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On day 1, Biden blocks Keystone XL oil pipeline by rescinding permit

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On day 1, Biden blocks Keystone XL oil pipeline by rescinding permit

SNL Image

A length of pipe is readied for installation along TC Energy's Keystone XL oil line in Canada.
Source: Government of Alberta

Fulfilling his campaign promise, President Joe Biden rescinded a key permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, effectively blocking the project's progress.

Immediately after his Jan. 20 inauguration, Biden kicked off his term with a slew of executive orders and actions he had promised during his campaign, including a pledge to revoke a presidential permit for the pipeline.

"The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway," Biden's Jan. 20 order said. "Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my administration's economic and climate imperatives."

The 830,000-barrel-per-day pipeline requires such a permit since it crosses the international border between the U.S. and Canada. The nearly 1,200-mile crude oil pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would connect Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb.

President Barack Obama rejected the permit in 2015. Shortly after assuming office, President Donald Trump granted the permit for TC Energy Corp., then called TransCanada Corp., to build the pipeline. In 2020, Trump also issued a presidential permit allowing the company to boost cross-border shipments through the existing Keystone pipeline network.

TC Energy will review the decision, consider its options and suspend the project's advancement, the company said in a Jan. 20 statement.

The rescission may signal how the Biden administration plans to deal with fossil fuel interests over the next four years, setting an "early example of how post-election acrimony might introduce even greater partisan skew into energy policy," according to a Jan. 19 report from the independent research firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC.

Following reports earlier this week that Biden would rescind the permit, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a news conference that the Canadian province may seek damages under international free-trade agreements, Reuters reported. The Alberta government reportedly has more than C$1 billion in financial exposure after investing in the project in 2020.

Several U.S. House Republican committee leaders decried Biden's move, noting that the project could help spur job creation.

"Pipelines are one of the safest, cheapest ways to transport our natural resources, and stopping their progress would deliver a gut-punch to the economy without instituting any real environmental change," said House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. analysts noted that project developers recently announced that the pipeline would reach a zero-emissions target by the time it was placed into service in 2023 and be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2030.

"We do not expect the company to proceed with seeking new permits in the face of a Biden presidency for at least the next four years, but expect a legal appeal similar to when Obama rescinded the permit in 2015," the analysts said.