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TransCanada tweaks pipeline plan to avoid wetlands

HOUSTON (AP) — A Canadian company seeking to build a pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries has submitted a new application for the southern segment of the project that avoids sensitive wetlands in Texas.

TransCanada submitted its new application in April, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about the effect the original plan would have on wetlands along the Texas Gulf Coast and called for a more rigorous review process. Under the new plan, the company will drill under the wetlands rather than run across them, eliminating the need for EPA involvement, said Vicki Dixon, regulatory program manager for the southwestern division of the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The applicant is avoiding some of the impacts that were in the previous request," Dixon said. "At this point, from their initial review, the impacts have been reduced from what they had been in the previous proposal."

This permit is for the southern portion of a pipeline — the Gulf Coast Project — that will eventually meet up with the larger Keystone XL pipeline that will run from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline is primarily designed to transport crude oil from Canada's tar sands region to refineries in Texas. When it's complete, it will be able to move 1.4 million barrels of crude oil a day.

From the start, though, the project has attracted fierce opposition from environmental groups, and the larger plan was eventually rejected by President Barack Obama who asked TransCanada to reroute the northern portion to avoid sensitive areas of Nebraska. In the meantime, to relieve a bottleneck at a refinery in Cushing, Okla., Obama encouraged TransCanada to separately move ahead with the segment leading from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said that is why the company withdrew the initial application that drew the EPA's ire. The decision to drill under the wetlands and in some cases move the pipeline a few feet "to protect a farm house or a grain bin" were done to meet the requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers.

TransCanada believes it will have its permits in place to begin constructing the southern portion of the pipeline this summer, Cunha said.

Dixon said the Corps has not yet approved the application, but added that it appears the changes that have been made mitigate many of the environmental concerns they initially had.

TransCanada has applied for a "nationwide" permit from the Corps. Under this permit process, there is no public comment period to specifically discuss or address a project. Instead, there is one public comment period to approve the conditions that need to be met to have a project awarded. And it is assumed, if the permit is approved, that the environment and waters are being protected.

This has left some landowners feeling they have no say in the process.

"As people who are mostly impacted by this and will bear the brunt of this, our voices have been silenced for us by the process, and it's one that we should have input in," said David Daniel, a Winnsboro, Texas, resident who will have the proposed pipeline run through his 20-acre property.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report from Washington.

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