TransCanada official casts doubt on Keystone XL pipeline project

LINCOLN — TransCanada may decide against building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline across Nebraska after all.

A top company executive told investors Friday that a decision is planned by December on whether to proceed with the oil pipeline.

Several news sources reported that Paul Miller, TransCanada’s executive vice president and president of liquid pipeline, said the decision will be based on demand for oil shipments and on whether Nebraska approves the pipeline.

“Our assessment of these factors will really drive our investment decisions when we get into that November-December time frame,” he said.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission is in the midst of reviewing the proposed pipeline route across the state.

The five-member commission has until Nov. 23 to rule on whether the 275-mile route is in the state’s “public interest.”

It held the last of four public hearings on the matter this week and has a formal hearing with experts on both sides set for Aug. 7 to 11.

In the past TransCanada has said that it hoped to begin construction of the pipeline as early as next year. The time frame would depend on clearing any new legal hurdles.

But Miller’s comments suggest that the company could decide to abandon the project altogether.

He made the remarks during a conference call after the company reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit.

Miller said TransCanada has “good support” from customers wanting to ship oil through the pipeline, including those who departed after then-President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015.

President Donald Trump reversed that decision in March, approving the $7 billion Canada-to-Texas pipeline without any special conditions.

In its quarterly report, TransCanada disclosed that it has launched an “open season” for potential customers to bid on contracts for transporting oil via the Keystone XL. The open season will last until September.

Miller said the company wants a “significant” level of commitments before proceeding, but he would not offer any precise targets.

As planned, the Keystone XL would transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of heavy crude from tar sands in western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

From there it would go to refiners in the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada has been trying for years to win approval for the pipeline. Protests in Nebraska proved a stumbling block before Obama issued his 2015 decision.

Now, sagging oil prices and the growth of shipping alternatives are casting the pipeline’s future in doubt.

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