Construction on the delayed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline has begun in Montana, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
Despite protests from indigenous rights groups and environmental advocacy organizations, TC Energy announced that construction of the $8 billion project would begin on March 31. The company received a $1.1 billion investment from the government of Alberta, Canada — the northern endpoint of the pipeline. It will stretch down to Steel City, Neb., spanning 1,210 miles across North America.
President Trump also pushed the project forward in 2018, earning a thanks from TC Energy President and Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling.
The construction of the pipeline has come under fresh criticism amid the coronavirus pandemic. Rural community residents and American tribal leaders are concerned that the influx of approximately 1,000 pipeline workers will spread the virus.
“Given the needs of families, states and the national health care system to respond to the COVID-19 crisis right now, it’s truly irresponsible to shove through an unpopular, risky pipeline while everyone else is focused on surviving," Janet Redman, the director of Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign.
TC Energy intends to implement cautionary measures, saying that it plans to screen for coronavirus infections and symptoms, as well as have employees practice social distancing while working on the pipeline.
“Construction will advance only after every consideration for the health and safety of our people, their families and of those in the surrounding communities has been taken into account,” Girling previously said in March.
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While Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued a stay-at-home order on March 26, pipeline construction is exempt from the clause prohibiting nonessential businesses to operate.
Gov. Bullock is reportedly concerned about potential coronavirus spread within the new workers camps along the pipeline construction site, spokeswoman Marissa Perry told reporters on Monday.
A court case to request the blocking of construction is underway, with a hearing scheduled for April 16 before the U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls, according to the Associated Press..
Morris reportedly blocked pipeline construction in 2018, but denied to block construction in 2019, citing TC Energy had no plans to construct, according to AP.
Counsel representing environmental groups again brought the case to Morris’s attention once pipeline construction was announced.
“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,” said attorney Steven Volker to AP reporters.
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