The decision to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline now rests with U.S. President Barack Obama after Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman removed the final obstacle by giving the green light to a new route for the proposed project Tuesday.
The initial route was changed in order to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region, the largest wetland ecosystem in the U.S, and the water aquifer beneath it.
In a statement Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver called Heineman’s approval of the new route a “positive” decision.
“We support the Keystone XL project because it benefits jobs and the economic growth of both Canada and the United States,” Oliver said.
“This important project is expected to create thousands of jobs and generate revenue to governments to support our critical social programs, including health care and education. Our desire is to work with the Obama Administration in achieving final approval.”
TransCanada’s $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline is designed to carry oil from Alberta across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The pipeline would nearly double the flow of oil sands bitumen to U.S. refineries.
In a letter to Obama informing him of his decision, Heineman said the pipeline would result in $418 million worth of economic benefits for Nebraska. The state would also see $16.5 million generated in taxes from the pipeline’s construction, along with $11 million to $13 million in property taxes.
TransCanada also welcomed the approval of the new route, saying that the “right infrastructure” is critical as North American oil production increases.
“Keystone XL is the most studied cross-border pipeline ever proposed, and it remains in America’s national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment,” CEO Russ Girling said in a statement.
The project has come under fierce criticism from environmentalists, which forced Obama to put it on hold last year in favour of further review. Some of the strongest opposition to the project has come from Nebraska.
Advocacy group Bold Nebraska is calling Heineman’s decision “one of the biggest flip-flops in Nebraska political history.” The group also claims Heineman based his decision on flawed data and biased advice.
“Heineman turned his back on landowners and citizens who asked for an unbiased review of the risks of this pipeline,” says a Jan. 22 statement. “President Obama is Nebraska’s only hope now as our governor and legislature have failed.”
Anthony Swift, energy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said on the NRDC Staff Blog that “[Heineman’s] decision will not ease the concerns of Nebraskans worried about the impacts a spill could inflict the sensitive environments the pipeline would pass through.”
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