XL Pipeline gets support from key Nebraska senator

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline project received a boost Wednesday in the form of support from Nebraska Senator Michael Flood, who believes a proposed law to divert the pipeline route around an environmentally sensitive area could be unconstitutional.
Rail cars arrive in Milton, N.D., loaded with pipe for the Keystone pipeline. The oil pipeline has become a divisive U.S. issue. (Eric Hylden/Associated Press)

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline project received a boost Wednesday in the form of support from a key U.S. politician.

Senator Michael Flood, speaker of the Nebraska state legislature, wrote a letter to his colleagues outlining, in part, why he believes a proposed law to divert the pipeline route around an environmentally sensitive area, known as the Sandhills, could be unconstitutional.

"Considering that the Keystone XL project, in particular, is nearing the end of federal and state review processes, a (necessarily) lengthy new state process at this point, however good and worthy its goals, would significantly disrupt interstate and foreign commerce," Flood wrote.

The senator added that he believes a special sitting of the state legislature to review the project would not be necessary.

Calgary-based TransCanada's $7-billion pipeline would carry bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to upgraders and refineries in Texas. The project has drawn fire from environmental groups, celebrities and politicians, who are concerned that spills could damage the environment.

TransCanada has responded to concerns in Nebraska by committing to several new measures, including a $100 million bond that would be used to clean up any spills, adding additional casings to the pipe in environmentally sensitive areas, and to do more water testing.

"These latest measures go above and beyond what we've already done to show people that this pipeline will be built and operating safely," TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard told CBC News.

However, Howard says changing the route to avoid the Sandhills area is not practical, as it would actually cause more disturbance.

"There would be more river crossings, water crossings. So, this is the smartest route."

Howard said TransCanada now hopes to sit down with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman to figure out how to move the approval process forward.