The long-stalled Keystone XL project passed a critical regulatory hurdle on November 20, just days after the existing Keystone pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil in South Dakota.
On November 16, Calgary-based TransCanada shut down the 590,000 bpd Keystone as officials began investigating the cause of the spill, roughly 3 miles (5 km) from the town of Amherst. The leak is the largest from Keystone in South Dakota to date.
TransCanada said the spill had been controlled, with no threat to public safety. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it would be days before investigators could determine whether there was any groundwater contamination.
TransCanada said it intended to restart the pipeline on November 23. On November 22, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that the company had told some customers that it would cut deliveries on Keystone by 85% or more up to the end of November.
Some customers have received higher cuts depending on commitment levels, one of the sources was cited as saying.
The spill has intensified debate over Keystone XL, which would carry 830,000 bpd of crude from the oil sands in Alberta to Nebraska, from where the oil could be shipped on to Gulf Coast refineries. This week, the project scored a major win as the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted to allow the 1,200-mile (1,931-km) pipeline to run through the state, though not on TransCanada’s preferred route.
The approval – the final state permit needed to build Keystone XL – followed a lengthy legal battle between TransCanada and Nebraska landowners. But Keystone XL’s opponents have vowed to fight on. Among these is the environmental pressure group 350.org, whose executive director, May Boeve, cited last week’s South Dakota spill in articulating the group’s opposition to Keystone XL.
“This is exactly the kind of disaster we can expect more of if Keystone XL is approved,” she said in a statement before the Nebraska approval came down. “Whatever Nebraska commissioners decide on Monday, we’ll be ready for the work ahead to stop this and all new fossil fuel projects that threaten our communities and climate.”
Keystone XL, which was initially proposed in 2008, has been stalled for years. In late 2015, then-US President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada’s application for a cross-border permit for Keystone XL. But current US President Donald Trump reversed course, green-lighting construction of the project after taking office this year.
Now TransCanada has to make a final investment decision (FID) on whether to build Keystone XL. The company said on November 20 that it was evaluating the Nebraska commission’s decision in an effort to assess how it would affect the cost and schedule of the project.