(CN) Flush with $1.5 billion from the Alberta government and despite plummeting oil prices and a global pandemic, Canadian energy giant TC Energy aims to build its long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline. But environmentalists say it faces an uphill climb in the United States.
“We cannot wait for the end of the pandemic and the global recession to act,” Jason Kenney, the Conservative premier of Alberta, said of his government’s investment in the project. “There are steps we must make now to build our future focused on jobs, the economy and pipelines.”
According to the province’s release, the overall investment from Alberta includes $1.5 billion in equity investment this year, followed by $6 billion in loan guarantees in 2021. That outlay is meant to accelerate construction of the pipeline, starting Wednesday. Alberta anticipates selling the shares it is buying at a profit, assuming the value of TC Energy increases with completion of the project.
Despite the infusion of public cash, pipeline foes say that its future in the U.S. remains cloudy.
“In this time of crisis, it is horrendous that the government of Alberta is choosing to invest billions of dollars into a project that will never be finished. This is nothing more than a last chance effort to bail out a dying industry,” said Dallas Goldtooth, a campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Opponents question the logic of building construction sites and camps for workers, along with transporting hundreds of new people into rural and tribal communities where sufficient health care facilities are lacking even in the best of times.
“Our rural and tribal communities are strained as it is for medical supplies and hospital beds amid a global pandemic,” said Jane Fleming Kleeb, founder of pipeline-fighting group Bold Nebraska and current chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “All these years TC Energy bragged about being a good neighbor and they are now putting lives at risk with this move.”
Kleeb also noted, in a statement, that TC Energy faces several federal lawsuits and dozens of eminent domain lawsuits in Nebraska.
“While they may have a green light to build in Alberta, they do not have all the permits and regulatory approvals necessary to move forward in America,” Kleeb said.
Meanwhile, environmental group Stand.Earth alleged impropriety with investing billions of dollars in public money into a corporation while many Canadian citizens suffer. This week, Alberta announced it was laying off 26,000 people from its education staff.
“Given the price of oil, the pandemic and the climate emergency, this move makes Canada even more vulnerable to lurching from crisis to crisis,” said Tzeporah Berman, a program director for Stand.Earth.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, a Republican, praised the project for its potential to “bring great-paying jobs to our state.” At a press conference, Ricketts spoke of a measure he enacted that asks every person who enters Nebraska to self-quarantine for two weeks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Truckers and pipeline workers are exempt from this directive, however.
The 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline is designed to carry 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to its terminus in Steele City, Nebraska. From there, existing pipelines will carry the oil to Gulf Coast refineries.
TC Energy’s president and CEO Russ Girling acknowledged the difficulty of beginning such a large project during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We will continue to take guidance from all levels of government and health authorities to determine the most proactive and responsible actions in order to ensure the safety of our crews and community members during the current Covid-19 situation. Construction will advance only after every consideration for the health and safety of our people, their families and of those in the surrounding communities has been taken into account,” Girling said.
Nonetheless, after fighting for the last decade to complete the project and receiving court approval in Nebraska in August and U.S. Interior Department approval in January, Girling pledged to push forward while thanking allies that include President Donald Trump.
“This important energy infrastructure project is poised to put thousands of people to work, generate substantial economic benefits and strengthen the continent’s energy security,” Girling said.
With Trump up for re-election in November and enthusiasm from private investors all but vanished, the timing for the project may be now or never.
The resolve of pipeline opponents appears to be steeled as well.
“Indigenous communities stand ready to defend their homelands and protect their inherent rights against the threats of KXL construction,” said Goldtooth.