giving the governor the authority to decide if a proposed Keystone XL route through the state is acceptable. A district court judge at the end of last year ruled that the landowners could move forward with four of its arguments in a lawsuit related to the alleged unconstitutionality of the state law.

While the legal and public relations wars continue, TransCanada said its priority is to work with Nebraska to identify “the most appropriate route” and it is awaiting Gov. Dave Heineman’s decision, which is expected later this month or in early February.

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