The controversial proposed path of the TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline across Nebraska is unlikely to change, company officials said Tuesday.
Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines, and Robert Jones, a TransCanada vice president who would be in charge of constructing the pipeline, met in Norfolk, Nebraska with four Nebraska state senators.
"We understand that the best solution from your perspective is to move the route. We don't believe that is an option for us," Pourbaix said.
"But there are things we can do together to improve the situation and add to your comfort level."
The project would cut across a corner of Nebraska's environmentally fragile Sandhills and the water-rich Ogallala Aquifer. Opposition to the route has swelled in recent months. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman asked the U.S. State Department last week whether the state can pass and enforce its own pipeline siting law.
State lawmakers are considering calling a special session of the Legislature to consider a siting law. The special session issue was not discussed at the Norfolk meeting.
"Clearly, the contamination of groundwater is the top concern," said State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, who organized the meeting.
Pourbaix said he understood the concern. "The Sandhills are a challenge, but pipelines are built where there is surface water all the time," he said.
The TransCanada officials said that if Nebraska had passed pipeline siting legislation two or three years ago, the route might have been changed.
"To do it now seriously jeopardizes the project," Pourbaix said.
He said a different route would almost certainly delay the project for several years because new, time-consuming environmental studies would render it impractical.
The company officials said they would study several requests from the legislators, including determining how much of the pipeline would be encapsulated in concrete to provide additional protection. They also reminded the lawmakers that a federal study found that the current proposed route would have the least environmental impact of any of the routes studied.
The 1,700-mile pipeline would carry tar sands oil from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Pourbaix said TransCanada did not realize that the project would become such a heated political and environmental issue in Nebraska.
"If the company had had any clue, we would have undertaken more efforts to communicate with the public," he said. "I hope it's not too late for that because what has been lost in all of this is the science and the facts."
(Editing by Greg McCune)