Opponents of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline accused Nebraska legislators Wednesday of bowing to the Alberta-based pipeline company’s interests after the lawmakers solidly approved legislation 44-5 to allow the pipeline to traverse the state.

The governor is expected to sign the bill into law. If approved, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) would resume its review and oversight of a route selection for the northern portion of the original Keystone XL project.

“LB 1161 puts the power for the final route selection in Nebraska back in the hands of Nebraskans, regardless of what takes place at the federal level,” said TransCanada’s Shawn Howard.

“We will be consulting with the NDEQ very soon to discuss next steps and to present them with our thoughts on a realigned route around the Sandhills,” an ecologically fragile mixed-grass prairie that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer is a major freshwater resource for 20% of the nation’s irrigated farmland, according to the pipeline opponents, who fear it may become contaminated in the event of a pipeline rupture.

Since the Obama administration in January denied TransCanada’s first permit request for Keystone (see Shale Daily, Jan. 19), Nebraska has been the focus for TransCanada’s decision to divide the project into two parts. The northern half, Keystone XL, would traverse the state.

TransCanada has said it will go ahead and apply, probably in May, for a permit for the Gulf Coast portion of the project, which would carry oil from Cushing, OK, to the Gulf of Mexico. The company then could seek an amendment at a later date for the Nebraska portion (see Shale Daily,March 20).