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A Keystone Pipeline That's Ready to Roll

The southern leg of the line will soon be sending oil to the Gulf
Welders work on a joint between two sections of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Okla., on March 11
Welders work on a joint between two sections of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline in Prague, Okla., on March 11Photograph by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A few times each month since August 2012, a helicopter or small plane has flown over sections of a 485-mile-long strip of land connecting Cushing, Okla., with Nederland, Tex., about 90 miles east of Houston. The pilots are usually accompanied by a photographer snapping pictures of construction work: dump trucks and backhoes mostly, and pieces of pipe lying along a trench. The idea is to track the progress of the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, dubbed the Keystone Gulf Coast.

While debate has raged around the 1,179-mile northern leg of the Keystone XL, which aims to bring heavy crude from the oil sands of western Canada into the U.S. and requires federal approval because it crosses international borders, TransCanada has spent the past year quietly building the southern leg. Although most people haven’t paid it much attention, oil investors have been watching like hawks. The aerial surveillance is conducted by Genscape, a private energy intelligence company based in Louisville. Its photos provide updates of construction, which Genscape then packages into reports it sells to clients such as hedge funds, banks, and oil traders.