Nebraska environmental officials on Friday issued a final evaluation report regarding TransCanada Corp.’s alternative route for the norethern portion of its proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. 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.

Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials said that their report has been submitted to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who has 30 days to review it and pass on a recommendation in the pending Keystone application at the U.S. State Department (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4).

The DEQ report was almost immediately blasted by an anti-Keystone XL pipeline organization, Bold Nebraska, which accused the state agency of failing to address “serious concerns” raised in a citizens’ review of the new pipeline route. The state’s report was labeled as a “farce” by the organization’s executive director, Jane Kleeb.

After a seven-month comment period, the DEQ report said it reflects comments the agency has received from 3,922 members of the general public and other governmental agencies.

While the alternative route DEQ assessed avoids the Sand Hills portion of the state, it does cross the High Plains Aquifer, including the Ogallala Group. It is the latter aquifer that caused the need for an alternative route earlier in the multi-year siting process for this controversial project.

Noting that the Keystone project would provide $418.1 million in economic benefits to the state, including 4,500 new or existing jobs, DEQ’s report concluded that with various mitigation measures construction and operation of the proposed oil pipeline would have “minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska.”

The various special conditions that Keystone backers have agreed to would be enforced by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

TransCanada still hopes to have a final decision by the State Department before the end of the first quarter, allowing it to proceed with the controversial northern portion of its proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile project from Alberta, Canada to the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region of Texas and Louisiana.