First Section of Keystone XL Reaches Completion

FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2020

Recently, Canadian natural gas company TC Energy was reported to have completed construction on the first section of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The section crosses between Montana and Canada and is 1.2-miles-long.

However, the company is still working to resolve a recent courtroom setback, threating the entire project’s completion.

Keystone XL Pipeline History

In 2011, the $5.2 billion pipeline began flowing crude oil through seven U.S. states, where it will eventually work in tandem with the $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline as a whole is reported to handle up to 23 million gallons of crude oil daily.

In 2017, President Donald J. Trump’s administration reversed his predecessor’s decision on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, allowing the 1,179-mile oil pipeline to move forward again. Keystone XL, a project of TransCanada, is part of the larger Keystone system and plans to transport oil from Hardisty, Alberta, in the western Canadian oil sands, to Steele City, Nebraska.

In April 2018, TransCanada revealed that approximately 9,700 barrels of oil spilled on farmland in Marshall County, South Dakota, on Nov. 16, 2017—considerably more than the 5,000 barrels the company originally estimated were lost.

Preliminary reports indicated that the leak may have come as a result of damage to either the pipeline itself or its protective coating, caused during construction 10 years ago. The Aberdeen News noted that if the current estimate is correct, that spill is the seventh largest in the U.S. since 2010.

By July, officials confirmed at least one section of the pipeline north of Britton, South Dakota, was being dug up for inspection. A year later, a federal report indicated that improper coatings were likely used on the pipeline. The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration issued a notice of probable violation to pipeline owner TC Oil Operations, also known as TC Energy, in mid-June.

Another incident occurred this past November, causing over 380,000 gallons of oil to leak from the Keystone Pipeline, a total amounting to 9,120 barrels of crude oil. Sections of Keystone pipeline were shut down in response to the leak, which impacted a wetland area and, at the time, an estimated 2,500 square yards of land. TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, said that air quality, wildlife and environment monitoring was being conducted.

While the cause of the leak underwent investigation, North Dakota regulators also noted that drinking water supplies went unaffected, and TC Energy reported that the spill had been contained, and that it was using backhoes and vacuum trucks to recover the spilled oil.

The pipeline officially returned to service on Nov. 10, after receiving approval for a repair and restart plan by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

However, at the end of the same month, North Dakota environmental scientist Bill Suess, the estimated amount of land affected by the oil spill had risen nearly 10 times the original estimate, although the amount of oil leaked remained the same.

During collection, the contaminated soil was stockpiled and taken to a landfill in Sawyer, North Dakota.

Earlier this year in January, TC announced through a status report filing at the U.S. District Court in Montana that the company would kick off pre-construction efforts as early as February.

“This is very good news for Canada as a country,” said Tristan Goodman, President of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, which represents small- to mid-sized oil and gas producers. “It’s extremely good for Alberta and Saskatchewan, where a lot of the oil for this is coming from.”

In March, TC announced that it had officially began preliminary work for pipeline construction slated to take place along the border’s crossing into Montana. Groundbreaking for the project was expected to commence in April.

However, on April 15, Morris ruled that the Corps had failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species such as pallid sturgeon, a massive, dinosaur-like fish that lives in rivers the pipeline would cross.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the decision arrived as a result of a lawsuit that challenged the Corps’ failure to adequately analyze the effects of pipelines authorized under Nationwide Permit 12.

In May, although Morris said that he would reconsider the April ruling, announced that it would be upheld, canceling an environmental permit for the project. The ruling also has the potential to cause delays for other oil and natural gas projects as well.

“The need to protect endangered species and critical habitat from harm until the Corps completes programmatic consultation outweighs any disruption or permitting delays that would result from this partial vacatur,” Morris wrote at the time.

While attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmentalists were reportedly pleased with the decision, utility officials have announced that they intend to appeal. Among them, TC spokesperson Terry Cunha reported that the company would promptly file with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Corps and TC have been given 60 days from the ruling to send in their appeals.

What’s Happening Now

Since completing the border crossing in northern Montana, TC Energy is pressing forward with setting up labor camp sites near Baker, Montana and Philip, South Dakota. However, the company is still awaiting dates for when the sites can be occupied.

According to Erin Loranger, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the state still requires plans to ensure that TC Energy employees can prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Currently, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is working with two Native American tribes—the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes and the Oglala Sioux Tribe—to have coronavirus checkpoints removed from various federal and state highways.

The tribes are reported by the Associated Press to have set the checkpoints up as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from entering their reservations, as the checkpoints connect to several potential Keystone XL construction sites.

Noem has threatened to sue the tribes, should they refuse to remove the checkpoints and has since appealed to the White House to investigate.

Additionally, TC Energy is also awaiting a permit from the Corps to build the pipeline across hundreds of streams, wetlands and other water bodies along its route.

“We look forward to a resolution that allows us to advance our construction in 2020 without any further delay,” said TC Energy spokesperson Sara Rabern said.


Tagged categories: Construction; Contractors; Contracts; COVID-19; Government contracts; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Ongoing projects; Pipelines; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Project Management

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.