Construction of the controversial TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline will begin at the southern portion of the pipeline, with approval from the White House early last week. However, construction permits for the northern section are still awaiting approval. Many Nebraskan landowners and environmentalists still strongly oppose the project.
Obama, who had promised to green-light the project’s southern section in a speech in March at a pipeyard near Cushing, Okla., has granted permits for the section of the route that passes from Cushing through Texas to the Gulf Coast near Nederland, Texas.
The president’s speech in March outlined steps to expedite approval of the entire southern section from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast. Currently, there is an oversupply at the Cushing facility, which is in desperate need of relief lines to Gulf refineries.
TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline, expects construction of the southern portion, also known as the Gulf Coast Project, to begin in mid-2012 with a service date of approximately mid-2013. The pipeline will be able to transport 700,000 barrels per day, giving much relief to Cushing.
TransCanada reapplied for the permits to complete the northern section from Cushing north through Nebraska to Alberta Canada. According to TransCanada, they expect approval for the northern portion in early 2013, with service dates beginning in 2014 or 2015.
“The fact the Department of State has reaffirmed its timeline for making a decision on a presidential permit for Keystone XL early next year is an important development and we look forward to the detailed schedule of the steps needed to meet that Q1 2013 timeframe,” said TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling, according to TransCanada.
“It is important to recognize that by the time a final decision on this critical piece of North American energy infrastructure is made, Keystone XL will be well into its fifth year of exhaustive and detailed studies, the most extensive review for a cross-border pipeline ever,” he said.
Obama, who denied approval of the XL pipeline in January, said he needed more time for environmental review of the project. This was after much local outcry from the Sandhills region of Nebraska where the pipeline was slated to pass.
“The final review should focus solely on the realigned route that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills,” said TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling in early June, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “The rest of the Keystone XL route remains the same. The geology of the route remains the same. The environmental conditions remain the same. Nothing else has changed since the Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved.”
Environmentalists, such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and many Nebraskans still strongly oppose the pipeline, even with the alternate route through Nebraska. They fear that a break in the XL would spill the tar sands oil, which contains more contaminants than crude oil, and would make for a spill that would be costly and hard to clean.In mid-June this year, the oil company Enbridge experienced a leak in its Athabasca pipeline, spilling about 1,400 barrels of oil onto rural Canadian lands. In 2010, Enbridge suffered a pipeline spill that dumped about 20,000 barrels into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Many anti-pipeline advocates cite these spills when opposing XL.
“The Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest, most advanced pipeline ever built in North America, and no one has a stronger interest than our company and our employees in ensuring that it operates safely and reliably for decades to come,” continued Girling. “Each year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on our North American energy infrastructure system to ensure long-term pipeline integrity and to take proactive preventive maintenance measures to keep things operating the way they are designed to.”
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