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Keystone XL pipeline no closer to construction despite Montana court win

Highlights

Court lifts injunction that banned work since November

TC Energy has yet to make final investment decision

Pipeline expected to shrink WCS discount to WTI

Washington — Construction of the proposed 830,000 b/d Keystone XL heavy oil pipeline is not expected to start any earlier than 2020, despite the project clearing a legal hurdle in Montana.

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The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a Montana judge's injunction Friday that had blocked most preparatory work since November.

Pipeline builder TransCanada was hoping to start construction in the first quarter of 2019 until the injunction halted most preparatory work and ordered the State Department to conduct another environmental review.

TransCanada changed its name to TC Energy in May.

"We are currently assessing the decision as we work towards advancing the project," TC Energy spokesman Terry Cunha said Monday.

The project is still held up in Nebraska by a lawsuit challenging the state Public Utilities Commission's approval of the route.

The company has yet to make a final investment decision on the Alberta-Nebraska pipeline.

"We continue to work through the various legal and regulatory issues that we have in front of us," Paul Miller, executive vice president for liquids pipelines, said in May.

In an attempt to break the Montana court stalemate, US President Donald Trump in February canceled his 2017 Keystone XL permit and issued a new permit not contingent on State Department review.

Trump also signed an executive order aimed at accelerating the review of cross-border permits like the one Keystone XL needs.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects Enbridge's 370,000 b/d Line 3 expansion to begin moving crude into the US Midwest by 2021, and Keystone XL and/or the 590,000 b/d Trans Mountain expansion to British Columbia to be completed by late 2022. Until then, producers will be more dependent on rail to move crude to US markets.

A lack of pipeline takeaway capacity caused Canadian crudes to trade at steep price discounts last year.

Western Canadian Select at Hardisty was assessed at a $14.05/b discount to WTI CMA. Alberta's government production caps caused the WCS differential to spike from a low of WTI CMA minus $51.50/b in October to the 2019 high of minus $6.95/b in January.

TransCanada first applied to build Keystone XL from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast more than a decade ago. Its southern section from Nebraska to Texas went into service in 2014.

-- Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Pankti Mehta, newsdesk@spglobal.com