January 2015 should bring several critical decisions regarding the Keystone XL pipeline northern leg, from Canada to Oklahoma.

Keystone XL Pipeline Update and Timeline

Published
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

January 2015 should bring several critical decisions regarding the Keystone XL pipeline northern leg, from Canada to Oklahoma.

  1. The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule on a suit challenging the right of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman to approve the Keystone XL pipeline revised route through the state. A decision finding fault with the approval process could delay final approval for many months.  

  2. President Obama has delayed his decision on whether to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. - Canada border until the Nebraska court decision. It is not clear whether the President will issue a decision soon after the Nebraska court ruling or wait for other developments, such as the Department of State national interest determination that was put on hold in April 2014.

  3. Congress plans a January vote on legislation to allow the pipeline to be constructed without a presidential permit. Both the House and Senate are expected to have enough votes to pass the legislation; however, the Senate may not have enough votes to override a presidential veto.   

A review of the actions over the past 7-plus years:

  • September 2008—TransCanada applied for a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the U.S. – Canada border. The permit requires a finding that the project is in the national interest. National interest is not defined in the law setting up the approval process.

  • During the permit review process, environmental impacts to the Sand Hills area of Nebraska led the state to issue siting requirements that would require changing the route.

  • In December 2011 Congress passed a law requiring the State Department to approve or deny the pipeline application within 60 days.

  • In January 2012 the State Department denied the application, based on there not being adequate time to complete the assessment of the pipeline’s impacts.

  • May 2012—TransCanada reapplied for a presidential permit using a revised route through Nebraska. With this application, the company separated the southern leg of the pipeline (Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast) so that it could be constructed on a separate schedule.

  • Also in 2012—The Nebraska legislature passed a bill to give the governor the authority to approve the pipeline. It is argued that the state Public Service Commission [only] has the authority to decide pipeline routing. The law was challenged as unconstitutional, leading to the Nebraska Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case in September 2014.

  • Back in Washington, D.C., the State Department completed its final environmental assessment in January 2014, concluding that the pipeline would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions. In its favor, the pipeline was expected to create jobs and provide secure energy supplies from a friendly neighbor, Canada.

  • Meanwhile, the southern leg of the pipeline, called the Gulf Coast Pipeline, began delivering oil in January 2014.

  • Back in Washington, D.C., on November 18, 2014, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have allowed the pipeline to cross the international border without a presidential permit. Over the years the House has passed several bills to allow the pipeline to be built without a presidential permit.

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the pipeline approval bill on January 7.

  • Both the Senate and House have announced their intentions to make Keystone XL approval the first vote of the new Congress. The bill should pass both houses of Congress. However, two-thirds of Senators, and House members, that are voting must agree to override a presidential veto.

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