The U.S. Department of State plans to issue its court-mandated environmental review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by the end of the year, according to a court document filed Sept. 4.
The State Department said it expects to put a notice in the Federal Register in early September announcing plans to start analyzing the environmental impacts of the TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline project and to circulate a draft of the supplement environmental impact statement, or SEIS, in September. The agency said it expects to be able to publish a final SEIS in December.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls Division, in mid-August told the State Department to put together an SEIS that would cover the pipeline's revised route through Nebraska, called the mainline alternative.
"It should be noted that the dates given are estimates and that certain tasks that must be conducted during the [National Environmental Policy Act] process can take longer or shorter than expected," the State Department court filing said. "Nevertheless, the schedule reflects [the] defendants' best estimate as to how long the preparation of the SEIS will take."
The court order was part of a case brought by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Northern Plains Resource Council. The groups argued that the route TransCanada had originally proposed was not the one used by the project in Nebraska, meaning that the State Department's existing environmental assessments and approval were not based on the current plans.
The Trump administration in March 2017 issued a presidential permit to TransCanada to build the roughly 1,200-mile, 36-inch-diameter pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska. Presidential permits are required for pipelines and other infrastructure that cross the U.S. borders. The Nebraska Public Service Commission, however, did not approve TransCanada's preferred route, and in November 2017 it approved the so-called mainline alternative.
The mainline alternative would be longer and would go through five different counties in the state and cross different bodies of water than under the original route. The alternative would also require an additional pump station and a related power line.
TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP has said it plans to start construction in the second quarter of 2019. The court did not vacate the State Department's presidential permit but said it would consider "further remedies" if the SEIS cannot be completed before TransCanada plans to start construction.
The district court case is the latest in a decade-long series of challenges for the project. First proposed in 2008, the planned 830,000-barrel-per-day pipeline took center stage in the U.S. debate over long-term fossil fuel use and climate change. Under the Obama administration, the presidential permit application process dragged on for years as the State Department analyzed potential impacts before denying the permit in late 2015. President Donald Trump, however, encouraged TransCanada to reapply, reviving the pipe's prospects.