Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved a new route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Tuesday that avoids the state’s “environmentally sensitive” Sandhills region.
The Republican governor sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying he would allow the pipeline to proceed through his state.
His announcement came one day after Obama promised in his inauguration speech to tackle climate change during his second term. Pipeline opponents have urged the president to deny a federal permit for the project, which is required because the Canada-to-Texas pipeline crosses an international border. The president rejected the original proposal for the pipeline last year, which forced the pipeline’s organizers to reroute its starting point to Cushing, Okla. (thus making it an interstate affair and taking the decision out of the president’s hands).
The project has faced fierce resistance in Nebraska from a coalition of landowners and environmental groups that say it would contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, a groundwater supply. Canadian pipeline developer TransCanada and some unions say the project is safe and will create thousands of jobs.
TransCanada’s pipeline is designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The company also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.
The original Nebraska route would have run the pipeline through a region of erodible, grass-covered sand dunes known as the Sandhills. Heineman said in his letter that the new, 195-mile route through Nebraska avoids the Sandhills but would still cross over a small part of the aquifer.
Unsurprisingly, the pipeline’s most vocal critics remain firmly opposed to the project.
“Gov. Heineman just performed one of the biggest flip-flops that we’ve seen in Nebraska political history,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of the group Bold Nebraska.
Gov. Heineman has previously said he would oppose any pipeline route that endangered the aquifer. In his letter to federal officials, he said any spills along the new route would be localized, and any cleanup responsibilities would fall to TransCanada. He also said the project would result in $418.1 million in economic benefits for the state and $16.5 million in state tax revenue from the pipeline construction materials.
Those favoring the Keystone XL project, including such organizations as Americans for Prosperity, the Consumer Energy Alliance and Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, have cited the nation’s need for more oil and praised its potential economic impact.
Canadian officials also cheered the announcement.
“As we have repeatedly said, the Keystone XL Pipeline will create thousands of jobs on both sides of the border – including 140,000 in Canada,” said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Canada exports most of its oil to the U.S. and needs a way to move its growing oil sands production from northern Alberta, which has more than 170 billion barrels of proven reserves. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more reserves.
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The AP contributed to this story. Featured image courtesy Getty Images.