When the historians write the last chapter of the history of the oil age, there will be a special place for the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.
And it will not be included as one of the last fossil fuel pipelines ever to be built. It will be included as the pipeline that never got built.
By the time TransCanada, the company that has for years being trying to build it finally overcomes all legal, regulatory hurdles, and permits it needs to gain approval, the market will have moved away from oil, especially heavy dirty tar sands oil. The pipeline will be obsolete (indeed it already is by many accounts).
The fight over KXL, as it is known, has been become one of the most significant battles over oil and climate in the US in recent years. The battle was summed up by the New York Times yesterday in an article before the decision, which says KXL is a “project that became a politically potent symbol both of Republican dreams for energy expansion and of opponents’ fears of climate change and environmental degradation.”
Back in 2015, then President Obama denied a permit for the pipeline to cross the border after months of prevaricating over the issue. That decision was overturned by Donald Trump, earlier this year. But it still needed approval for the final section across Nebraska.
Yesterday, five members of the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted on whether to allow a 275 mile section of the highly controversial pipeline to be built through the state. It was seen as the last significant regulatory hurdle for the pipeline.
The commissioners on the panel were not unanimous in their opinions. They voted 3-2 in favour of allowing the pipeline to be built. But it would be wrong to see this as a victory for TransCanada. It is anything but. The devil is always in the detail. You could actually see it as a defeat.
Because crucially the Panel also voted for what is known officially as the Mainline Alternative Route. It is not TransCanada’s preferred option. And herein lies the problem for the company.
And as another article in the New York Times noted yesterday after the verdict was announced, the vote in favour “was initially seen as a hard-won validation for President Trump and the American laborer, and lamented as a grave threat to pristine farmland and the groundwater below.”
However: “But while Monday had been expected to provide a clear and final answer on Keystone XL’s future, it may have only created more uncertainty.”
Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska said: “They do not get their preferred route, the route that we have been fighting in courts over for eight years.”
She also tweeted: “Today was a victory for everyone working to stop Keystone XL. TransCanada did not get their preferred route which means years of new review and legal challenges are now on the table”. #NoKXL #Resolute
— Ben Cushing (@bmcushing) November 20, 2017
Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org added: “No one should give up. For seven years now public pressure has kept 800,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil underground, and in the process helped spawn a worldwide fight against fossil fuel infrastructure. We will work with our colleagues in the upper Midwest on the next steps to defend their land and our climate.”
TransCanada has to start all over again.
Instead of getting their preferred route, the company now has to go and persuade dozens of new landowners to build on their land. It has to persuade investors that it can do that. And that will take years. And it will go to the courts. And every day the pipeline is delayed, investors will get more and more nervous about investing in an increasingly obsolete pipeline.
They say that fortune favours the brave, but investing in KXL will be only for the foolhardy. Time is not on TransCanada’s side. Instead of an ecstatic response, it is not surprising that TransCanada declined press interviews, and promised to “conduct a careful review” of the new route and “how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project.”
“One thing we’ve learned through this whole process is we take our victories as we can get them, no matter how big or how small,” Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher told the Times. “And this today is another victory for us because the damn pipe is not in the ground, and they said 10 years ago they were going to have it in the ground.”
It is now odds on that the pipeline will never be put in the soil in Nebraska. If TransCanada wins regulatory and legal approval, it will be too late. In the meantime the fight against the pipeline continues: If you are interested, go here or here.