TransCanada submits new Nebraska routes for Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline

WASHINGTON – TransCanada has proposed a new route for the disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline through Nebraska that avoids the state’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.

The Calgary-based company submitted a series of proposed routes — including a preferred alternative — late Wednesday to Nebraska environmental officials.

The state has become a focus of concern for the 2,735-kilometre pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

President Barack Obama blocked the pipeline earlier this year, citing uncertainty over the Nebraska route, which would travel above an aquifer that provides water to eight U.S. states.

Details of the preferred route were not immediately available. A spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality said officials hope to post the full proposal on the Internet as soon as Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the State Department said U.S. officials had not received notification of a new route. State Department approval is needed because the US$7-billion pipeline would cross a U.S. border.

Earlier on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow the Keystone XL oil pipeline to proceed, a move the White House has vowed to shoot down.

The pipeline project was included as part of a larger bill passed by the House that finances road projects through stopgap measures.

In blocking the pipeline in January, Obama said there was not enough time for a fair review before a looming deadline forced on him by congressional Republicans.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has voiced disappointment with Obama’s decision. He also visited China in February to explore alternatives.

Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves, more than 170 billion barrels, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to rise to 3.7 million by 2025.

Obama’s action did not kill the project but put off a tough choice on the pipeline project, which has become a flashpoint in a bitter partisan fight over jobs and the environment.

Pipeline supporters — including Republican lawmakers and many business and labour leaders— call the pipeline an important job creator.

Opponents — including Democrats and environmental groups — say it would transport “dirty oil” from tar sands in Alberta — that requires huge amounts of energy to extract. They also worry about a possible spill.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill earlier this week that allows the state to proceed with its review of the proposed pipeline through his state, regardless of what happens at the federal level.

Obama said last month he will direct federal agencies to fast-track a segment of the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas. The 780-kilometre line from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast would remove a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system, as rising oil production has outgrown pipelines’ capacity to deliver oil to refineries.

_ With files from The Canadian Press.