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Trump signs executive actions to advance Keystone XL, Dakota Access oil projects

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Trump signs executive actions to advance Keystone XL, Dakota Access oil projects

President Donald Trump signed executive actions to facilitate the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, following up on promises made during his campaign to streamline oil and gas infrastructure projects.

In one of five energy-related memos and orders signed late morning Jan. 24, Trump asked Keystone developer TransCanada Corp. to resubmit an application for the pipeline, which would would transport oil sands product from Alberta to Nebraska. The U.S. Department of State then has 60 days to reach a final decision on the project using a January 2014 final environmental impact statement, according to the memo. TransCanada said in a statement that it is preparing an application and intends to reapply.

"This is on the Keystone pipeline, something that has been in dispute, and it is subject to a renegotiation of terms by us," Trump said while signing the documents. "We are going to renegotiate some of the terms, and then, if they like, we'll see if we can get that pipeline built."

A separate action involving Energy Transfer Partners LP's Dakota Access pipeline calls for expedited review of the easements sought for the project and asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider rescinding or modifying the corps' Dec. 4, 2016, decision to withhold an easement for a portion of the pipeline near Standing Rock Sioux Tribe land. Under the terms of the memo, the corps would also consider withdrawing its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

Three other actions are aimed at using U.S. steel for pipelines in the U.S., expediting environmental reviews for high-priority infrastructure projects and streamlining regulations for domestic manufacturing.

"This is about streamlining the incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible permitting process and reducing regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturing," Trump said.

Keystone XL was quashed under the Obama administration, which in November 2015 denied the project a presidential permit, the final authorization to build the line, after nationwide environmental opposition. Dakota Access was the subject of months-long protests in North Dakota with Sanding Rock members, environmental groups, celebrities and other opponents arguing that the project as routed would harm sacred tribal sites and threaten drinking water supplies.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested in a briefing that the administration will include Standing Rock in negotiations involving Dakota Access. "He's willing to sit down with all of the individuals that are involved in the Dakota pipeline to make sure that it's a deal that benefits all of the parties of interest, or at least gets them something they want," Spicer said.

The Standing Rock Sioux leadership said on Facebook shortly after the actions were signed that the tribe will take legal action challenging Trump's memo on Dakota Access, which would move crude oil from the Bakken Shale to a hub in Illinois. "It not only violates the law, but it violates tribal treaties," the post said.

During his campaign, Trump encouraged TransCanada to reapply for Keystone XL and hinted at similar support for Energy Transfer Partners' approximately $3.8 billion Dakota Access.

FBR & Co. said in a note ahead of the actions that while both projects were expected to go through, "likely legal challenges will remain the primary gating factor."

A federal judge on Jan. 18 denied a request by Energy Transfer Partners to stop the corps from launching an environmental review, which would further delay completion of the project. FBR said it expects the final decision on Dakota Access to end up in court, with environmental groups suing to require a full environmental impact statement.

Evercore ISI analysts said in a note that while the memos do not directly approve the pipeline projects, the actions "are broadly market positive for fossil fuel companies because they point to the beginning of Trump's desire to streamline regulation of the industry."

Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet in a statement chided the Obama administration's "failure to make timely and consistent decisions" on Keystone and Dakota Access and said the debate surrounding the pipelines has become "unnecessarily polarized." While both projects raise "significant concerns," he said, "it is time we shift the national conversation away from two pipelines and back to the national imperative to rejuvenate and expand our nation's aging infrastructure."

Congressional Republicans and industry leaders applauded the actions, with Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., calling Trump's actions an affirmation of his "respect for the rule of law." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that "it is refreshing to have an administration putting jobs and the economy ahead of extreme political views."

The American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said Trump's actions "recognize the importance of our nation's energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process."

The Sierra Club, meanwhile, condemned the moves in a statement leading up to the actions. "The Keystone pipeline was rejected because it was not in the country's interest, and the environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline was ordered because of the threats it poses to the Standing Rock Sioux," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in the statement. "Nothing has changed. These pipelines were a bad idea then and they're a bad idea now."

The environmental group 350.org called it "a dark day" and said the organization will continue to challenge the pipelines. "This is not a done deal," Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, said in a statement. "The last time around, TransCanada was so confident they literally mowed the strip where they planned to build the pipeline, before people power stopped them. People will mobilize again."

TransCanada and Energy Transfer Partners shares both closed 3.5% higher Jan. 24.