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The process of obtaining individual water crossing permits for the Keystone XL pipeline has begun, with a joint public notice published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

Keystone XL crosses the Missouri River in Montana downstream of the Fort Peck spillway, where it would be trenched across federal property that is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which means it requires a Section 408 permit.

That permit had originally been granted under Nationwide Permit No. 12, a system whereby the agency ensures that plans meet certain, preset criteria, and then adds specific conditions as needed. A Ninth District judge in April ruled that reliance on that type of permitting system did not provide an adequate “hard look” at the risks to the pallid sturgeon or the American burying beetle, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

TC Energy subsequently filed an application for the individual permit it will need to finish construction of the line in July, according to the published notice of pending permit, which lays out the project’s details as well as invites public comments. The notice is online in its entirety at https://bit.ly/3aDaOy3.

Mike Lash, public information officer for the US Army Corps of Engineers, told the Williston Herald that the agency will take public comments on the matter through Sept. 13.

After that, there will be a series of four public hearings, the dates of which are not yet set, but will likely land somewhere between the end of September and early October. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these hearings will be conducted virtually, by telephone. Each hearing will require a 30-day notice. That puts the project on a 120-day timeline to complete this process, which would mean the earliest the company could get approval is in mid to late December.

Written comments may be sent now through the end of Sept. 13 to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Dakota Regulatory Office, 28563 Powerhouse Road, Room 118, Pierre, SD 57501. They can also be emailed to nwo-kxl-pn@usace.army.mil. Phone comments may be left via voicemail to 402-995-2027. When leaving a comment, you must clearly state your name, and the comment, for it to be added to the formal record.

TC Energy in its July earnings call said it does not anticipate changing its 2023 completion date. It is continuing to fight the matter in court, even as it pursues lengthier state and federal permitting processes.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration updated the permits for the existing Keystone pipeline to increase its capacity from 590,000 barrels per day to 760,000.

TC Energy, formerly Transcanada, first proposed Keystone XL in 2008 to carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Nebraska. From there, it could access existing pipelines for shipment to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Obama administration twice rejected the pipeline, citing the potential to worsen climate change, but Donald Trump invited the company to resubmit its application after he was elected President of the United States and rapidly green-lighted the project.

The pipeline has since been mired in litigation from environmental groups that oppose fossil fuel in general and by tribal groups that oppose the pipeline’s route under the Missouri River at a point they believe is too near their reservation and could jeopardize the tribe’s water quality.

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