Judge Blocks Work on Keystone XL Pipeline


The Keystone XL pipeline is facing yet another delay: A federal judge based in Montana recently ruled that project owner TransCanada will not be allowed to complete some forms of pre-construction work, though preparation for pipeline storage and container yards, for the later arrival of pipe, will be allowed to move forward.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled that work on certain pre-construction activities, including establishing worker camps for those who would build the pipeline, will not be allowed to move forward. Morris added, though, that TransCanada will be allowed to move pipe to storage yards.

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 President 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.

Recent Rulings

Earlier this year, 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 found that the line would have negligible to minor impacts on most of the resources studied.

In November, Morris temporarily blocked the construction of the 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. In December, Morris went on to rule that TransCanada will be permitted to continue preliminary work, but that the U.S. State Department was to conduct another environmental review of the project.

Blocking Construction

Due to this latest delay, the start of construction may be pushed back to 2020. According to CNBC, TransCanada noted that the ruling put the company’s ability to retain its skilled workers at risk. If these employees left for other opportunities, construction could not begin in 2019.

Nigel Bankes, a professor of law at the University of Calgary, told the CBC that he does not see Morris’ most recent ruling as significant.

"I think it simply confirms that the permit that TransCanada had remains suspended and what TransCanada has got out of this is some clarification about work that it can continue to do and work that it's not allowed to do under the earlier judgement,” he said.

Otherwise, the Nebraska Supreme Court is mulling over filing a lawsuit regarding the route that was approved by the state's Public Service Commission. (Nebraska houses the last part of the Keystone XL project facing legal issues on a state level.)


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

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.