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Pipeline construction is an impressive thing to behold. The right-of-way – at some 35 metres wide, it’s broader than many country roads – is striking, as is the vast amount of equipment arrayed along its length. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)
Pipeline construction is an impressive thing to behold. The right-of-way – at some 35 metres wide, it’s broader than many country roads – is striking, as is the vast amount of equipment arrayed along its length. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)

Keystone XL: The Journey of a Pipeline

A Keystone builder’s view: ‘We take great pride in our work’ Add to ...

Part of the reason the Enbridge plan has received less attention than Keystone XL lies in its complicated structure. It’s not one direct pipeline. Rather, it’s a series of upgrades and new lines: an expansion of Alberta Clipper, from Alberta to Superior, Wis., at the western tip of Lake Superior. Other pipes connect Superior to Flanagan, Ill., southwest of Chicago. Flanagan South will run southwest to Cushing, and the Seaway pipeline – which is being twinned – will complete the link to the Gulf Coast by next April.

By the time all of the different expansions are done, “we’re going to be able to provide, say, around 900,000 to one million barrels a day into the U.S. Gulf Coast,” Mr. Yu says. Keystone XL, by comparison, has an 830,000 b/d capacity.

The two companies’ projects are very different. XL stands for “Express Line,” and Keystone travels a direct route angling toward the Gulf Coast. The web of Enbridge pipe takes a massive detour to the U.S. Midwest. Barrels will get to market faster through TransCanada. What Enbridge offers is choice: Its route touches much of the continent’s refining capacity.

There is, however, a catch. The hurdles facing TransCanada have largely arisen through its need to obtain a presidential permit to cross the border into the U.S.

The Enbridge plan needs something similar. While Alberta Clipper already has a presidential permit, it’s “silent on the volume that we’re allowed to move,” Mr. Yu says. To expand Clipper, Enbridge is currently “re-doing our environmental impact statement to take into account a higher volume.”

Does that mean Enbridge needs to reapply for its permit – possibly exposing it to a Keystone-style roller-coaster ride? After all, the world has, in very short order, undergone major change for pipeline companies. In 1951, the hearing into what is now the Trans Mountain pipeline – which has since operated with few incidents – lasted a single day, with a decision released three days later. As recently as 2009, National Energy Board hearings into the Canadian leg of Keystone XL lasted 11 days. A decision was released within five months.

So what does the future hold for Alberta Clipper?

“I think the best way to describe it is we’re amending our current presidential permit,” Mr. Yu says. Does that amendment need White House approval?

“It’s unclear.”

How about the U.S. Department of State?

It will need to pass, he says, “through State, for sure.”

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