U.S. State Department officials on Wednesday clarified that the Obama administration is only looking at alternative routes for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline within Nebraska, somewhat easing the fears of Colorado water watchdogs worried about a “Western Alternative” that might reroute the project through the state.
Reacting to concerns from environmentalists and Nebraska legislators last week, the administration announced it would explore alternative routes for the pipeline meant to transport crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” President Barack Obama said in a written statement last week.
Most of those concerns had to do with the pipeline crossing Nebraska’s vital Ogallala Aquifer and passing through the sensitive Sand Hills region, leading some to believe the administration intended to shift the pipeline out of the state altogether.
“Throwing northern Colorado under the XL Pipeline bus is a non-starter,” Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action told the Colorado Independent. “We will be watching this process closely to make sure that all of the proposed environmental damage is not shifted from Nebraska to northern Colorado.”
In fact, the administration appears to only be looking at new routes within Nebraska for the TransCanada project – routes that would avoid the sensitive Sand Hills region of that state. State Department officials confirmed that this week, referring to a press briefing last week with Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Jones was asked by a reporter, “Just to be clear, you’re looking at a different route within Nebraska, not rerouting it around Nebraska?” And Jones replied: “That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. It is the Sand Hill region in Nebraska that has been the focus of so much discussion.”
However, re-routing and analyzing new routes in Nebraska could take up to 18 months, meaning a final decision – which is being made by the State Department because the project would cross an international border – will not be made until after the 2012 presidential election.
“I can confirm the route will be changed and Nebraskans will play an important role in determining the final route,” TransCanada’s Alex Pourbaix said in a statement this week.
However, Republicans this week blasted Obama for stalling the project for political reasons and costing an estimated 20,000 jobs. Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn joined 57 colleagues in sending a letter to Obama urging him to take quick action.
“Construction of the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and inject millions of dollars into local economies,” the letter reads. “While the Keystone XL Project cannot solve America’s energy crisis alone, it is a necessary step for the U.S. economy, U.S. national security and U.S energy needs.”
But a top TransCanada official last week told CNN that the project will only result in “hundreds” of permanent jobs in the United States. TransCanada says that the 20,000 jobs will be in the short-term construction and manufacturing industries.
Environmentalists have objected to the $7 billion project for boosting one of the most environmentally destructive forms of fossil fuel production, and ExxonMobil’s pipeline spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River this summer created even more public concern about the project.