Editor’s Log: Keystone Two-Step Continues

I’ve been asked by many people if the main section of the Keystone XL Pipeline, from Canada to Oklahoma, will be built now that a revised route has been approved both by the state of Nebraska and TransCanada. The new route reportedly will avoid the most ecologically sensitive regions of Nebraska.

Short answer: It’s complicated.

Because the pipeline route crosses an international border, its approval immediately became less about feasibility and more about political gain. While President Obama’s publically stated reason for delaying the pipeline was largely resolved when Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, with the support of the state legislature, formally approved the new, negotiated route, in reality the decision matrix is much more complicated.

The action by Nebraska sets the stage for to an eventual decision by Obama which has emerged as a crucial test of the president’s pledges to tackle climate change versus his embrace of “all of the above” energy.

It all comes down to a case of political expediency rather than practicality. Questions abound such as: can President Obama further delay approval of Keystone by appeasing his union supporters with other measures and thus, keep the environmental lobby firmly in his corner? Or will an overwhelming need for new jobs and business development force him to approve the pipeline?

The decision by Nebraska to approve the new Keystone XL route sent shockwaves through the anti-Keystone troops. One of their leaders lamented publically that “President Obama is our only hope now.”

Yet a major labor union – and one of Obama’s essential allies in his successful quest for a second term — continues to push the administration for approval of Keystone. In late January, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) called on President Obama to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline and put Americans back to work.

“This will be the safest pipeline ever built and its route has been revised to reflect environmental concerns,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said. “Further delay is unnecessary. For men and women desperate for work, Keystone XL is not just a pipeline – it’s a lifeline. There is no rationale for further delay.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline is still waiting on a new draft supplemental environmental impact statement from the State Department (that is environmental impact statement number four, if anybody’s counting), which will trigger a comment period and then a final environmental statement before the decision lands in Obama’s lap. That timeframe means a decision on the pipeline could be made as earlier as March 31 – but not necessarily, nor even probably.

The latest scuttlebutt suggests the Obama administration is considering using approval of the Keystone XL project as bait to gain support for his failed carbon tax/credit program. That could further delay approval of Keystone and embroil another intense political debate.

How President Obama balances all these factors and demands of his key support groups remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Keystone XL Pipeline is a pawn in a larger war being waged by environmental groups. Their end-game target is putting an end to oil production from Canada’s oil and tar sands. Killing Keystone would be a major blow to the cost-justification for further mining of the oil sands. Yet, TransCanada – and the Canadian government – remain committed to getting that oil to market. The preferred route is Keystone XL, but other options are being explored.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a European researcher. He had a hard time understanding that open-cut could still be more economical than trenchless.

Can trenchless installation and rehabilitation methods be cheaper? Certainly. Are said methods consistently more economical? Of course not. It all depends upon technology, depths, urban vs. rural environments and a multitude of other factors that have to be considered for every job.

I do believe that on any given project today, trenchless should be rigorously evaluated and considered. But ultimately, we must let the job dynamics determine the most cost-effective and expeditious construction/rehab method that yields the best results for the client. It’s all about affordability and practicality, not inaccurate generalities.

Related Articles

    Find articles with similar topics