Keystone XL May Be Approved in Six to Nine Months, CEO Says

TransCanada Corp. may be able to win approval of its Keystone XL pipeline in six to nine months as the company negotiates with Nebraska and U.S. officials over a new route, Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said.

“We can re-route this pipeline quite easily,” Girling said at an investors conference in Toronto today. Canadian producers and U.S. refiners contracted to move crude through the Keystone XL remain committed to the project, he said.

TransCanada and Nebraska announced Nov. 14 they would collaborate on finding a new route for the pipeline to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in the state. Opponents feared the pipeline’s original path through the Sandhills threatened a freshwater aquifer that provides drinking water to 1.5 million people.

The U.S. State Department, which has oversight of the Keystone XL pipeline because it would cross an international border, has said studying new routes would cause a delay of 12 to 18 months, regardless of any deal reached between Calgary-based TransCanada and Nebraska.

TransCanada is talking to oil producers and refiners about the possibility of building one segment of the Keystone XL line from the energy-storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf of Mexico without waiting for approval for the entire project, Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president for energy and oil pipelines, said at the investors conference today.

The company would seek permission from the State Department for such a plan. A State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record said the department would have to evaluate what additional review is necessary if TransCanada wanted to move ahead with the Cushing to Gulf segment. The permit application is for a pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, the official said.

Competing Projects

The delay is likely to spur competing pipeline plans from other companies and it is “naive” to think the projects wouldn’t face the same scrutiny that Keystone XL has generated, said Girling. Environmental activists protesting the Keystone XL will be opposed to any plan to move crude from Alberta to the Gulf because they are against all oil-sands production in Canada, he said.

“It would be extremely naive if we were to assume they would go away tomorrow,” he said.

Enbridge Inc., the largest Canadian pipeline company by revenue, said Nov. 9 it has the commitments it needs from Canadian producers and U.S. refiners to create a less-contentious alternative to Keystone XL. The proposal would build a line from the Chicago area to the energy-storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.

Reversing Seaway Pipeline

Today Enbridge announced it is buying ConocoPhillips’ 50 percent interest in the Seaway pipeline that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the Cushing storage hub for $1.15 billion. Enbridge and Enterprise Products Partners LP, which owns the other 50 percent of the pipeline, said they would reverse the Seaway pipeline so that an oversupply of oil at Cushing could reach the Gulf.

Enbridge’s plans to build new pipelines and increase its ability to move crude from the Chicago area to Cushing may also face delay, said Pourbaix.

Oil spills from pipelines in Michigan and Montana in 2010 and 2011 will delay approval of major infrastructure projects, he said.

“The processes for review are going to be far more rigorous than they have been in the past, and certainly that’s what we’re seeing in the siting of all our infrastructure across North America,” said Pourbaix.

TransCanada’s and Enbridge’s shares rose less than 1 percent to close at C$40.95 and C$34.91, respectively, in Toronto.

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