Tiny Canadian town where Keystone pipeline begins is working in anticipation of Keystone XL approval

We went to Canada to find out more about the Keystone pipeline and the work already underway in preparation of Keystone XL approval
November 17, 2013 8:31:58 PM PST
The Keystone pipeline: you've probably heard about it and its controversial addition the Keystone XL. That much-talked about extension is on hold while the Obama administration decides whether or not to approve it, so we went north of the border to find out more about the pipeline and the work already underway in anticipation of that long-delayed green light.

More than 2,100 miles from Houston -- just north of a region known as the Canadian Badlands -- is Hardisty, Alberta, Canada.

"Hardisty is just a small community of 850 to 900 people," Transcanada Keystone Facilities Manager Bryan Templeton said. "It's basically a farming area. It is supported by the oil industry."

Support includes this relatively small facility, which is the starting point of the Keystone pipeline.

"Keystone is an oil transportation system made up of tanks and pipelines and pumps that transports oil to markets in the U.S.," Templeton said. "This Keystone pipeline and now KXL has put Hardisty on the map."

KXL -- the Keystone XL pipeline -- is a proposed and controversial 1,179-mile extension from Hardisty to Steele City, Nebraska. It would join the existing line that extends from Hardisty, east toward Winnepeg, south to Steele City and east again to Illinois, ultimately providing a shortcut to the Gulf Coast.

But Keystone XL is on hold -- a political football between environmentalists and industry. The White House has been sitting on an approval for more than a year, but this facility is working on the hope that it is approved.

"I'll try and stick with the flow of oil," said Vince Hrabec, area TransCanada foreman.

The company gave us a tour of the expansion already underway.

"We'll take a drive over and show you our expansion scope projects," Hrabec said.

The oil that flows through this network of pipes and pumps comes from other oil companies. That oil is, for the most part, retrieved in what is called the oil sands -- a petroleum-rich area which produces millions of barrels a day. But that oil must be separated from what is essentially sand, or blended to make it more fluid.

The producers send it to Transcanada which, in turn, puts it into the pipeline or temporarily stores it until there's room to ship it east and south. The more oil there is, the less availability there is in the pipeline that fills up those tanks.

The demand pushed Transcanada to nearly double the size of its Hardisty facility.

A brand new part of Keystone in Hardisty that's currently under construction will help expand the storage at this facility. And if Keystone XL is approved, this is where it will start.

Opponents of Keystone XL suggest its construction not only threatens environmentally-sensitive land along its route, but that its mere construction would lead to another boom in the oil sands.

"We already know that we have commitments to shippers for volume storage requirements for our existing system," Hrabec said.

"Because of the growth of the oil sands development?" we asked.

"Exactly," Hrabec replied. "It's not just about Transcanada. We're a carrier for the oil. Our customers are the producers, and they want to get their oil to markets."

"You have the oil up here; we have the refineries down there. The issue is getting it there?" we asked.

"Absolutely," Hrabec said.

And the way to get it to the Gulf Coast in a supply that comes closer to meeting demand could be a pipeline that starts in a small, barely-on-the map town, more than 2,100 miles from Houston.

Monday on Eyewitness News, we'll look at the politics and economics of expanding Keystone to include that XL shortcut, plus what it mean would environmentally where energy companies pull the oil from the ground -- both here in the U.S. and in Canada.

Find Tom on Facebook at TomAbrahams or on Twitter at @tomabrahams

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