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FILE PHOTO: A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North...

Keystone XL operator asks Nebraska to reconsider after state approves alternative pipeline route

TransCanada Corp, the Canadian-based company that owns the Keystone pipeline, is asking the Nebraska Public Service Commission to reconsider its approval of an alternate route for the Keystone XL pipeline instead of the route preferred by the energy company.

After last week’s decision, Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that a careful review was underway to determine how the new route would “impact the cost and schedule of the project.”

On Monday, TransCanada said it is seeking further clarification from the commission about its approval of the alternative route, which adds an additional pumping station and five miles to the company’s preferred route. TransCanada has said the alternative route approved by the commission is more expensive, and that it believes the route it prefers is in the public interest of the state.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission told NewsHour it had no comment about TransCanada’s request.

Why it’s important

Former President Barack Obama, at the request of the State Department in November 2015, rejected TransCanada’s pipeline application for the Keystone XL, saying it would not serve the national interest of the United States.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” Obama said at the time.

But President Donald Trump reversed his predecessor’s action on March 24, when he signed an order allowing the Keystone XL to move forward, calling it “a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families.”

“It’s going to be an incredible pipeline, greatest technology known to man or woman. And frankly, we’re very proud of it,” Trump said in the Oval Office, the president of TransCanada Corp. by his side.

A Reuters report this week found the existing Keystone pipeline, which runs 2,147 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas, has leaked more oil, more frequently than what the company predicted in its initial risk assessment.

Nebraska regulators approved the 280.5-mile alternative route for the Keystone XL, which will expand on the existing pipeline through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, days after the existing Keystone pipeline’s latest spill, a 210,000-gallon leak near Amherst, South Dakota.

READ MORE: ‘We need to know’ more about Keystone oil pipeline leak, tribal chairman says

Cleanup for that Nov. 16 spill is still underway, according to TransCanada, which wrote on Nov. 24 that “air quality monitoring continues regularly without concern and there have been no water issues or suspected risks to water wells.” The company, which shut down part of the pipeline after the spill, has recovered 44,730 gallons of oil so far.

What’s next?

Since the Keystone XL route is slightly longer than the one preferred by TransCanada, the company may have to negotiate further payments with landowners to gain access to land, possibly delaying the completion of the project.

Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux said in a statement last week that the alternate Keystone XL route still poses threats to Native American territory,

“The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will fight this Treaty violation with any means necessary. We have not asked for this danger to our way of life, yet today it is being forced upon us again,” Frazier wrote in a statement.

Domina Law Group, a midwest firm of trial lawyers which filed requests on behalf of landowners in opposition to the XL pipeline, tweeted that “many challenges ahead for KXL pipeline.” One of them: A decision by a federal judge last week to allow a lawsuit against the pipeline to move forward, despite objections from TransCanada and the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, the Canadian pipeline operator announced Monday that it will resume operations near the site of the leak along the existing Keystone pipeline in Amherst, South Dakota.

TransCanada predicts that leaks will occur along the Keystone XL pipeline 2.2 times per decade, each time losing 126 gallons of oil or less. But as the Reuters’ report suggests, it’s hard to tell how accurate that assessment will be.