Keystone XL: Trump may want it, but nobody else does (even big oil)
Intended to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States, the Keystone XL pipeline was blocked by President Obama in his last year in office, thanks in large measure to unrelenting opposition from 350.org, the climate activism organization cofounded by Bill McKibben.
By Steve Hanley
But the victory was short lived. One of the first thing America’s #FakePresident did after taking office was restart the Keystone XL pipeline with the stroke of the pen and a brusque statement — “The bottom line: Keystone, finished.”
Maybe, or maybe not. The pipeline is, after all, a commercial venture. It needs customers for the oil it will carry. The environmental impact study prepared for the project assumed that the price of oil would never fall below $100 a barrel during its useful life. Today, oil is selling for half that amount.
Also, it still needs approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which is scheduled to take up the matter later this year.
The NPSC must decide if the pipeline is in the best interests of the state’s citizens. It plans to complete hearings this month and render a decision by November. The five members of the commission are elected but one thing they are forbidden by law to consider is the safety of the project. Chalk that up to the enormous lobbying power of the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
But there’s this big ‘IF’
In a conference call with investors last week, Paul Miller, president of TransCanada’s liquid pipelines business said, “We’ll make an assessment of the commercial support and the regulator approvals at that time. In the event that we do decide to proceed with the project, we still need probably six to nine months to do some of the staging of the construction crews, et cetera, and that would be followed by about a two-year construction period.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement of the project. In fact, TransCanada is busy beating the bushes, trying to drum up business for its proposed pipeline. Under the best of circumstances, the pipeline won’t be moving any oil before the year 2020. The oil industry is in flux at this moment. The demand for oil isn’t going to disappear any time soon, but the market is being roiled by the advent of electric cars and renewable energy.
Finding customers who are willing to sign up for oil shipments in 2020 may be harder than originally thought.
And the opposition isn’t going away. This past weekend, landowners and pipeline opponents began a new resistance project called Solar XL, a solar farm situated directly in the path of the proposed pipeline.
“Solar XL is about showing what’s possible at a massive scale — a renewable energy economy that doesn’t sacrifice our communities or our climate,” says Sara Shor, the Keep It In The Ground campaign manager for 350.org. “Putting solar panels in the proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline will help power the homes of Nebraskans refusing to give in to the fossil fuel industry’s greed.”
The pipeline is also the target of a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth. The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on a three-year-old environmental impact study when it granted a permit to TransCanada.
“The Trump Administration broke the law by arbitrarily approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” says Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada Project. “And it ignored public calls to update and correct a required environmental impact statement that should have led to one conclusion: Piping some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through America’s heartland would put at grave risk our land, water and climate. We’re asking the court to put an end to Keystone XL once and for all.”
There are any number of reasons not to complete the Keystone XL pipeline. Oil from the Alberta tar sands is some of the dirtiest available anywhere on earth. And every pipeline is subject to leaks and other accidents that can let that oil escape into the surrounding environment.
But how ironic would it be that the thing that finally drives a stake through the heart of this abomination is simply that there are not enough customers to make it commercially viable. That’s something not even the Tweeter In Chief can change in 142 characters or less.