- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2018

After a decade of uncertainty and near-constant battles with federal and state regulators, TransCanada said Thursday it plans to break ground on the Keystone XL oil pipeline next year, delivering a huge win for the energy industry and laying to rest rumors it was on the verge of walking away from the $8 billion project.

The Canadian company said it has secured “500,000 barrels per day of firm, 20-year commitments,” meaning TransCanada believes the pieces are in place to make Keystone financially viable for the next two decades. The company still has hurdles to clear: Most notably, it needs easements from dozens of Nebraska landowners with property that sits along the pipeline’s route.

Despite the challenges ahead, Thursday’s news is the surest signal in years that Keystone — which would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast — will become a reality.

When it breaks ground, Keystone will represent a major victory for President Trump, who revived the pipeline in March after it had been scuttled by the Obama administration over concerns about climate impacts.

“Over the past 12 months, the Keystone XL project has achieved several milestones that move us significantly closer to constructing this critical energy infrastructure for North America,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO. “We thank President Donald Trump and his administration for their continued support and appreciate the ongoing efforts of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska legislative and congressional delegation, Omaha Federation of Labor, Nebraska State AFL-CIO, our customers and various stakeholders to advance this project.”

Nebraska regulators late last year approved a Keystone route through the state, though it was not the path TransCanada preferred, leading to speculation the company could pull the plug on the pipeline.

But TransCanada’s statement Thursday seems to confirm that the company is content with the route approved by Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. Nebraska regulators already have rejected TransCanada’s petition to reconsider the route, meaning the company essentially has been forced to accept the permitted path or scrap the pipeline.

For pipeline proponents, the news could not have come at a better time. In recent weeks, several high-profile pipeline projects have run into serious trouble, giving environmentalists and other opponents fresh ammunition to argue oil-and-gas pipelines are dangerous and unnecessary.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection suspended all construction on the Mariner East 2 natural gas pipeline, which was designed to carry gas from the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania to export facilities not far from Philadelphia. State regulators said the project manager, Sunoco, hadn’t complied with permit requirements, such as detailing how it would prevent mud spills or how it would deal with impacts on private water wells.

“Until Sunoco can demonstrate that the permit conditions can and will be followed, DEP has no alternative but to suspend the permits,” Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.

Also this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission upheld New York’s decision to reject the proposed Constitution Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to upstate New York.

New York regulators said Constitution Pipeline Co.’s plans didn’t satisfy state clean water standards; the company responded by arguing state officials took too long to act. In the end, federal officials agreed with New York regulators, and the project was put on hold.

Even existing portions of the Keystone pipeline system have had major issues. A part of the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota in November leaked 210,000 gallons of oil, reigniting fears that the project would be an environmental disaster.

As for the future of the rest of Keystone, environmental groups still aren’t buying that TransCanada has firm plans to break ground, despite the company’s strong comments Thursday.

“It’s just bluster from TransCanada to pretend that this unnecessary and unwanted pipeline is close to proceeding. It still faces enormous regulatory and legal hurdles and continued fierce opposition from landowners, farmers, indigenous peoples, and activists alike,” said Patrick McCully, climate and energy program director at the Rainforest Action Network.

Other green groups point out that TransCanada in the past has called the approved pipeline route through Nebraska unworkable. In addition to major hurdles with landowners in Nebraska, and uncertainty about the viability of the route, it’s also possible the federal government could have to undertake new environmental impacts studies of the latest path — a process that could take a year or longer.

TransCanada’s announcement today is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the fact that they still face significant headwinds towards ever making their Keystone XL pipe dreams a reality,” said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “For eight years, Nebraskans and Americans across the country have fought back and told TransCanada that we do not want their dirty tar sands pipeline. It’s time they listened and put this project to rest once and for all.”

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