Oil Industry Hopes for More as Trump Reverses Obama Policies

Updated on
  • At a stroke, president breathes new life into Dakota, Keystone
  • Move underscores energy industry’s place in administration

What Trump’s Actions on Keystone, Dakota Pipelines Mean

“My God, this is going to be refreshing," Kelcy Warren, the Texas billionaire behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, said days after Donald Trump swept to victory.

As the industry digests the newly elected president’s push to get two stalled pipeline projects moving again -- with some caveats -- oil and natural gas producers are preparing for even more quick policy turns from the administration. High on the wish list is expanded access to drilling on federal lands and offshore areas.

With the stroke of a pen, Trump breathed new life into the Dakota Access and Keystone XL projects, and, in the process, the nation’s energy pipeline complex. The latest step to dismantle policies of the Obama administration, the move underscores how energy, perhaps more than any other American industry, is poised to benefit under the new president.

Powerful Ally

While Trump has taken the opportunity to berate and threaten individual companies, energy executives have long viewed him as a powerful ally who will roll back regulation, particularly regarding the environment. That relationship has grown tighter after his decisions to nominate the head of Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as industry supporters Rick Perry and Greg Pruitt, for cabinet-level positions.

That view was reflected in the stock market on Tuesday, where shares of Warren’s Energy Transfer Partners LP, as well as those of TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based company behind the equally controversial Keystone XL, rose on the news. Obama had rejected Keystone XL in 2015. ETP rose 3.5 percent, while TransCanada gained 2.7 percent for the highest close on record.

President Trump did, however, vow to extract concessions from the pipeline backers. Keeping to his "America First" inaugural address, the White House issued a memorandum seeking a plan for all pipeline projects, whether new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded ones, to "use materials and equipment produced in the United States." It was unclear if that means the existing parts of Keystone or Dakota Access, which is more than 90 percent complete, would have to be rebuilt with American-made pipe.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which on Monday cautioned Trump about his plans to walk away from trade agreements, welcomed Tuesday’s developments. The chamber has urged Trump to strengthen the economy via tax cuts, infrastructure spending and deregulation.

“For too long, private infrastructure investment has been held hostage by government interference driven by fringe interests,” Karen Harbert, head of the U.S. Chamber’s energy unit, said in an e-mailed statement.

Executive Orders

Trump also signed an executive order to expedite environmental reviews of other infrastructure projects. Under the order, a determination on whether a project is "high priority" should be made within 30 days. Those projects should receive "expedited procedures and deadlines" for approvals.

Environmental groups vowed to fight the pipelines. "We will use every tool available to help ensure that they are not built," Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

For TransCanada, the shortened review time could help complete Keystone XL, which was first proposed in 2008. In a memorandum, Trump invited TransCanada to reapply for the projects. The company, which has previously said the project would take two years to complete once it had all permits, said it would do so.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, talking to reporters in Calgary, said he spoke with Trump about the benefits of Keystone XL but declined to comment on negotiations.

Tribal Concerns

For Energy Transfer, the Trump administration directed the Army Corps to re-evaluate its decision to withhold access to an easement in North Dakota, where the company wants to complete a final piece of the 1,172-mile (1,885-kilometer) pipeline under Lake Oahe. The project has made national headlines because of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other Native American groups and activists, who say the pipeline would endanger water supplies and sacred burial grounds. The administration said its negotiations over Dakota Access will seek to allay tribal concerns.

Energy Transfer owns the Dakota Access project with Phillips 66 and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP. Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Enbridge Energy Partners LP announced a venture in August that would also take a minority stake in the pipeline.

Together, Trump’s orders remove some obstacles for pipelines that could ship more than 1 million barrels a day of crude from Canada and North Dakota to refiners across the U.S. They do not guarantee the projects will get built, and lingering court cases for both projects may still complicate that effort.

President Obama rejected Keystone XL because of environmental concerns regarding production of crude from Alberta’s oil sands. Keystone XL would increase the amount of Canadian crude reaching the Gulf, from where it could also be sent around the world.

“Canada has a problem with lack of export outlets and this will help with that," Tim Pickering, founder and chief investment officer of Auspice Capital Advisors Ltd. in Calgary, said by phone.

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