In a 3-2 decision that removes the last regulatory hurdle to building the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the 36-inch crude oil conduit this morning. The section would send 830,000 barrels of oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta and connect with the existing Keystone Pipeline to move the oil to the Gulf Coast. The KXL would be built across Alberta, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
This section of the pipeline was originally proposed in 2008 but was rejected in 2015 by President Obama, who said at the time, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that leadership.” President Trump reversed the decision last March, calling the pipeline “the greatest technology known to man or woman.”
The NPSC decision came just a few days after a 210,000 gallon oil spill in a section of the existing Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota.
The approval doesn’t mean the pipeline is going to get built. Much has changed in the nine years since the KXL was proposed:
- Transcanada, the Canadian company that owns the rights to construct the pipeline, has not decided if it will build the KXL because it doesn’t know if it has enough shippers to make the $8 billion project work financially. It expects to make the decision in December.
- Financial markets for oil in general are much different than they were when the KXL was originally proposed. Back then the price for tar sands oil hovered around $150 per barrel. Today that price is about $62. This year seven major multinational companies pulled out of the tar sands because of financial issues.
- The route approved today by the NPSC is an alternative route that would run through several different Nebraska counties than the original route. This will mean that rights of way will need to be secured from landowners in those counties. In a dissent to today’s decision, one of the NPSC commissioners said many of the landowners along the now-approved route may not be aware of the right of way requirement because no notice was given to them by TransCanada or the state.
- Opponents of the project, spearheaded by the grass roots group Bold Nebraska, have promised to file lawsuits to challenge today’s decision. You can donate to their efforts here.
Without the continued efforts of those opposing the KXL, it would have already been built. Stay strong.
Update 11/20/2017: Transcanada’s statement on the NPSC decision. This doesn’t sound like a company itching to move forward.
Update 11/23/2017: Jonathan Thompson of High Country News on pipeline spills:
Pipelines are often touted as safer than train or truck for transporting oil and other hazardous materials. But over the last two-and-a-half years, crude oil and hazardous materials pipelines across the U.S. busted at a rate of more than once per day, through corrosion, floods, lightning, vehicles and vandals. That doesn’t even take into account incidents on natural gas lines.
Some 3.6 million gallons of crude oil spilled in total, and five oil spills were as large or larger than the Keystone incident….”