Last week I reported about the spill of 210,000 gallons of oil from the Keystone XL pipeline, and expressed hopes that somehow this would sway the Nebraska Public Service Commission that was set to vote yesterday on whether or not to grant approval for the final stage of the pipeline that would go through Nebraska. So what happened yesterday?
Predictably, the commission voted that the pipeline may proceed through Nebraska … BUT … it is not the win TransCanada, the builders of the pipeline, had hoped for. Why? Because, while the commission said they could proceed, they mandated that it follow an alternative route. Hey, it’s an alternative world with alternative facts, so why not an alternative route? What does all this mean, you ask?
First, it means that the project that has been on the drawing board for nine years now will be futher delayed. Second, you may remember I noted that the two environmental impact studies were outdated (2012 & 2014) and thus did not include last week’s major spill. With the alternative route, a new environmental impact study could be called for – one that would include the recent spill, as well as the one from last year. Third, the landowners along the new, alternative route, have not had the opportunity of due process, the chance to argue their case before the state commission, which could result in a legal delay. Fourth, with oil prices down significantly from when the project was first proposed, TransCanada was already looking at diminished returns on their investment. With the legal delays, scheduling changes, and additional costs involved, they could well decide not to proceed with the project at all.
TransCanada’s CEO, Ross Girling, was less than enthusiastic, saying the company is now “assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project.” Top financial and market analysts expressed skepticism that the project will ever reach fruition. Environmental groups opposed to the project are cautiously optimistic. One such group, Friends of the Earth, sent me this email …
No, I did not send them a donation, though if I could afford it, I probably would, for it is a good organization and they do good work.
In addition to environmental groups, Native Americans and other landowners would have much preferred the commission to vote down the project altogether. According to Bloomberg …
“Nebraska’s decision overrode the objections of environmental groups, Native American tribes and landowners along the pipeline’s prospective route. The project had the support of the state’s governor, Republican Pete Ricketts, its chamber of commerce, trade unions and the petroleum industry.”
Tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?
The commissioners who supported the route change said it would impact fewer threatened and endangered species, fewer wells, less irrigated cropland, and that it included one less river crossing. While TransCanada had originally included the alternative route in its proposal, no impact studies were ever done for that route, leading most to believe it was never intended to be considered.
What happens next? Landowners and environmental groups have 30 days to file an appeal, which I would bet my bottom dollar will happen in well under 30 days. The decision by the Public Service Commission (PSC) was not a complete victory for either side, but it will certainly delay the project further, could possibly halt it based on new environmental impact studies, and could even cause TransCanada to cancel the project. Time will tell, but for the moment, it seems rather a hollow victory for TransCanada and its wealthy stockholders. And oh, by the way, speaking of stockholders …
You may find it interesting to note that Donald Trump holds stock in TransCanada, as well as in Energy Transfer Partners, the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wow, what a surprise, yes?
Stay tuned ….