TULSA — Pipeline developer TransCanada's Gulf Coast project has been dogged by protesters in east Texas but its progress in Oklahoma has been slowed by concerns about the American burying beetle.
Some of the endangered insect's habitat is along the route of the $2.3 billion pipeline being built from the crude oil storage hub at Cushing to refineries in the Houston area.
The American burying beetle has been a troublesome issue for oil and gas companies in Oklahoma for more than a decade.
The insect has been listed as an endangered species since 1989. To ensure the bug's safety, environmental regulations require companies to hire biologists and survey areas for the beetles before they dig in areas where the beetle may be found.
If any of the species are found in an area, biologists must trap or bait them away.
Because the beetles hibernate in the winter, environmental regulations state the insects can be moved only in the spring and summer.
Corey Goulet, vice president of TransCanada's Keystone development, said the company hopes to secure a permit to proceed with pipeline construction in southern Oklahoma soon.
He said the 500-mile pipeline is being built by three crews that started working Aug. 4.
“The Gulf Coast project is vital for America,” Goulet said Monday at the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association's fall conference in Tulsa. “It transports the growing supply of U.S. crude to the GC (Gulf Coast) refiners. It reduces U.S. dependence on Venezuelan and Middle Eastern crudes. And it creates some 4,000 direct construction jobs and thousands of manufacturing and indirect jobs as well.
Goulet said about 170 miles have been cleared along the pipeline's route, with about 130 miles of pipe strung together.
He said the pipeline, which is about 12 percent complete now, is expected to be finished by late next year.
Goulet said crews are making steady progress, despite protests in east Texas.
Members of the Tar Sands Blockade have spent almost a month in a “tree village” near Winnsboro, Texas, to protest the project. Protesters contend the pipeline and “dirty” oil from Canada's tar sands could cause irreparable damage to the environment if it is allowed to proceed.
TransCanada also is pushing ahead with its planned Keystone XL pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb. Its route through Nebraska has been tweaked after state residents expressed concerns about its passage through the Sandhills region.
The Obama administration declined to issue a presidential permit for the transcontinental pipeline in January. TransCanada renewed its application in May after changing the route through Nebraska.
Goulet said the project is the most scrutinized cross-border pipeline ever, one the company intends to complete while adhering to the highest safety standards.
“We believe it will be the safest pipeline in America,” he said.
Calgary-based Trans-Canada has pipeline capacity to move about 1.4 million barrels of oil a day, as well as being a growing electricity producer and the continent's largest natural gas transmission company. About 1,600 of company's 4,400 employees are in the United States.
“We have nearly a 60-year track record of safely and reliably delivering energy needs to North America,” Goulet said.