President Obama’s decision Friday to reject the Keystone XL pipeline puts a fresh spotlight on other efforts to bring Canadian crude oil to market, including a $5.4 billion project to boost oil flows to British Columbia.
President Obama’s decision Friday to reject the Keystone XL pipeline puts a fresh spotlight on other efforts to bring Canadian crude to market, including a $5.4 billion project to boost oil flows to British Columbia.
The oil piped from Alberta would be targeted for maritime export, dramatically increasing the number of oil tankers traversing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and raising environmental concerns among Washington state Department of Ecology (DOE) officials.
Currently, about five tankers per month depart the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, east of Vancouver. By expanding the pipeline, tanker trips could jump to 34 per month as producers seek the higher prices Canadian oil could fetch in Asia or elsewhere in the world.
“Our customers that have signed up for space on the pipeline are looking to access global markets,” said Ali Hounsell, a spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan, the company that has proposed the Trans-Mountain Expansion Project. “The demand is there.”
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Hounsell says the project is under review by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), and construction could begin as early as November 2016, with the first oil flowing by 2019.
The Keystone pipeline rejected by Obama on Friday would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands in Alberta into the U.S., connecting with existing pipelines delivering crude to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Obama said construction of the pipeline would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate-change deal at the center of his environmental legacy. TransCanada, the company behind the proposal, said it remained committed to the project and was considering filing a new application for permits.
Kinder Morgan’s is one of two pipeline projects proposed to bring Canadian crude west for export. A second $6.5 billion proposal, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, seeks to build a pipeline that would end in Kitimat, B.C., much farther north, where vessels could move directly into the Pacific.
Kinder Morgan’s project would enlarge a pipeline system that first began operating in 1953 and that currently transports 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum from the Alberta oil sands.
The company proposes building more than 600 miles of new pipeline, mostly along an existing right of way. The overall pipeline capacity would increase by nearly 600,000 barrels per day — about 75 percent of the capacity that would be added by Keystone.
Since the Kinder Morgan pipeline would not traverse U.S. territory, the final approvals are up to the Canadian government. But Washington’s DOE has weighed in as an “intervenor” with Canada’s NEB.
“Our focus is on the Salish Sea, and shared waters,” said Dale Jensen, an oil-spill program manager for Ecology. “We have some of the strongest (oil-spill) contingency planning in the nation, and they don’t have comparable standards.”
Hounsell said Kinder Morgan will spend $100 million to improve oil-spill response. The goal is to cut the time it takes to respond to a spill in half, and double the capacity of that response.
“We understand that this is a key concern, and we believe that having the additional investment can make a big difference,” said Hounsell, who added that the Burnaby marine terminal has a history of safe operations.
The Kinder Morgan proposal also has drawn scrutiny from Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the leadership council for the Puget Sound Partnership, the Washington state agency leading cleanup of the Sound.
Kongsgaard said Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline will increase pressure to build the Kinder Morgan project. But she hopes it will be rejected by the Canadian government.
“We need to keep fuels in the ground, off the rails and out of an increasingly congested Salish Sea,” Kongsgaard said. “It is not in our regional or national interest to have tar sands transported in our waters.”
In Canada, Kinder Morgan also faces obstacles, including a legal challenge from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Canadian First Nation that argues it has not been adequately consulted on the project.
The recent election of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also could result in a tougher approval process for Kinder Morgan. Trudeau has said he favors having more discussions with First Nations on pipeline projects.
Trudeau also has called for a greater accounting of carbon emissions linked to climate change that would result from pipeline operations.
Canadian environmentalists are hoping Trudeau will work to reduce carbon emissions where the oil is produced.
“There’s a lot that could be done,” said Simon Dyer, Alberta director of Canada’s Pembina Institute, which advocates for clean energy.