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TC Energy aims to restart Keystone XL oil pipeline prep work despite protest

Highlights

Environmental groups say prep work still blocked by injunction

WCS discount holds steady despite Alberta easing output cuts

Washington — TC Energy plans Tuesday to restart preparatory work for construction of the stalled 830,000 b/d Keystone XL heavy oil pipeline, but two environmental groups have asked a Montana court to block the activities.

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TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, told a Montana judge that it would restart pipe transport, worker camp preparations, weeding, mowing, tree cutting and road maintenance in order to start pipeline construction in earnest in 2020.

A lawyer for the Indigenous Environmental Network and North Coast Rivers Alliance on Monday urged the same court to block the work, arguing it was still prohibited by an injunction. He said TC Energy's "unsolicited status report" was "telling -- rather than requesting permission" from the court to take the actions.

"TC Energy's push to immediately begin construction of this massive fossil fuel project -- whose greenhouse gas emissions will worsen the global warming crisis -- must be rejected," lawyer James Patten said in a filing to Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court for the District of Montana.

Patten said the work would create "impermissible bureaucratic momentum" for the project.

TC Energy spokesman Terry Cunha said the pre-construction activities will take the remainder of 2019.

"We are committed to Keystone XL and will continue to carefully obtain the regulatory and legal approvals necessary before we consider advancing this commercially secure project to construction," he said.

Keystone XL is one of three major projects to increase Canadian oil takeaway that has hit delays.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects Enbridge's 370,000 b/d Line 3 expansion to start service in mid-2021, followed by Keystone XL and/or the Canadian government's 590,000 b/d Trans Mountain expansion by late 2022.

Lack of sufficient pipeline capacity to take away mounting volumes of Canadian crude oil had caused price discounts for Western Canadian Select to widen to as much as $51/b to Cushing WTI in late 2018, leading the Alberta government to implement production curtailments for producers. The curtailments have been adjusted each month as market conditions warrant.

S&P Global Platts assessed WCS crude at Hardisty at a $12.50/b discount to WTI crude Friday, steady from Thursday despite the Alberta government's announcement that it would allow producers to increase their output in November and December.

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

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