Oil pipeline brawls: Decisive on Keystone XL, Biden now falters on other Canadian pipelines


US president under pressure from activists who say his credibility is at stake

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During a protest this month against an oil pipeline pumping Canadian heavy oil to the United States, actress and activist Jane Fonda held up a sign with a photo of Joe Biden. It read: “President Biden, which side are you on?” “

The post, stemming from the protests against Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 expansion in Minnesota, succinctly captures a growing problem for Biden.

The president has come under pressure from activists to intervene to stop the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure, but he is hesitant to take too heavy-handed an approach.

On the first day of his tenure, Biden rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a US $ 8 billion totem project that would have also transported Canadian crude to refineries on the Gulf Coast, which led to his abandonment. this month.

But on other projects, it was less decisive. Campaigners hoped he would ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reverse its position on permits for the Line 3 project and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which carries oil south from the shales of Bakken in North Dakota. In both cases, his administration opposed it, leaving it to the courts to decide.


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He also avoided a dispute between Canada and Michigan over another Enbridge pipeline, Line 5, where the Calgary-based company defied the state governor’s order to shut it down.

This approach infuriated activists.

“Biden’s climate credibility is at stake,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, a climate lobby group. “I think at this point it’s pretty clear that only the federal government can do what needs to be done on Line 3, DAPL and others as well.”

Biden’s climate credibility is at stake

Bill McKibben, Co-Founder, 350.org

The president ran for office on a platform to fight climate change. But despite some of the steps he’s taken – like joining the Paris climate agreement, offering unprecedented federal support for clean energy, and suspending new drilling leases on federal lands – campaigners want he’s taking a harsher line against an industry he’s vowed to “transition away from.”


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Pipelines have become a flashpoint between climate activists and the oil and gas industry. The former argue that new projects encourage greater production of fossil fuels for decades to come at a time when the world should turn to cleaner sources of energy. The latter maintains that these projects remain essential for the regular supply of affordable fuel. US oil demand averages 20 million barrels per day.

The success of the campaign against TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline has spurred many against other projects across the United States.

“The idea was this: you can’t organize people around hundreds of coal-fired power plants, but you can choose one really expensive thing that you could try to kill,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, chief executive of Climate Policy. Tufts University Lab. Fletcher School.


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Some campaigns have proven to be effective. The Atlantic Coast pipeline, which is said to have transported natural gas from wells in West Virginia to utilities on the East Coast, was scrapped last year after legal challenges pushed costs up. DAPL entered service in 2017 despite intense protests, but its future now depends on a new environmental review after narrowly avoiding a court-ordered shutdown last year.

US President Joe Biden.
US President Joe Biden. Photo by Doug Mills / New York Times / Pool / Getty Images

Last week, the courts gave another victory to environmentalists, who had taken an innovative approach in their efforts to prevent new construction. The Environmental Defense Fund argued that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had failed to establish the necessary market demand for the Spire STL pipeline in the Midwest because the company had relied on contracts with a subsidiary to demonstrate the need. The court agreed.


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“It’s one more arrow in the quiver of opponents,” said Paul Patterson, analyst at Glenrock Associates. “Environmentalists seem to be more interested in the economy.”

FERC President Richard Glick, who had opposed the initial certification, said the decision underscored the need for the commission to review how it assessed new interstate gas pipelines with a “legally sustainable approach to assess needs”.

Despite the series of upheavals, pipeline executives have argued that too much attention has been paid to some cases as construction continues behind the scenes.

“Most people just focus on the shiny object,” said John Stoody, vice president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, an industry group. “There is a great deal of pipeline development and construction going on every day in the United States. “


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In the five-year period between 2015 and 2019, 16,000 miles of oil pipelines and 44,000 miles of gas pipelines were built, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, an increase of 8% and 3%, respectively.

Biden has tightened some environmental requirements affecting new pipelines. The Environmental Protection Agency has said it will allow states to deny water quality permits to infrastructure projects – giving them an effective veto – after the Trump administration dilutes its authority over it. respect.

A sign indicates the presence of the Enbridge <a class=Line 5 pipeline in Sarnia, Ontario.” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” src=”https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/financialpost/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/vw0629line-5.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288″ srcset=”https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/financialpost/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/vw0629line-5.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288,
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A sign indicates the presence of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline in Sarnia, Ontario. Photo by Carlos Osorio / Reuters files

On Line 5, the Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that it would conduct a more rigorous environmental review, which Enbridge said would delay plans to modernize the line.

“I think we are going to see the authorization process become more and more stringent and more robust upstream, so that the risk goes back to what it was before the Trump administration,” said Christi Tezak, analyst at ClearView Energy Partners. The permits would become more difficult to obtain but would be more legally sustainable once granted, she added.


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  1. Nothing

    Enbridge Line 5 hit hard as pipeline tunnel proposal undergoes lengthy environmental review

  2. An Iraq War veteran leads a protest march to a sacred cemetery on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota on September 9, 2016.

    Seven states, 5,000 kilometers: a journey through the American energy divide

  3. Nord Stream 2 will be able to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Europe, increasing the continent's access to relatively cheap natural gas at a time of declining national production.

    Nord Stream 2 and the curious case of line 5: will energy security win out over the environment?

  4. The Keystone XL pipeline route is unused in a farmer's field near Oyen, Alta.

    “It’s final”: the stars were never aligned for Keystone XL, vers. 2008-2021

However, when it comes to taking a stand on individual projects such as Line 3, Line 5 and DAPL, the President is walking a fine line. Government attorneys said in a June 23 legal file that the Army Corps of Engineers correctly assessed the impact of the Enbridge Line 3 project and asked the court to dismiss objections from local tribes and environmentalists.

Previous administrations had faced similar dilemmas between environmental and community interests and the country’s energy security, said Jaffe, of the Climate Policy Lab.

“So far no one has done it well,” she said. “What I would say about the Biden administration is that they try to take care of it well and doing it right probably means everyone is going to be unhappy.”

© 2021 The Financial Times Ltd


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