By COLLIN GALLANT on January 19, 2021.
After waiting years for construction to begin on the Keystone XL expansion, local officials along the route in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan are wondering this week about its potential shutdown.
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden is expected to follow through on a campaign promise and cancel a presidential permit for the cross-national oil pipeline when he is sworn in on Wednesday, according to media reports.
The announcement touched off furious debate on Monday in Alberta, where the provincial government purchased and equity stake on seeing the line completed.
In smaller towns along the route, officials said the project should move ahead, but took a cautious approach about a potential cancellation.
“We’ve heard that but it wouldn’t affect us much here,” said Doug Jones, the Mayor of Oyen, where major construction work began last summer. “Personally, I don’t think it (cancellation) would happen, and we all hope it won’t.”
Mainline construction kicked off this summer to much fanfare.
In Oyen, Michels Pipeline put about 1,000 workers into the area to build northward toward the terminal in Hardisty.
Jones estimates that the spread put between $3 million to $5 million into the local economy each month, though that would decrease in 2021 anyway as work is completed and fewer workers are required.
Jones described TC Energy as “great” to work with and the project as a huge positive for the town and local economy.
Major construction across the provincial boundary in Saskatchewan however, had yet to begin, and local leaders there are now wondering about the potential that it never will.
Sean Checkley, the mayor of Fox Valley, said his community has been looking forward to the project ever since the route was surveyed in the mid-2000s.
Excitement had grown when the mainline kicked off in Alberta. He expected details of Saskatchewan spreads to be released this winter.
“We’re coming out of a really hard year, and it would have been so great for the whole southwest to have the line come through and boost business and bring some economic development,” said Chekley.
Beyond construction and ongoing operations, the line would have also brought in new assessment value for rural municipalities that are facing reduced tax revenue as gas wells are closed in and reclaimed.
As well, shortly after the news of Biden’s potential action broke on Sunday, TC Energy announced it would make KXL the first “net zero” pipeline in North America on an operational basis. That would involve a US$1.7-billion spend on renewable power plants at booster stations along the route to provide zero-emissions electricity to pump the oil.
In an apparent attempt to curry favour with the pro-labour Biden administration, it specifically vowed to use unionized construction firms in the process.
Checkley says that would add greater benefit to his area.
“TC has proven they’ll do what it takes, they’ve dealt with a lot of curveballs, but they need a partner and that’s the U.S. government,” he said.
Booster stations would be located at Hardisty, Lakesend, Monitor, Oyen and Bindloss in Alberta, then Fox Valley, Piapot and Grassy Creek, near Shaunavon, in Saskatchewan.
The line route runs from Hardisty in east central Alberta, past Oyen and through a small sliver of Cypress County before crossing into Saskatchewan.