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Keystone XL developer plans to start construction in 2019

The proposed route for an extension of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The proposed route for an extension of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline plans to start construction next year, after a U.S. State Department review ordered by a federal judge concluded that substantial environmental damage from a leak is unlikely and could quickly be mitigated, a company spokesman said on Monday.

The TransCanada spokesman Matthew John said the company remains committed to moving ahead with the project following years of reviews from federal and state regulators. The company has already started preparing pipe yards, transporting pipe and mowing parts of the project’s right-of-way in Montana and South Dakota, but TransCanada said in court documents it doesn’t plan to start construction in Nebraska until 2019.

The report issued on Friday by the Trump administration’s State Department drew criticism from environmental groups, who say they’ll continue to fight the project, which they view as an environmental threat.

“The Trump administration sees no problem with building the Keystone XL — in other news, the grass is still green and the sky is still blue,” said Kelly Martin, a campaign director for the Sierra Club.

The revised, 338-page report was released a little more than a month after a federal judge in Montana ordered the U.S. State Department to conduct a more thorough review of the pipeline’s proposed pathway after state regulators in Nebraska changed the route.

The original environmental-impact study was issued in 2014, before Nebraska regulators approved a longer “mainline alternative” route that veered away from the company’s preferred pathway.

President Donald Trump approved a federal permit for the project in March 2017, reversing former President Barack Obama’s decision to reject it amid concerns over greenhouse admissions.

The report said the $8 billion, 1,184-mile pipeline would have a “negligible to moderate” effect on the environment when being operated normally and that continuous monitoring and automatic shut-off valves would help company officials quickly identify a leak or rupture. Additionally, the report said TransCanada has a response plan in place that would mitigate the harm done by a leak if it were carried out quickly.

“Prompt cleanup response would likely be capable of remediating the contaminated soil before the hazardous release reaches groundwater depth,” the report said.

Environmentalists, American Indian tribes and a coalition of landowners have prevented the company from moving ahead with construction. In addition to the federal lawsuit in Montana seeking to halt the project, opponents have a pending lawsuit before the Nebraska Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the Nebraska case aren’t expected until next month.

Critics of the project have raised concerns about spills that could contaminate groundwater and the property rights of affected landowners. In Nebraska, a big battleground for the project, opponents are trying to change the composition of the Nebraska Public Service Commission in the hope of overturning its previous decision to approve an in-state route for the pipeline.

The latest State Department report is a draft that must still undergo public review, but federal officials say they expect to have a final draft ready by December. In court documents from the Montana lawsuit, TransCanada’s attorneys said they believe all the pending lawsuits will be resolved before construction begins.

The pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect with the original Keystone pipeline, which runs to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The State Department has noted that TransCanada has a lower spill rate than the average in the pipeline industry.

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