Sandhills regions officially identified in step toward new pipeline route

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality announced Dec. 29, the areas that it considers to be Nebraska Sandhills, based on an analysis of a variety of existing data. This information will be conveyed to TransCanada for their reference as the company develops a proposed new route for the Nebraska portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. NDEQ Director Mike Linder said this was an important step resulting from legislation which was passed in November relating to the development of an alternative route that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills. “Obviously, the applicant cannot propose the route without knowing the area to be avoided,” Linder said. “NDEQ has been reviewing available information and has selected a map of ecoregions which was finalized in 2001 as best depicting the Sandhills region.” This map, titled “Ecoregions of Nebraska and Kansas”, was a multi-year project involving numerous state and federal agencies, including: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NDEQ, the U.S. Geological Survey, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the U.S. Forest Service. This information was conveyed to TransCanada Thursday. TransCanada will consider this information as it develops an alternative route for the pipeline. When TransCanada submits alternative route information, NDEQ will move forward in the development of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which will consider a variety of potential environmental impacts. NDEQ will provide opportunities for public participation during the process. Early in the process, the agency will conduct a series of information sessions to discuss what is being proposed and solicit public input. Later, when a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is developed, a formal public comment period will be held.Background on NDEQ’s New Responsibilities November 22, 2011, Gov. Dave Heineman signed LB4 into law, which provides new responsibilities to NDEQ relating to supplemental environmental impact statements involving oil pipelines. The first application of the new law is the development of a supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The legislation assigns NDEQ to work with the U.S. Department of State throughout the review. Negotiations continue with the U.S. Department of State to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding detailing how NDEQ’s environmental review process will fit into the federal review process.