[imgcontainer] [img:sandhills-whitman-rd.jpeg] [source]Prairie Works[/source] Nebraska's Sand Hills cover nearly 20,000 square miles and constitute one of th largest examples of pre-settlement vegetation in the Great Plains. Read more here. [/imgcontainer]

Pipeline developer TransCanada agreed Monday afternoon to alter the route of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.

For months TransCanada said it was impossible to alter the route of the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The route would take the line through the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska and over the recharge zone of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Ranchers and then legislators objected to the route and asked TransCanada to move the pipeline east, where it wouldn’t cross either the Sand Hills or the Ogallala. When the company refused, Gov. Dave Heineman called the legislature into a special session to consider laws that would give the state the power to order a new route. There appeared to be enough votes in the legislature to pass such a bill.

Monday, TransCanada made a deal with top Nebraska legislators. The company would move the route.

But that doesn’t settle the issue. The U.S. State Department still must grant a permit for the entire pipeline project since it crosses an international border. Last week, the State Department announced that it would conduct a new review of the project and that the project must find a way around the Sand Hills and the Ogallala. The review is expected to take more than a year.

TransCanada believes that the agreement in Nebraska ended the conflict. “I believe we will put the routing issue completely behind us,” said Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president of Energy and Oil Pipelines. “We have heard and we have listened to the people of the Sandhills.”

A spokesman for the State Department said the agreement doesn’t end its review. “Nothing has changed in the process since last Thursday’s announcement as any new proposed routes will be subject to the thorough, rigorous and transparent review process we have undertaken throughout,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the department.

“Given the process, we cannot provide a specific end-date, other than to say that based on the total mileage of potential alternative routes that would need to be reviewed, we anticipate the evaluation could conclude as early as first quarter of 2013,” Toner said.

The actions last week and Friday thrilled the Nebraska ranchers and environmentalists who had opposed the Keystone project. “It’s not often that citizens win against big oil, but they did today,” Jane Kleeb, an anti-pipeline activist told the Omaha World-Herald. “But we do not trust TransCanada. They have bullied and misled landowners and citizens.”

“This is a win-win for everybody,” said Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk, who negotiated the deal.

Update: More details coming out about the deal in Nebraska. There is some objection to the state paying for an environmental review of the new route. “I’m not happy that Nebraska taxpayers will have to pay for TransCanada’s mistake,” Jane Kleeb of BOLD Nebraska told the Omaha World-Herald. Legislators say it will be worth it to the state to have a new route and an independent review.

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