Biden to revoke KXL pipeline permit in blow to Canada's oil sector

Rod Nickel and Nia Williams
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: A depot used to store pipes for TC Energy Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne

By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday will revoke the permit needed to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline after being sworn into office, aides said, dashing Ottawa's hopes of salvaging a project that the struggling Canadian crude sector has long supported.

Biden will sign 15 executive orders and memorandums to address the "crises" of the pandemic, climate change and racial inequity, said incoming press secretary Jen Psaki.

The move would represent another set-back for the beleaguered Canadian energy industry, kill thousands of jobs and marks an early bump in Biden's relationship with key trade partner Canada.

Keystone XL, owned by TC Energy Corp, is already under construction in Canada, and would carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska. Opposition from U.S. landowners, Native American tribes and environmentalists has delayed the project for the past 12 years. Former Republican President Donald Trump revived the project, but it still faced ongoing legal challenges.

TC Energy said in a statement it was disappointed with Biden's expected decision, saying it would overturn a regulatory process that had lasted more than a decade.

The Calgary-based company said it will suspend construction on the project and warned there could be a "substantive" predominantly non-cash, after-tax charge to earnings in the first quarter of 2021. TC Energy said the decision would lead to layoffs for thousands of unionized construction workers.

The stock was down 0.6% while the benchmark Canadian share index was flat.

"Killing 10,000 jobs and taking $2.2 billion in payroll out of workers' pockets is not what Americans need or want right now," Association of Oil Pipe Lines Chief Executive Andy Black said.

Canada, the world's fourth-largest crude producer, ships most of that output to U.S. refineries. In 2019, the U.S. brought in 3.8 million bpd from Canada, more than half its daily imports of 6.8 million bpd.

Canadian producers, who have struggled for years from low prices partly related to sometimes-congested pipelines, have long supported Keystone XL (KXL).

In a statement, producer Suncor Energy said it backed expanding market access to the U.S. through pipelines like KXL, which would provide responsibly sourced oil to U.S. refineries for the benefit of U.S. consumers.

But a Canada Energy Regulator report in November report said western Canadian crude exports are expected to remain below total pipeline capacity over the next 30 years if KXL and two other projects proceed, prompting environmental groups to question the need for all three.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that Canada was pressing people at the highest levels of Biden's incoming administration to reconsider canceling the $8 billion project.

Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also said on Tuesday that engagement between decision-makers would start once Biden entered office and expressed optimism the two countries will work cooperatively regardless.

"We have a whole range of energy-related opportunities with the United States that we are interested in discussing with the Biden team," Wilkinson told Reuters, giving as examples clean electricity, decarbonization of industry, transportation and methane emissions.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney threatened legal action on Monday if Keystone XL was scrapped. The premier's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)