TransCanada asks Kerry for pause in Keystone XL application review

TransCanada Corp. asked US Sec. of State John F. Kerry for a pause in the State Department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline cross-border permit application to give Nebraska’s Public Service Commission (NPSC) time to complete its evaluation of the project’s new route.

The Calgary-based transmission company said it submitted an application to NPSC on Oct. 5 for approval of a new route it developed after a Nebraska court ruled that the statute under which then-Gov. Dave Heineman (R) approved the original route in 2013 was unconstitutional (OGJ Online, Feb. 20, 2014).

“It is anticipated that the route approval process before the [PSC] will take 7-12 months to complete,” TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said in his Nov. 2 letter to Kerry.

“We would note that when the status of the route in Nebraska was challenged last year, [DOS] found it appropriate to suspend its review pending resolution of that challenge,” Girling wrote. “We submit that, in the current circumstances, a similar suspension of the review process would be appropriate.”

TransCanada submitted a new application to DOS for the pipeline in May 2012 that proposed new routes through Nebraska. More than 2.5 million comments on it were received during a 30-day period ending Mar. 7, 2014, DOS said.

Opponents quickly called for the project’s cancellation. “This is nothing more than another desperate and cynical attempt by TransCanada to build their dirty pipeline someday if they get a climate denier in the White House in 2017,” League of Conservation Voters Senior Vice-Pres. for Government Affairs Daniel J. Weiss said on Nov. 2. “President [Barack] Obama and Secretary Kerry have all the information they need to reject this dangerous pipeline, and we are counting on them to do just that.”

‘Very lop-sided view’

American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard disagreed. “Anyone who declares TransCanada’s letter yesterday a victory obviously has a very lop-sided view,” he told reporters following an API 2016 election preview on Nov. 3. “Keystone XL still has strong public support. President Obama stalled for 7 years, so it’s reasonable for TransCanada to seek a pause while route issues are addressed in Nebraska.”

Gerard said, “The public could say enough is enough. President Obama’s energy strategy has not been a true all-of-the-above, but a select few approach. This could play out as a 2016 election issue.”

But there are additional uncertainties, ranging from the economic impact of dramatically lower crude-oil prices to Canada’s recent elections of new governments nationally and in Alberta which might feel differently about aggressively developing the province’s oil sands.

Keystone XL backers in Congress reacted immediately. “Today’s request by TransCanada doesn’t change the fact that President Obama deliberately chooses to put arbitrary delays on this vital energy infrastructure project,” US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) said on Nov. 2.

“Instead of saying ‘yes’ to jobs and North American energy security, the administration continues to say ‘no’ by its failure to make a decision on approving the Keystone XL Pipeline until it becomes someone else’s problem or until those who are attempting to invest in new American jobs simply give up,” Murkowski said.

One of the committee’s members, US Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), said, “Instead of making it harder to produce and transport energy in the US and Canada by denying and discouraging projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, the US needs to empower investment in the energy infrastructure needed to move oil and gas as safely and efficiently as possible, enabling our country to achieve North American energy independence.”

North Dakota’s other US senator, Heidi Heitkamp (D), added, “Halting a basic infrastructure expansion project will not make this country more energy efficient or independent, but it does set a foreboding precedent about our ability to achieve those goals. If we are serious about reducing our dependence on foreign oil and one day achieving our goal of energy independence, it is absolutely crucial that we immediately cease from legislating on emotion alone and finally get to work.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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