Judge Temporarily Blocks Keystone XL Pipeline


In a ruling late last week, a federal judge temporarily blocked the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, citing that the Trump administration had not justified granting a permit for the project, and that the State Department disregarded issues regarding climate change to further the project’s agenda.

Judge Brian Morris, of the U.S. District Court in Montana, noted that in its decision-making, the Trump administration had transgressed against the Administrative Procedure Act, a measure that requires reasons for government actions, especially when it comes to decision reversals.

Keystone XL Pipeline History

The 1,179-mile Keystone XL was first proposed by TransCanada in 2008 and was subject to years of reviews and delays before the State Department under former President Barack Obama rejected the plan in late 2015 on the grounds that it was not in the national interest of the United States. During the seven years that the line was under consideration, it had become a lightning rod for environmental activists.

When Preident Donald J. Trump entered office, one of his first acts was to formally invite TransCanada to re-apply for permission to build the line; the company did, and quickly received permits from the federal government.

The final state to approve the pipeline, Nebraska, did so last November on the condition that TransCanada build on the “Mainline Alternative” route, which co-locates with existing rights-of-way for more miles than the company’s preferred route. A new Supplemental EIS was required because of that rerouting.

The 36-inch diameter pipe will carry crude from the oil fields of Alberta to Steele City, where it would then be moved via other pipelines to terminals in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. According to TransCanada, water crossings along the line will be made via horizontal directional drilling in order to minimize environmental impact, and the pipe under rivers will be made of thicker steel and protected with abrasion-resistant coatings to reduce the risk of damage that could lead to an underwater release.

In August, Morris ruled that the State Department’s environmental assessment of the long-delayed pipeline’s new route was insufficient and that the project required a full Environmental Impact Statement before it could be approved to move forward. In September, the State provided its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which finds that the line would have negligible to minor impacts on most of the resources studied.

New Ruling

This most recent ruling, prompted by a lawsuit filed by the indigenous Environmental Network and the Northern Plains Resource Council, among others, does not block pipeline construction completely, however, but says that, moving forward, the administration needs to conduct a more thorough evaluation of potential adverse impacts associated with endangered species, climate change and cultural resources.

The judge’s 54-page opinion notes that the State Department discarded “prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal.” The judge also accused the department of using outdated information about the potential impacts of oil spills on endangered species, rather than utilizing the most recent, best data available.

There had been significant changes since the issuing of the information the current administration used in its reversal, which date back to 2014, according to the judge, who went on to note that the administration had failed to consider what had changed. Morris also found that the State Department had failed to analyze the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of the Keystone project along with the Alberta Clipper pipeline, an Enbridge-owned pipeline that runs from Alberta to Wisconsin.

Morris also said that the department acted with incomplete knowledge regarding the potential damage to Native American cultural resources, while also noting that the department failed to provide an explanation with facts for its reversal.

The Trump administration may appeal this most recent ruling, but whether that will occur remains unclear as the administration has not responded with immediate comment. In the meantime, TransCanada announced that it has not given up on the project.

“We have received the judge’s ruling and continue to review it,” said company spokesperson Terry Cunha. “We remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project.”

TransCanada was hoping to begin construction on the project in 2019, but a proper environmental impact state of this scale usually takes a year to complete, noted Sierra Club Senior Attorney Doug Hayes.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Program/Project Management

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