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September 2019

Vol. 24, No.35 Week of September 01, 2019

Celebrations on hold: some positive decisions; potholes litter road ahead

Gary Park

for Petroleum News

The champagne bottles are lined up in Alberta, though no one is yet making any attempt to pop the corks.

After years of being tripped up and stalled by court and regulatory verdicts and threatened with civil unrest, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Keystone XL have moved closer to ending their paralysis.

Trans Mountain, owned by the Canadian government, said work on the addition of 590,000 barrels per day to the existing 300,000 bpd link from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver would resume in many communities along the right of way, targeting completion within three years.

Trans Mountain Chief Executive Officer Ian Anderson said that by the end of 2019, 4,200 people would be involved in the project, declaring he firmly believed “that we are finally able to start delivering the significant national and regional benefits we have always committed to.”

However, the government appointed agency did not provide an updated cost for the project, or a completion timetable.

But Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi told a news conference his government is “engaging in a process with indigenous communities” on selling an equity stake in Trans Mountain.

Tony Alexis, co-chair of the Iron Coalition, which has been authorized by First Nations in Alberta to seek an equity position in the pipeline, said some “critical information” is still needed before a formal bid can be submitted.

Project Reconciliation is the other First Nations group interested in buying all or part of the pipeline. It had no immediate comment.

Nebraska court ruling

Two days later, TC Energy (previously TransCanada) celebrated a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s approval route for Keystone XL over the objections of landowners and Native tribes.

But TC Energy still faces three separate legal challenges to President Donald Trump’s reissuance of a federal cross-border permit through an expedited presidential order, opening the way for an additional 830,000 bpd of oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Nebraska, then on to the U.S. Gulf Coast refining center.

TC Energy’s Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said the court decision “is another important step as we advance towards building this vital energy infrastructure project.”

He thanked “thousands” of government leaders, landowners, labor unions and other community partners “for their continued support through this extensive review project,” which has already lasted longer than a decade.

Despite that upbeat note, TC Energy gave no indication when it might make a final investment decision to proceed.

Looking for greater clarity

Earlier in August, TC Energy’s liquid pipelines President Paul Miller told analysts the company was awaiting greater clarity on the legal issues before moving to that stage.

He said Gulf Coast refiners have committed to ship crude on Keystone XL once the link is built.

The huge refining hub in Texas and Louisiana has already geared to process the heavy crude from Alberta now that the political upheaval in Venezuela has resulted in a steep decline in that country’s exports of its heavy crude to the U.S.

Although analysts believe the Nebraska court ruling has removed the biggest roadblock to completion of Keystone XL, Bold Nebraska, which organized landowners, environmentalists and tribal nations against the project, said “there is a lot of fighting spirit” within its ranks.

“We stopped this pipeline for the past 10 years and we plan on making sure it never touches our soil,” said the coalition’s founder Jane Kleeb.

University of Calgary law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos said challenging the presidential permit issued in March could delay the project until the 2020 election when a Democratic winner “could revoke the permit.”

- GARY PARK






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