Nebraska judge blocks Keystone XL route

Strikes down law that allows oil pipeline to proceed through state; throws wrench in TransCanada's plans

TransCanada company officials have previously argued that cutting through Nebraska was the most direct, practical way to transport oil via the Keystone XL pipeline.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through the state, a victory for opponents who have tried to block the project to carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries. The Keystone pipeline has been a hot-button issue for the last several years, pitting environmentalists against business groups and conservatives.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued the ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of the route.

Stacy agreed with opponents' arguments that a law passed in 2011 improperly delegated the decision-making power to Heineman to give TransCanada, the Calgary, Alberta–based developer of the pipeline, eminent-domain powers within the state. Stacy said the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said the state will appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit was filed by three Nebraska landowners who oppose the pipeline.

"Under the Court's ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska," Dave Domina, the landowners' attorney, said in a statement. "TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state."

Domina said the ruling means that the governor's office has no role to play in the pipeline. The decision on a federal permit still rests with President Barack Obama.

"We are disappointed and disagree with the decision," said Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada.

"We will now analyze the judgment and decide what next steps may be taken," he said. "TransCanada continues to believe strongly in Keystone XL and the benefits it would provide to Americans — thousands of jobs and a secure supply of crude oil from a trusted neighbor in Canada."

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said it would be difficult to comment on the ruling because the Canadian government didn’t yet have the details. He said, however, that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs and noted that the U.S. State Department had concluded it is a project that is in the interest of both countries.

The Keystone XL pipeline is critical to Canada, which needs more infrastructure to export its growing oil sands production, and the ruling could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline. The Canadian province of Alberta has the world's third largest oil reservoir, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

The proposed pipeline route would cross through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which have already approved their segments, and company officials have previously argued that cutting through Nebraska was the most direct, practical way to transport the oil. A reroute around Nebraska could bring more states into the mix and would lead to further expensive delays.

A report released earlier this month by the State Department cited no major environmental objections to the 1,179-mile pipeline. From a hub in Nebraska, it would connect with existing pipelines to get the oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Most of the resistance to the pipeline has come from Northern states, where there are concerns of damage to sensitive ecosystems in the area. The southern portion of the pipeline has already been opened.

Pipeline supporters say that it will move the U.S. toward North American energy independence in addition to creating jobs.

Opponents say the pipeline would contribute to global warming. The State Department report said oil derived from tar sands in Alberta generates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional crude. But the report made clear that other methods of transporting the oil — including rail, trucks and barges — would release more greenhouse gases than the pipeline.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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