TransCanada has begun working in Oklahoma on the southern segment of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
“It's kind of like a slow-moving train,” project spokesman Jim Prescott said. “Once it gets going, it takes a while to get up to speed with all the crews that have to fall in, one behind the other.”
Prescott said crews are working along the pipeline route from south of Cushing to the Texas border. They are relocating utilities and clearing right of way before the pipe is buried.
“We're still a few weeks away from ditch work,” he said.
The 485-mile pipeline will transport up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the storage hub at Cushing to refineries in the Houston area.
TransCanada announced plans to proceed with the Gulf Coast Project earlier this year after the Obama administration denied the company a permit for the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline.
The company has reapplied for the necessary permit to build a pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border on its way from Alberta to Cushing.
Construction of the southern segment is expected to be completed by mid-2013, Prescott said, so the pipeline can go into service by the end of next year.
Crews began working this summer after TransCanada secured the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the company needed to secure an additional permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before proceeding in Oklahoma because of the presence of the endangered American burying beetle.
Prescott said TransCanada secured the permit about three weeks ago after showing it would comply with regulations meant to protect the beetle's habitat.
He said a crew of about 375 people is working in Oklahoma now, but that figure is expected to double as construction activity ramps up in the coming weeks.
The project will include more than 20 different crews working on various aspects of the pipeline construction, from surveying to welding pipe sections to site reclamation and cleanup.
Prescott said pipe for the project is being housed in Holdenville and Cushing, but state crews are staging out of a construction yard in Prague.
“That'll be our base of operations in Oklahoma for the coming months,” he said.
TransCanada also is working in Cushing to build a pump station for the new pipeline and seven storage tanks that will hold up to 1.9 million barrels of oil.