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11/20/2012 8:15:19 PM

Albion Hearing 'Last' Chance to Comment on Keystone XL Pipeline

Amy Schweitzer, The Grand Island Independent

Nov. 17, 2012 -- Now that a new route for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline has been presented that skirts the ecologically sensitive Sandhills, another public hearing will allow people to give the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) comments about the new route before the agency drafts its final report.

"Input from Nebraskans has been tremendously helpful for our work so far," said Mike Linder, director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. "Prior to finalizing the report and submitting it to the governor, we will carefully consider all additional comments made through the end of the hearing."

The public hearing and information session will be Dec. 4 in the Event Center at the Boone County Fairgrounds, 2616 Fairgrounds Road, Albion, Neb. The formal public hearing to obtain testimony regarding the state's Draft Evaluation Report and Keystone's Nebraska re-route will be at 6 p.m. It will be preceded by an information session from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in the Casey's Building at the Boone County Fairgrounds. This will be an opportunity for the public to meet and talk with those from the agency involved in the review in an informal open house format.

Jim Bunstock, public information officer for NDEQ, said the Albion meeting is the only scheduled hearing at this time. The location was chosen because it was central to those affected by the pipeline.

Those who cannot attend the hearing can submit comments via e-mail to NDEQ.SEISpubliccomment@Nebraska.gov or mail them to NDEQ Pipeline Project Comments, P.O. Box 98922, Lincoln, NE 68509-8922.

Written comments also can be submitted at the information session or public hearing.

Bunstock said the NDEQ considered Nebraskans' input before presenting its draft evaluation report and now is collecting comments before making a final report. The entire 600-page draft evaluation is available online at https://ecmp.nebraska.gov/deq-seis.

TransCanada has proposed to construct an 875-mile-long, 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline to transport oil from Canada's tar sands region to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and pick up some oil from North Dakota and Montana along the way.

The pipeline project was denied a permit in January by the Obama administration, which indicated it needed more time to review the project and whether it threatened drinking water supplies in the Ogallala Aquifer, an ocean of groundwater that is at its thickest points beneath the Sandhills.

A new route was proposed on April 18 and then refined in the Supplemental Environmental Report, which was submitted to NDEQ on Sept. 5.

A summary of the NDEQ evaluation report states that the new route successfully avoids the Sandhills as defined by extensive research, conducted by various state and federal agencies several years ago.

But some route alternatives in the Supplemental Environmental Report reduce the amount of fragile soils that are crossed in the northern portion of Nebraska.

Other points noted in the report include:

-- The revised route establishes greater distances from the sources of drinking water in the communities of Clarks and Western.

-- Numerous construction and operational mitigation measures would be incorporated to protect groundwater and surface water.

-- Keystone would pay for an independent public employee to act as a liaison to facilitate the exchange of information between Keystone and landowners, local communities and residents.

-- Keystone would provide baseline water well testing for domestic and livestock water wells within 300 feet of the center line of the route.

-- Keystone would adhere to 57 special pipeline safety conditions that had been previously agreed upon with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

-- Keystone would be responsible for developing an Emergency Response Plan for a product release associated with the operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline and ancillary facilities.

-- In addition to complying with all relevant state and federal cleanup requirements, Keystone will provide evidence that it is carrying $200 million in third-party liability insurance to cover cleanup costs for incidents in Nebraska.

Keystone has identified several variations of crude oil that would be transported at various times through the pipeline from Alberta, Canada, and from the Bakken Formation in Montana and North Dakota. The NDEQ report contains the general characteristics of the crude oil, which is similar to other crude oil from around the world. In the event of a spill, the appropriate authorities would have immediate access to the product's material safety data sheet.

Bunstock said NDEQ may have the final report done by the end of the year.

"But we've said from the beginning, our deadline is however long it takes," he said.

Gov. Dave Heineman will have the final say on whether the State approves the pipeline's route across Nebraska.

That decision will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of State, which will make the final judgment on whether the entire Keystone XL project will be allowed.


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