TransCanada Corp. expressed cautious confidence Thursday that a Nebraska court ruling knocking down the law that opened a route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state won’t play into the ongoing federal approval process for the controversial project.
Landowners and environmentalists opposed to the oil sands pipeline say this week’s decision by a Nebraska district court judge is a significant win on their side, and one that could further delay a U.S. Department of State decision on whether the proposed conduit to move oil sands crude from landlocked Alberta to Texas should be allowed to proceed.
However, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling told analysts and reporters, “this is a solvable problem and we are undeterred.”
He said Nebraska’s environment department has reviewed and approved the route, and the U.S. Department of State – which will have the final say as to whether the trans-border pipeline will be allowed to to proceed in the United States – has completed its own independent review.
“It is our view that the current 90-day national interest determination process that is now under way at the Department of State should not be impacted by this ruling,” Mr. Girling said during a conference call on his company’s fourth-quarter results.
The release of the final environmental impact statement on the project last month triggered the 90-day review period in which other U.S. departments and agencies can weigh in on various issues, including environmental effects, energy security and the economy. The State Department will eventually make a national interest determination on the project.
Mr. Girling said Wednesday’s court ruling means that Nebraska’s Public Service Commission, rather than the governor, has the authority to approve a route for Keystone XL through Nebraska. He noted the state’s attorney-general has already appealed the ruling, and TransCanada also has the option of applying directly to the state’s Public Service Commission.
While he expressed optimism Thursday, he also expressed uncertainty about what the newest project “hurdle” will mean.
“There’s always potential for delays in the process. We would hope that that doesn’t occur. But that’s yet to unfold here over the coming days,” Mr. Girling said of the federal approval process, which has dragged on for more than five years.
There was no further clarity on the role of the Nebraska ruling from the U.S. Department of State. In an e-mail, a department spokeswoman said they are aware of the Nebraska decision, but will not comment on ongoing litigation.
The Canadian pipeline company had been encouraged last month by the State Department’s final environmental impact statement that concluded that the approval of the controversial project would have little effect on the pace or scale of oil sands development, or increasing greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
However, the approval process remains highly politicized. Keystone XL opponents say the project would hasten climate change while the oil industry and supporters say the pipeline is being unfairly blamed for what is a global problem. During a North American leaders’ summit in Mexico this week, U.S. President Barack Obama said has no plans to accelerate the decision-making process.
On Thursday, Mr. Girling added that the company is looking at building its oil-by-rail capacity as a “bridge” to the point when regulatory approvals for pipelines built come through.