Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman on Tuesday approved a revised route for the northern portion of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would run through his state. He notified both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of his decision in a joint letter.

The northern portion of the proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile project from Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) region of Texas and Louisiana requires a presidential permit from the U.S. State Department.

Heineman’s move, which ostensibly avoids the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills area in Nebraska that was included in an earlier proposed route, was immediately blasted by environmental groups, as they did earlier when Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials submitted a review of TransCanada’s alternate route to Heineman (see Shale Daily, Jan. 7).

A Canadian-based TransCanada spokesperson said that with the Nebraska action all of the states have given approvals for the northern routing, and the State Department can now complete its draft supplemental environmental impact statement. The company is hoping a final determination can be made “in the next few months,” but the spokesperson reiterated that TransCanada has received no indication regarding timing for a decision.

Separately, the National Association of Manufacturers called Keystone XL “an immediate job creator,” and urged a final approval from the Obama administration “as soon as possible to boost jobs.”

Nebraska has been the focus of the proposed full Keystone XL development since a year ago, when the Obama administration denied TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit. Subsequently, the pipeline developer/operator filed a new application and proceeded with construction of the southern half of the project from Cushing, OK, to GOM refineries.

Heineman approved the 194.5-mile rerouting and asked that the state evaluation report be used in the State Department’s supplemental environmental impact statement of the much-debated project.

BOLD Nebraska, which opposes the pipeline, criticized Heineman, who previously opposed any route involving the Ogallala aquifer, for performing “one of the biggest flip-flops” in the state’s political history. While the alternative route that DEQ assessed avoids the Sand Hills portion of the state, it does cross the High Plains Aquifer, including the Ogallala Group, according to BOLD.

The opponents said they will move forward with a planned “vigil” at the Nebraska Governor’s Mansion next Tuesday (Jan. 29) to draw attention to the issues they raise. “The fight continues, even though Gov. Heineman sided with a foreign corporation today and turned his back on our water and property rights,” said Jane Kleeb, the BOLD Nebraska spokesperson.

“As stated in the [DEQ] final evaluation report, TransCanada has provided assurances to the state that the company would implement [specified] mitigation measures,” including developing an emergency response plan for a crude oil spill, providing fast access to the project’s material safety data sheet in the event of a spill, and carrying out baseline water well testing for affected landowners, Heineman said in his letter to Obama and Clinton.

The measures also call for the Keystone XL owner/operators to be held “totally responsible for all costs” associated with a spill to meet both state and federal clean-up requirements. Keystone also is required to carry a $200 million third-party liability insurance coverage to address clean-up costs.