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'Major Victory for Nebraska Landowners' as TransCanada Drops Lawsuit, Switches Course

Energy

In a move that environmental activists and local landowners hope puts another nail in the Keystone XL coffin, pipeline giant TransCanada announced Tuesday it will withdraw lawsuits seeking to gain access to the property of landowners who oppose the project.

The pipeline giant said it was switching course and would file an application with the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) to seek approval for the Keystone XL route through the state—an approach it previously tried to avoid. Photo credit: netnebraska.org

Jane Kleeb, director of the advocacy group Bold Nebraska, called the decision "a major victory for Nebraska landowners who refused to back down in the face of bullying by a foreign oil company."

In a press statement on Wednesday, the pipeline giant said it was switching course and would file an application with the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) to seek approval for the Keystone XL route through the state—an approach it previously tried to avoid. The company said it is withdrawing its current eminent domain actions and is taking steps to terminate constitutional court proceedings in Holt County, Nebraska.

"After careful review, we believe that going through the PSC process is the clearest path to achieving route certainty for the Keystone XL Project in Nebraska," stated Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "It ultimately saves time, reduces conflict with those who oppose the project and sets clear rules for approval of the route."

But others said the development spells doom for the controversial pipeline project.

As Canada's Globe and Mail reports:

"The Canadian pipeline company that has been seeking U.S. approvals for the $8-billion pipeline for the past seven years said the new strategy is about avoiding a lengthy legal process in the Midwest state. However, opponents of the project said it was a clear signal the company—now laying off staff—needs to reduce its legal costs and is acting 'desperately' as it becomes less likely the pipeline will be approved while Barack Obama remains U.S. President."

"Last week TransCanada announced it will cut a fifth of its senior leadership positions and will soon begin laying off some of its rank-and-file employees. It cited low oil prices and regulatory delays stemming from environmental opposition to some of its projects as factors."

And the Wall Street Journal wrote that TransCanada is "trying to tap the brakes on the review process, hoping that by 2017 a potential Republican administration would approve the project or opposition to it would simmer down."

All Democratic presidential candidates oppose the pipeline.

On Twitter, Bold Nebraska's Kleeb put it another way:

"It has long been clear that TransCanada has no legal route through the state of Nebraska and no legal right to use eminent domain against landowners," she added in a statement. "Now they've recognized that they’ve lost in Nebraska and are desperately trying another tactic to see their risky pipeline built through our state. We are happy to continue this fight in the Nebraska PSC, but we are confident that it will never come to that."

"We know President Obama understands that this pipeline is all risk and no reward for Americans," Kleeb added. "We call on him to do the right thing now and fully reject the permit once and for all."

And Kleeb told the Omaha World-Herald that no matter where the fight takes place, "We have a hundred landowners who will continue to refuse to give up their land through eminent domain."

According to the Associated Press:

"[A spokesman] said TransCanada could apply to the Public Service Commission as early as Friday. Reviews by the commission generally take seven months to a year to complete and its decisions can be appealed in the state's district court system."

"Art Tanderup, a farmer and pipeline opponent whose land is on the proposed route, said he's confident the commission will not allow the pipeline to cross the Sandhills—a region of fragile, grass-covered sand dunes—or the Ogallala Aquifer, a major groundwater supply that lies beneath Nebraska and parts of seven other states."

In addition to trusting the commission's authority, Tanderup added that he is "confident President Obama will reject the pipeline before the PSC even has a chance to conduct a review."

Of course, the Keystone XL fight has implications beyond just one pipeline. As journalist Nick Cunningham wrote earlier this month at OilPrice.com, Canadian tar sands oil will be trapped without more pipeline capacity. "[W]ith the U.S. potentially closing the door on Keystone XL, the industry will have to find another way," he wrote. "Otherwise, less oil will be flowing from Canada's oil sands."

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

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The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.