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Keystone XL pipeline gets enough shipper pledges to proceed

About 230 miles worth of green metal pipe, stored by TransCanada for its stalled Keystone XL pipeline, gathers snow, dust and tumbleweeds in a laydown yard where it's been stored near Gascoyne since 2011. Lauren Donovan / Bismarck Tribune

TransCanada Corp. has enough customer interest to go forward with the Keystone XL oil pipeline, if the company decides to build it.

The Calgary-based company now has "approximately 500,000 barrels per day of firm, 20-year commitments," according to a statement on Thursday, Jan. 18. The pipeline operator will continue to secure additional volumes.

The announcement marks yet another hurdle overcome for the project, first proposed in 2008. In November, TransCanada received state approval in Nebraska to construct the conduit there along an alternate route, a decision that may spur added legal action by foes who say the new path hasn't received the same review as the original plan. So far, the company hasn't yet officially green-lighted the project, a spokesman said.

"We are progressing toward a final investment decision," Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in an emailed statement. "We continue to work through internal milestones to construct and put into service this important infrastructure project."

The company said in its statement it is working with landowners along the new path to obtain the necessary easements. Construction preparation has begun, the company said, with primary work potentially coming in 2019.

Keystone XL would be a victory for Canadian oil sands producers who are facing transportation bottlenecks getting their crude to market.

The pipeline would ship 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Hardisty, Alberta, through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect to TransCanada's existing Keystone system that carries crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast hub of refineries and export terminals.

"Over the last 12 months, the Keystone XL project has achieved several milestones that move us significantly closer to constructing this critical energy infrastructure for North America," Russ Girling, TransCanada's chief executive officer, said in the statement.

Keystone XL drew fierce opposition from environmentalists concerned about climate change and landowners along the path in Nebraska. Former President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's application in 2015, saying that it wasn't in the national interest. That decision was reversed by the Trump administration.

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