TransCanada is once again seeking approval of its Keystone XL pipeline route in Nebraska in the latest move to push the polarizing project forward since getting a nod from U.S. President Donald Trump.
The energy company says the application it filed with the Nebraska Public Service Commission Thursday is the clearest path to achieving route certainty, adding that it expects a decision from the commission by the end of the year.
But with Nebraska the source of some of the fiercest resistance to Keystone XL in the U.S., those opposed to the project are also looking to the commissions' public hearing process to halt or reroute the project over concerns a spill could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer and damage property.
"We're an ag state not an oil state, and so we don't think that we should be risking our water supplies and the agricultural economy so Canada can get their tarsands to the export market," said Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance group that is pushing against the project.
TransCanada says the pipeline would avoid the Nebraska Sandhills area of the state under which the aquifer sits, but Kleeb disagrees with how the company has defined the area and says it still threatens water reserves.
She said she's confident that those opposed to the project will be successful through the Public Service Commission process, which TransCanada has reverted to after first trying to use eminent domain to seize land for the project.
The commission will have to determine if the pipeline carrying some 830,000 barrels a day of Alberta crude towards the U.S. Gulf Coast will serve the public interest, after former president Barack Obama decided it wasn't in the national interest in 2015.
TransCanada says the proposed route was approved by the governor of Nebraska in 2013 and its application has been shaped by "direct, on-the-ground input from Nebraskans," while the jobs and taxes it will bring help make it in the national interest.
"This project very much remains in the national interest of both Canada and the United States," said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling on a conference call Thursday.
TransCanada says more than 90 per cent of landowners in the state have already voluntarily signed easements to the project, while Kleeb says there are 82 landowners still strongly opposed who have refused.
The company has already filed a presidential permit application for the project after being invited by President Trump, who has asked that the review process be done quickly.
It is also canvassing oil producers to confirm interest in shipping along the line, saying in its quarterly results that it expects to have enough interest to make a final investment decision on the long-delayed project.
"We continue to believe that the U.S. Gulf Coast is the largest and most attractive market for growing volumes of Canadian heavy oil," said Girling.
Paul Miller, president of the company's liquids pipelines division, said on the call that TransCanada doesn't anticipate starting construction on the pipeline until well into 2018.
He said the company has yet to update the cost of the 1,897-kilometre pipeline running from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb., which as of 2014 ran to US$8-billion, but they expect to do so this year.
The company is waiting to learn more about any cost implications of President Trump's order requesting U.S. steel be used in pipelines and how the order will be implemented, as well as what could come of the U.S. leader's commitment to renegotiate some of the terms around the pipeline.
TransCanada has hired the CGCN Group lobbying firm to help bolster its efforts in D.C. on Keystone XL, as well as on its billions of dollars worth of projects stemming from its acquisition of the Columbia Pipeline Group last year.