By Nia Williams and Swetha Gopinath
(Reuters) - TransCanada Corp filed an application with Nebraska authorities on Thursday to route its Keystone XL pipeline through the state, saying it expected a decision this year for this crucial leg of the $8 billion project that had been stymied by environmental groups and other opponents.
U.S. President Donald Trump cleared the way for the project at the federal level last month, reversing an earlier decision by former President Barack Obama, who had blocked it over environmental concerns.
Obama's veto in November 2015 led Canada's No. 2 pipeline company to withdraw its original route application to the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
The 1,179-mile (1,900-km) Keystone XL pipeline is meant to ship 830,000 barrels per day of mainly oil sands crude from the Canadian province of Alberta to Nebraska, before heading on to the world's largest refining market for heavy crude on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission process "is the clearest path to achieving route certainty for the project in Nebraska and is expected to conclude in 2017," TransCanada said.
Opposition in Nebraska from environmentalists and some landowners concerned about oil spills had been among several major hurdles facing the Keystone XL project. The line's route through the state was the subject of a court case over whether former Governor Dave Heineman was entitled to approve the route.
A Nebraska Supreme Court decision in 2015 ruled in support of the pipeline, but a number of Nebraskan landowners filed suits against TransCanada alleging the project violated the state's constitution. (reut.rs/2kpZzh1)
"Keystone XL is and always will be all risk and no reward," said Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance, an activist network opposing the pipeline.
In a quarterly earnings call TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said the company was in talks with crude shippers to update contracts for volume commitments on Keystone XL.
He acknowledged that oil prices and supply forecasts had changed since November 2015. Late last year the Canadian government approved two other major export pipelines: Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge Inc's Line 3 replacement project.
"While some of the shippers may increase or decrease the volume commitments we do expect to retain commercial support to underpin the project," Girling said.
The most recent cost estimate for Keystone XL is $8 billion, although TransCanada said that would be refreshed this year.
The company's net loss attributable to shareholders narrowed to C$358 million, or 43 Canadian cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, from a loss of C$2.46 billion, or C$3.47 per share, a year earlier when TransCanada had to take a C$2.9 billion writedown on Keystone XL.
Comparable earnings for the quarter were C$626 million, or 75 Canadian cents per share, helped by higher contributions from TransCanada's U.S. natural gas pipeline business, due to its $13 billion acquisition of Columbia Pipeline Group in July.
(Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, Alberta and Swetha Gopinath in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Vishaka George in Bengaluru; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio)