Crude Shipments Begin in Keystone Pipeline’s Southern Leg

CUSHING, OK - MARCH 22: Pipe is stacked at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. U.S. President Barack Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Jan. 22, 2014, 5:02 a.m.

Com­mer­cial ship­ments of crude oil began mov­ing through the south­ern leg of Tran­sCanada’s Key­stone pipeline on Wed­nes­day, even though the pro­ject’s pro­posed north­ern ex­ten­sion is still await­ing ap­prov­al.

The south­ern half of the pipeline, oth­er­wise known as the Gulf Coast Pro­ject, runs from Cush­ing, Okla., to Port Ar­thur, Texas. Be­cause it does not cross an in­ter­na­tion­al bound­ary, Tran­sCanada didn’t need ap­prov­al from the State De­part­ment to con­struct the pipeline. The north­ern leg, on the oth­er hand, re­quires a per­mit from State be­cause it would pass over the U.S. bor­der with Canada to reach Al­berta’s oil sands.

Once the de­part­ment com­pletes a fi­nal en­vir­on­ment­al as­sess­ment of the north­ern ex­ten­sion, Pres­id­ent Obama will have fi­nal say over wheth­er the pipeline is per­mit­ted. The pres­id­ent has said he will not ap­prove the north­ern half of the pro­ject un­less it does not sig­ni­fic­antly add to at­mo­spher­ic levels of car­bon di­ox­ide.

Green groups widely op­pose the north­ern ex­ten­sion, say­ing it will hasten oil-sands de­vel­op­ment in Canada. Cri­ti­cism has also been leveled at Tran­sCanada for build­ing the pipeline’s south­ern leg, with op­pon­ents of the pro­ject point­ing out the po­ten­tial for leaks or spills.

Key­stone back­ers, mean­while, say the pipeline will not have an ad­verse en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact and con­tend that pipelines are a safer mode of trans­port­a­tion for heavy crude than rail­roads and trucks.

Bill McK­ib­ben, the pres­id­ent and cofounder of en­vir­on­ment­al ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion 350.org, sharply re­buked the ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day for al­low­ing the south­ern leg of the pro­ject to go for­ward.

“[This is] a shame­ful day — and a re­mind­er that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has boas­ted too of­ten about how many pipelines they’ve built, how much land they’ve opened to drilling and min­ing. Ex­ped­it­ing KXL south was not the mark of a pres­id­ent who really ‘gets’ cli­mate change,” McK­ib­ben said in a state­ment.

Mean­while, law­makers have threatened to take ac­tion on the pipeline if the pres­id­ent does not, with Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D., say­ing earli­er this month he would con­sider at­tach­ing a vote on the pro­ject to debt-ceil­ing le­gis­la­tion.

In an event held Wed­nes­day to an­nounce the start of crude ship­ments through the pipeline, Tran­sCanada CEO Russ Girl­ing said he hopes that the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the south­ern leg of the pipeline will help win sup­port for the rest of the pro­ject to be built.

“The Gulf Coast pro­ject has its own pur­pose and util­ity but at the same time it was de­signed to be part of a lar­ger Key­stone sys­tem which in­cludes both the base Key­stone and Key­stone XL,” Girl­ing said. “As we’re bring­ing the Gulf Coast pro­ject in­to op­er­a­tion I think again [we’re] show­ing them that this pipeline can be op­er­ated safely and that should provide baseline evid­ence that Key­stone XL is just a pipeline and it can be built and op­er­ated safely.” 

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