As expected, the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project has received the stamp of approval from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump’s election victory last fall likely had officials with Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. cheering after years of battling protests, lawsuits and opposition from Democrats in Washington.
In announcing the permit for the pipeline, Trump spoke glowingly of the project.
“It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North America and energy independence,” Trump said.
But Trump’s support doesn’t ensure the pipeline will actually be built. Plenty of other obstacles remain and opponents aren’t likely to give up the fight. You can expect they will continue the protests and court challenges with an aim toward bogging down the project so it will never be completed.
Even the financial markets seem to have doubts about the Keystone project’s future. Following news of Keystone’s approval, TransCanada’s share value only edged up by about one per cent, and it hadn’t climbed from its October price in the wake of Trump’s election victory.
There’s good reason for the skepticism. The Keystone project still faces difficulty in Nebraska, where it lacks a state permit and must negotiate deals with landowners. Court challenges are also possible in both Nebraska and South Dakota through which the pipeline is to run.
Keystone isn’t alone in having to run a difficult gauntlet in the bid for completion. Last summer, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the former Harper government’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put the final nail in the project’s coffin in November.
Earlier this week, federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said she doubts the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick will be built due to opposition from the mayor of Montreal and anti-pipeline groups.
Opponents of the Keystone project don’t appear ready to throw in the towel. Following Trump’s approval of the project, Stephen Kretzmann, executive director the anti-pipeline group Oil Change International, released a statement saying, “This isn’t game over, it’s game on.”
The climate activist group 350.org tweeted: “US State Dept. may approve #KeystoneXL, but this pipeline won’t be built. People stopped it once & will again.”
Even those who welcomed Trump’s approval acknowledge that there are still challenges ahead.
Jim Carr, Canada’s National Resources minister, pointed out that just acquiring the Nebraska permit could take up to eight months.
“We in Canada know that pipeline decisions can be controversial,” he said.
Gaining presidential approval was a big step for the Keystone XL project, and pipeline projects have plenty of supporters , but if opponents succeed in throwing up enough roadblocks and delays, it’s possible that TransCanada will eventually give up on the project and try something new. The book “Offence, Defence and War,” edited by Michael E. Brown, et al, notes, “It is almost never easier to conquer than to defend…”
The courts could be a major weapon for pipeline opponents in their efforts to defend against the oil companies. Environmentalists may not even have to win the war; dragging it out over time might be sufficient.