WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project cleared a hurdle on Monday as the Trump administration said in a draft environmental assessment that an alternative route through Nebraska would not do major harm to water and wildlife.
The State Department’s assessment of a plan for an alternative route through Nebraska submitted by TransCanada Corp, the company trying to complete the pipeline, said Keystone XL’s cumulative effects would be “minor to moderate” on issues including water and biological resources.
It said the pipeline would have only minor impacts on cultural resources, such as Native American graves.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the pipeline, but not TransCanada’s preferred path. The alternative route will cost TransCanada millions of dollars more than its original route.
The $8 billion 1,180-mile (1,900-km) pipeline that would transport heavy crude from Canada’s oilsands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, has been fought by environmentalists and ranchers for more than a decade. Canadian oil producers who face price discounts for their crude due to transportation bottlenecks, support the project.
TransCanada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the draft assessment which will be open for 30 days of public comment by the State Department before being finalized.
TransCanada plans to start preliminary work in Montana in coming months and full construction in 2019, according a letter sent in April from the State Department to Native American tribes.
Former President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015 saying it would mainly benefit Canadian oil producers.
President Donald Trump’s State Department approved the pipeline last year based on an environmental impact statement from 2014 that environmentalists said was outdated.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, said the State Department was attempting a short cut to get the project built and a full review is required that considers changes in oil prices and market forces.
Keystone “is a threat to our land, water, wildlife, communities, and climate, and we will continue fighting, in the courts and in the streets, to ensure that it is never built,” said Kelly Martin, the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.
The State Department said it could not comment on the new assessment due to ongoing litigation.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chris Reese