TransCanada has begun contacting Nebraska landowners along the newly approved path for its Keystone XL pipeline as the company ponders whether or not to build.

"We're not standing still," said Dean Patry, TransCanada's senior vice president for liquids pipelines, speaking Tuesday to attendees of the Calgary-based company's annual investor day in Toronto. 

Patry was asked, but gave no timeline for when TransCanada executives will make a final investment decision on the pipeline.

The soonest the company hopes to begin construction is next year, a decade after the 36-inch, $8 billion pipeline was first proposed. It would run 1,184 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, connecting there with the existing Keystone pipeline to carry Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Keystone XL's fate has never been certain, but Nebraska regulators added to that uncertainty last week by rejecting TransCanada’s preferred route for the pipeline in favor of another route through this state.

TransCanada has asked the Nebraska Public Service Commission for clarity on its decision, but says it isn't trying to contest the approved route.

The Public Service Commission determined TransCanada's preferred route wasn’t in the public interest because it did not take advantage of an existing utility corridor. Instead, the commission approved a route that more closely follows the original Keystone pipeline, which was completed in 2010.

That approved route — the “mainline alternative” — would carry the pipeline through Keya Paha, Boyd, Holt, Antelope, Madison and Stanton counties before meeting up with the existing pipeline and continuing through Colfax, Butler, Seward, Saline and Jefferson counties.

The change means TransCanada would need to deal with new landowners, plan and build more pumping stations, cut through more regulatory red tape and face the probability of fresh legal challenges from pipeline opponents, who argue the commission's decision was in error. That process could add months, even years, to the project timeline.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zachami.

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