Keystone XL developer faces grilling at Nebraska hearing that will decide pipeline’s fate – Business

The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline and its allies will face a litany of tough questions in front of a Nebraska commission that will decide whether to approve the project’s final leg through the state this week.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing is the last major regulatory hurdle pipeline developer TransCanada must overcome in its nine-year quest to complete the $8 billion pipeline.

An attorney for Nebraska landowners who oppose the Keystone XL grilled several of the project’s top managers about whether the commission should impose requirements on their application, such as maintaining several feet of topsoil over the pipe and removing it if it’s ever decommissioned.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina questioned whether TransCanada would agree to limits on how long the pipeline would remain in the ground if it’s approved, an idea one company executive rejected.

“The commission should know that this route, if they want to permit it, doesn’t have to be perpetual,” Domina said. “It can be time-limited so the land can go back to the families.”

Monday’s hearing follows a top company executive’s suggestion last month that TransCanada officials haven’t yet decided whether to proceed with the project.

U.S. President Donald Trump gave his OK to the pipeline earlier this year, but Nebraska still has to sign off on it. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Paul Miller, an executive vice president who is overseeing the project, told an investor call that company officials won’t decide until late November or early December whether to start construction. Miller said company officials are waiting on approval for their proposed route in Nebraska and an “open season” in which oil companies bid for long-term shipping contracts.

The 1,600-kilometre crude oil pipeline has faced relentless criticism from environmental groups, Native American tribes and a well-organized minority of Nebraska landowners who don’t want the project cutting through their property. Business groups and some unions support the Keystone XL, saying it will provide jobs and property tax revenue for local governments.

The commission will decide whether to grant Calgary-based TransCanada’s application for route approval for the pipeline through Nebraska, allowing the company to gain access to holdout landowners’ property through eminent domain laws.

The hearing at a Lincoln hotel, which could run as long as five days, drew about 60 people on Monday. A digital billboard truck…

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