Market News

 August 12, 2015
Both sides brace as decision on Keystone XL pipeline nears

 A federal permit decision on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline could come any time, based on a spate of recent reports.

The Canadian Press has cited unnamed sources close to TransCanada saying "the company has become all but convinced a rejection is imminent based on signals the White House is sending publicly and privately."

Just before Congress left town last month, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said on the Senate floor that his sources have indicated that a decision to deny the permit will come during the lawmakers' August recess.

In an interview later with The World-Herald, Hoeven pointed to the administration's just-unveiled power plant regulations and preparations for international climate talks in Paris later this year.

"They're really pushing across the board on his climate agenda," Hoeven said.

Those on both sides of the issue are preparing for the possibility of a decision, but they are also wary because of past false alarms.

"We've been hearing rejection is imminent since March," anti-pipeline activist Jane Kleeb told The World-Herald. "We thought it would come sooner, obviously, than it has."

In its public comments, TransCanada is tamping down expectations that a move by the Obama administration is in the offing.

"We are not convinced a decision is imminent," company spokesman Mark Cooper said in a statement. "Rumors of a decision have been percolating since last February and yet nothing has occurred. We remain focused on securing a permit to build Keystone XL as we have been since 2008."

The U.S. State Department oversees the federal permit that is required for the project because it would cross an international boundary, carrying crude from the oil sands of Alberta to U.S. refineries.

Secretary of State John Kerry, asked about the pipeline during a brief interview Monday with The World-Herald, said "we're finishing the process on it."

Kerry said he was aware of the reports that a decision would come soon but would not confirm or deny them.

"I just don't comment on timing," Kerry said.

The State Department has a history of releasing Keystone XL news on Friday afternoons, when the impact is dampened. But if Obama is looking to trumpet the decision as part of a broader policy on climate change, he might prefer a higher-profile moment to release the decision.

For example, Obama is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at an Aug. 24 clean energy summit in Las Vegas and could choose that event for the decision.

Or he could choose to make the announcement in Alaska the following week, when he is scheduled to address an international conference focused on the Arctic and climate change.

There's little expectation that the administration might approve the project, especially at this point.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina has briefed the White House legal counsel, Kleeb said, on pending legal challenges in Nebraska. Domina represents property owners who have sued TransCanada over its use of eminent domain.

Kleeb said Domina told the White House that approval of the pipeline is impossible while the lawsuits are pending but that nothing is stopping the administration from rejecting the project at this time.

Over the seven years since TransCanada first sought a permit for the pipeline, the project has become a major battle between the oil and gas industry, which says the pipeline represents a boon to economic development and energy independence, and environmentalists, who say it carries great risk of oil spills and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Cooper, with TransCanada, said that the case for the pipeline has never been stronger and that it's the safest and most environmentally responsible way to transport oil from Canada to U.S. refineries.

"If it is judged based on science, not symbolism, it will be approved," Cooper said.

Kleeb said opposition to the pipeline continues to be focused on two main threads: the protection of property owner rights and the need to address climate change.

"We can continue to pretend it's our great-grandkids' problem, but if we continue to build infrastructure that carries carbon-intensive energy, then we're locked into carbon-intensive energy," Kleeb said. "It's really not rocket science."