LINCOLN — In what is expected to be a split decision, Nebraska regulators will decide this morning whether to approve or deny the route of the Keystone XL pipeline across Nebraska.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission will vote on the $8 billion project during a meeting that begins at 10 a.m. at the agency’s office in downtown Lincoln.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m., and space is limited in the commission’s hearing room. 

For the past several months the PSC’s five elected commissioners have been taking public comments and testimony from the Alberta-based developer of the crude oil pipeline, TransCanada, and opponents of the project, which include Bold Nebraska, the Sierra Club, dozens of landowners and two Indian tribes.

The question: Is the proposed 275-mile route across Nebraska in the “public interest”? By state law, the commissioners’ decision is not supposed to be based on safety issues or the possibility of leaks, but last week’s 210,000-gallon spill of crude oil in South Dakota from a companion pipeline, the Keystone, has renewed cries from opponents to consider that.

Regardless of how today’s PSC vote goes, lawsuits are expected. TransCanada has said it won’t determine whether the project is financially feasible until mid-December.

On Sunday, about 140 protesters, some holding signs saying “No oil in our soil,” gathered at the State Capitol in Lincoln to voice their opposition to the Keystone XL.

The buried pipeline could carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands region of Canada to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

One speaker at the protest, Tom Genung of Hastings, said his family in Holt County was threatened with an eminent domain lawsuit during its first meeting with TransCanada representatives years ago.

“We thought eminent domain was used only for public works projects,” Genung said. “The idea of using it for private gain should make everyone upset.”

Today’s meeting will be livestreamed by the PSC via its Facebook page and at “OP-0003KXLPipeline Application Meeting November 20, 2017 10am - 11am CT.”

The final order will be posted to the PSC website at psc.nebraska.gov.

The commissioners have said they will not comment on their decision, which will be laid out in a written order. Observers do not expect a unanimous decision.

The 36-inch pipeline was proposed in 2008, but the northern portion was rejected by then-President Barack Obama, who cited increased greenhouse gas pollution from the mining and extensive processing needed to convert Canadian tar sands into oil.

President Donald Trump resurrected plans for the Keystone XL after taking office in January.

The oil market has changed dramatically from when the Keystone XL was proposed. Back then, crude oil was trading at nearly $150 a barrel, about three times what it fetches today.

The Canadian tar sands oil that will flow down the Keystone XL is expensive to produce, and some major players have pulled out of that region because of a glut of cheaper and more easily accessed sources of oil elsewhere.

Production of oil in the United States, because of fracking, has risen to an all-time high, and exports of U.S. oil have increased sharply in the past few years.

However, TransCanada recently announced that “commercial support” for the project was about the same as when the Keystone XL was proposed.

The head of the company’s pipeline division, Paul Miller, told Reuters that there was sufficient demand to justify building the pipeline, though “specific terms” remained to be worked out.

paul.hammel@owh.com, 402-473-9584

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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