When Donald Trump said he would use his first 100 days in office to boost the fossil fuel sector, he certainty meant it. By day five of his administration, he already has impressed business groups and enraged environmentalists by approving two controversial pipelines that will pump oil from Canada and North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries.
The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines already are partly finished, but their further development was blocked by the outgoing Obama administration on environmental grounds. Their completion could add billions of dollars to the economy and create thousands of jobs, either through construction work or the ongoing transport-efficiency benefits provided to the local energy sector.
“The President’s decision is a major victory for workers and American families who will benefit from the jobs and economic growth that will surely follow the new pipelines,” said Nicholas Atkins, who heads energy policy for CEO peer group Business Roundtable. Atkins also is the CEO of American Electric Power.
Other business groups applauded the move. “We think this is a great step forward for energy security in America,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents the state’s oil producers.
The Keystone XL pipeline, slated to run from the heart of Alberta, would transport a heavy crude known as tar sands that’s maligned by environmentalists because its development is more carbon intensive than conventional oil and could involve the destruction of forest lands. Both it and the Dakota Access pipeline have met stiff opposition from Native American tribes concerned it will contaminate their water supplies.
Costing around $10 billion combined to build, the pipelines could transport more than 1 million barrels of oil per day between them. A recent rise in oil prices sparked by OPEC’s pledge to trim production volumes could stimulate the development of nearby oil fields soon, though tar sands are typically more expensive to produce than conventional oil deposits.
TransCanada said it has started preparing a development application for Keystone XL to resubmit to authorities in the wake of Trump’s announcement. “KXL creates thousands of well-paying construction jobs and would generate tens of millions of dollars in annual property taxes to counties along the route as well as more than $3 billion to the U.S. GDP,” it said.
Whether and when the surrounding oil deposits are developed, Trump’s decision already has further enflamed the country’s political divide. Obama blocked construction of the smaller Dakota Access pipeline in December following persistent protests by activists, native Americans and even army veterans that often turned violent.
The Standing Rock Sioux said they will continue to fight against the current development route. “Americans know this pipeline is unfairly re-routed toward our nation and without our consent,” said Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock tribe. “The existing pipeline route risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”