Biden blocks Keystone XL, prepares further actions

Feb. 1, 2021

President Biden on his first day in office issued a lengthy executive order to block the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, initiate the steps toward tougher regulations of air emissions from oil and gas operations, and generally reverse Trump policies that had reversed Obama policies.

Biden issued his Jan. 20 mandates the name of protecting the environment and human health and minimizing climate change.

Many of the mandates will require multi-month reviews of various regulations, after which lengthier regulatory rulemakings can follow.

Laments for pipeline jobs

Reaction was swift, especially to the decision to revoke the cross-border permit for TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline. Biden’s executive order cited a conflict with the goals of reducing greenhouse gases and asserting US global leadership in the fight against climate change. Critics said the decision was job-destroying folly.

“Killing 10,000 jobs and taking $2.2 billion in payroll out of workers’ pockets is not what Americans need or want right now,” said Andy Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines.

Because news of the plan to revoke the permit had been circulating days earlier, Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney reacted Jan. 18 with concern about the potential impact on his Canadian province and Canada as a whole. The line was to take crude from Alberta south to Steele City, Neb., where a connection could take the oil to a hub at Cushing, Okla.

Kenney, during a press conference, expressed his fear that Biden would economically damage a friendly neighboring nation and shift supplies to other sources.

Either the US has access to energy from a close democratic ally, Kenney said, “or it becomes more dependent on foreign oil imports from Venezuela and other OPEC dictatorships in the future.”

A host of plans

Biden’s executive order required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior to take a variety of steps to reverse Trump initiatives and restore or enhance Obama initiatives. Among the elements:

  • EPA has until September to consider proposing a rule to suspend, revise or rescind the previous administration’s approach to new source performance standards for controlling methane emissions from the oil and gas exploration and production sector.
  • EPA has until September to consider proposing comprehensive new standards for control of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas exploration, production, transmission, processing, and storage.
  • Interior must place a moratorium on leasing program activities on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and begin a new environmental impact statement “in light of the alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program.”
  • Restrictions on offshore oil and gas leasing imposed by President Obama for much of US Arctic waters and the Bering Sea, having been lifted by President Trump, are reimposed by Biden.
  • All agencies in their regulations must take into account global damages of greenhouse gas emissions that can come from projects and policies. A working group will be established to establish an accurate system for calculating the “social cost” of carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions.
  • EPA has until August to consider proposing rules to suspend, revise or rescind the previous administration’s national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from oil-fired and coal-fired power generators.
  • EPA must as soon as possible reconsider Trump administration policy on “consistency and transparency” in Clean Air Act cost-benefit analyses.
  • EPA must reconsider two Trump rules that moderated the Obama administration’s ambitious fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.
  • The Energy Department must reconsider a variety of appliance efficiency standards and building efficiency standards.
  • The Interior Department must consider restoring boundaries of three national monuments to what they were before the Trump administration—the Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monuments.

Despite much rhetoric on the subject, oil and gas companies lost interest decades ago in exploring for oil and gas at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah. Both areas had been explored extensively, and the result was dry holes in Bears Ears and a single modest oil field in Grand Staircase-Escalante.