Nebraska regulators have given the final approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to run through their state, eliminating the last major regulatory obstacle preventing the completion of the 1,179-mile pipeline system that would help carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 3-2 today to allow the pipeline, though it said the company behind the project, TransCanada, had to find an alternative route that traversed less environmentally sensitive areas of the state. The decision comes just days after another pipeline run by TransCanada, the Keystone, leaked 210,000 gallons of oil on grasslands in South Dakota.
The Keystone XL has generated strong grassroots opposition from communities along its route, as well as nationally from climate activists. But this opposition has been the strongest, and most effective, in Nebraska, where a bipartisan group of landowners, indigenous peoples, and environmentalists have been fighting and delaying the project for the past seven years.
President Obama initially halted the project in 2015, citing the pipeline’s contribution to climate change. But President Trump reversed that decision earlier this year, and has strongly advocated for the pipeline’s completion.
The PSC’s decision to reroute the pipeline is seen as a small victory for the Nebraska activists, who argued that the company’s preferred route crossed numerous ecologically sensitive areas, including the Ogallala Aquifer, a key source of drinking and irrigation water in the region; the Sandhills ecosystem; and swaths of rich agricultural land. But the commission’s recent decision can be appealed, and opponents of the pipeline say they will continue to fight the project in court.