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Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana

Energy

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.


As EcoWatch reported, last week Canada-based TC Energy said it would start construction despite the climate impacts of the pipeline and the concerns about transporting construction crews during the coronavirus outbreak.

The construction that began yesterday involved around 100 workers in a remote border crossing between Montana and Canada, which is home to cattle ranches and wheat fields, according to a spokesperson from TC Energy, as the AP reported. The number of people involved in the construction is supposed to grow into the thousands as construction advances.

The government in Alberta is throwing in $1.1 billion to support construction of the pipeline, which will stretch 1,210 miles from the town of Hardisty, in Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, and will begin operating in 2023, as The Hill reported. The investment from Alberta's government will support construction through 2020 and triggered the surprise announcement that construction would begin. The pipeline is predicted to carry 830,00 barrels of crude every day for transfer to refineries and export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alberta will also guarantee a $6 billion loan to TC Energy.


On Friday, Montana's Department of Environmental Quality issued the final state permits the company needed, agency spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage said, as the AP reported.

Even though the pipeline has been delayed for some time as it has been held up in court and demand for oil has plummeted, and even though Montana is under "stay-at-home" orders, the pipeline was granted an exception to Gov. Steve Bullock's order. The "stay-at-home" directive did not address worker camps, according to the AP.

The plans for the pipeline call for 11 worker camps, some housing up to 1,000 people. Local officials and tribal leaders for indigenous people say the camps could potentially spread the coronavirus into the area. Gov. Bullock, who is concerned about the virus spreading, "would want those concerns addressed prior to TC Energy and their contractors finalizing their plans of operations for those segments of construction," said spokeswoman Marissa Perry to the AP.

TC Energy said it would check all workers for fever and ensure they practice social distancing.

However, as Bill McKibben, founder of 360.org, noted in The Guardian, the worker camps on the edge of Native American territory bring up memories of introduced epidemics that wiped out 90 percent of the Native American population.

"As Faith Spotted Eagle of the Yankton Sioux put it, 'this causes eerie memories for us [of] the infected smallpox blankets that were distributed to tribes intentionally,'" McKibben wrote.

Environmental activists agreed with that assessment.

"This is a shameful new low," Catherine Collentine, associate director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement, as The Hill reported. "By barreling forward with construction during a global pandemic, TC Energy is putting already vulnerable communities at even greater risk."


A hearing to block the work is scheduled for April 16. In January, the federal judge who will hear arguments did not issue an order to stop work because TC Energy said there were no immediate plans to begin work, according to the AP.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the environmental groups asking the judge to intervene, said the company's decision to "jump the gun" before next week's hearing was an insult to U.S. District Judge Brian Morris, as the AP reported.

"We are confident the court will not be bullied, and will overturn President Trump's second approval, just as he overturned President Trump's first approval, as unlawful," Volker said.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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