Keystone XL victory emboldens green groups in fight against Line 3 pipeline

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After securing the death of Keystone XL, emboldened environmentalists are projecting confidence about their chances of convincing President Joe Biden to intervene in other oil pipeline disputes.

Their top target is the Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. A company is poised to replace an aging pipeline to transport crude from Canada’s Alberta oil sands through the state's watersheds and tribal lands to Superior, Wisconsin.

KEYSTONE XL DEVELOPER TO PULL THE PLUG ON PIPELINE

Enbridge, the Canadian-based project developer, says the $9 billion pipeline expansion is needed to replace an existing pipeline from the 1960s that is corroding and only operating at half capacity.

But groups fighting the project said it threatens drinking water because of potential leaks and infringes on the rights of indigenous people who use the headwaters for hunting, fishing, and harvesting wild rice.

“If President Biden wants to have any credibility on climate and indigenous rights, this is a key test," said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner with Oil Change U.S. “The pressure is going to be all-out on them, and they will have to make a decision.”

Line 3 is also another symbolic target representing activists’ argument that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground in order to combat climate change.

The defeat of Keystone XL, coming as the company developing the pipeline deemed it nonviable this week after Biden canceled a key permit for it, proved to activists the merits of their contention that no new oil and gas infrastructure is compatible with a carbon-free future.

“We are seeing a shift and increasing acknowledgment from companies in some cases that it’s best to close the book,” Rees said. “It shows how incredibly difficult it is to build a pipeline anywhere in the U.S. that isn’t Texas or Louisiana.”

The fight over Line 3 grew in prominence this week as activists descended on northern Minnesota, where protesters seized a construction site along the pipeline route, which led to tense standoffs with police and the arrests of more than 160 people.

But so far, the Biden administration has declined to weigh in on the project, even though the federal government has authority over the pipeline because it crosses federal waters.

Biden, on his first day in office, canceled a permit for the better-known Keystone XL pipeline, which would have also delivered crude from Canada's Alberta oil sands to a different destination of refineries on the Gulf Coast.

That decision prompted backlash from labor groups, a key Biden constituency, that said the cancellation would kill thousands of construction jobs.

Since then, the administration has demonstrated reluctance to oppose other pipelines approved in the Trump administration targeted by environmentalists. These projects differ from Keystone XL, which was never built, in that they are either operational or enhancing existing pipelines.

This spring, the Biden administration declined to order the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline to shut down while it completes an environmental review, dealing a blow to green groups and Native American tribes that had sought to stop it from operating.

Christine Tezak, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, a research group, noted that Biden passed on the opportunity to stop Dakota Access, or DAPL, despite having “political cover” from multiple courts that have found the Trump administration’s environmental review of the project to be deficient. She sees even lower odds of Biden stopping Line 3, since that pipeline has yet to suffer a court defeat.

“The best sign for Enbridge has been the Biden administration’s approach to DAPL, which suggests if there is a lot of folks depending on a pipeline currently in service, the administration seems to be very sensitive to the disruption that would be caused by shutting it down,” said James Coleman, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University.

Coleman also suggested the Biden administration would be unlikely to intervene at a time when consumer prices are rising at their fastest rate in more than a decade, including a big jump in energy costs. The Biden administration has been defensive about gasoline prices that rose in the aftermath of the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, which carries transportation fuels and not oil.

The oil industry, meanwhile, says the Line 3 project is even more important after the Keystone XL defeat. The Line 3 replacement would double existing capacity of the pipeline to 760,000 barrels of oil per day at a time when Canadian oil sands production is hitting records with the recovery of prices as the outlook of the pandemic improves.

Many analysts have projected a global oil supply shortage coming out of the pandemic as companies have slashed their production, including in the United States.

Robin Rorick, vice president of midstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said if oil demand returns to normal levels and Line 3 is stopped from being built, much of the same Canadian crude oil would still be produced but shipped by rail, which is costlier, entails higher emissions, and is less safe.

“It’s not like you are stepping on a hose and stopping the flow,” Rorick said. “It’s more like you are blocking a stream and the water will have other places to go."

Line 3’s opponents, however, argue the long-term market outlook for the Canadian tar sands is bleak, given the oil is particularly emissions-intensive, there is competition from cheaper U.S. shale, and projects could struggle to obtain capital as climate-conscious companies and investors have divested from oil sands in recent years.

Rees predicted there will be no market need for the expansion of Line 3, or the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project backed by the Canadian government that would carry an additional 535,000 barrels a day of oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast of British Columbia.

Rees and other opponents say visceral moments from this week’s protest are what could draw the administration’s attention.

In one instance, a low-flying Department of Homeland Security helicopter blew debris and dirt on protesters, prompting an investigation by the agency.

Line 3’s opponents assert the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could revoke a Clean Water Act permit issued during the Trump administration.

Environmentalists are also pressing their case in court. A decision is expected next week in one case, filed in Minnesota state court by tribes and environmental groups, challenging state utility regulators’ decision to approve Line 3. Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has not come out against the project and has instead called for the legal process to play out.

That has green groups focused on Biden.

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The Stop Trump Pipelines campaign is holding an event Friday to press Biden to cancel Line 3, along with another Enbridge pipeline, Line 5, that runs across the Great Lakes in Michigan and is being contested by that state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

“Avoiding the lock-in you get when you build another pipeline for 60 years carrying tar sands oil is not a thing that fits in any climate model,” Rees said of Line 3.

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Tags: News, Energy and Environment, Keystone XL, Dakota Access oil pipeline, Gretchen Whitmer, Climate Change, Minnesota, Canada

Original Author: Josh Siegel

Original Location: Keystone XL victory emboldens green groups in fight against Line 3 pipeline