Sandhills not off limits for future oil pipelines

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November 17th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – A bill to regulate the location of future oil pipelines in Nebraska moved ahead in the Legislature Thursday, but without a provision that would have specifically barred them from the Sandhills.

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The bill is the latest version of Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas’s proposal to give the Nebraska Public Service Commission authority to approve or disapprove the routes of pipelines to be proposed in the future. It would not apply to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Lawmakers advanced a bill to regulate future oil pipelines in Nebraska, but without barring them specifically from the Sandhills. (Photo credit Wikimedia)

Pipeline company TransCanada has said it will propose a new route for part of that line to avoid the Sandhills. The Department of Environmental Quality will help put together an environmental impact statement on that revised route, and the governor will have to indicate if he approves or disapproves.

Environmental groups said Dubas’s bill on pipelines to be proposed in the future does not go far enough. They said it should be changed to make it clear that the Sandhills are off-limits.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm offered an amendment to make that explicit. “More pipelines will be built,” Haar said. “And we need to be prepared to stand up for our natural resources. I believe this amendment treats all pipeline companies fairly. If TransCanada is expected to bypass the Sandhills because of their sensitivity, then so too should other pipelines in the future.”

But Dubas said other language already in her bill would allow the Public Service Commission to address Haar’s concerns. “They are able to take into consideration all of our natural resources,” Dubas said. “So whether it’s the aquifer, or whether it’s surface water, or any of the other natural resources that we have in our state, and then how those particular natural resources would be depleted.”

Haar withdrew his amendment before it reached a vote. That avoided the possibility that if it failed, a future pipeline promoter could argue the Legislature had specifically rejected a ban on pipelines in the Sandhills. The Legislature then gave Dubas’s bill, LB1, second round approval on a voice vote.

Meanwhile, Omaha Senator Brenda Council renewed her criticism. Council said giving the Public Service Commission approval power for future proposed pipelines conflicts with the giving the governor approval power over the Keystone XL. The two procedures are contained in two separate bills.

Speaker Mike Flood said one reason for a separate bill to handle the Keystone XL proposal is not to delay a decision by waiting for the Public Service Commission to set up its approval procedure. Flood said the procedure to be used for the Keystone XL could remain in the law as an optional backup procedure for pipelines proposed in the future.

The bill that applies to Keystone XL is up for second round debate Friday.

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