TransCanada Corp. is taking bids to move an additional 10,000 to 15,000 barrels of crude oil per day through its Keystone pipeline.
The original Keystone -- which began operation July 1, 2010 -- begins at Hardisty in Alberta, Canada, and ends at Patoka, Illinois, and passes through six states including Nebraska.
It delivers almost 600,000 barrels of Canadian oil daily to U.S. refineries and is one of four existing crude oil pipelines that pass through Nebraska.
TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper said the overall capacity of the 2,610-mile Keystone pipeline hasn’t changed, but technological advances allow for an increase of daily volume. About 90 percent of pipeline capacity is spoken for by committed shippers, while the space left is used for spot volumes.
“Pipelines don't operate at peak capacity. So as technology evolves you can eventually add more volume, which is what happened here,” Cooper said in an email.
He declined to provide daily operating capacity for the pipeline, citing “commercial sensitivities.”
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, the state’s most visible anti-pipeline group, suspects economic factors might be at play.
“Tar sands are slowing down so the need for their pipeline is disappearing,” Kleeb said. “Tar sands (oil) can't be profitable unless they have huge pipelines to the coasts to sell to international export market. U.S. oil is so low right now no one would pay for tar sands.”
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Light, sweet crude for delivery in August was at $52.20 a barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Bold Nebraska has been a lead organizer of resistance in the state against TransCanada’s efforts to build a new Keystone XL pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City on the Nebraska-Kansas border, where it would connect with existing pipelines and carry oil to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
TransCanada is waiting to hear from President Barack Obama on whether it will be granted a permit to build across the border between the United States and Canada.
Cooper said increasing the capacity of the existing pipeline has nothing to do with the long-delayed efforts to build the $8 billion Keystone XL. The Calgary-based company has been working nearly seven years to bring the pipeline to fruition. It would be 1,179 miles long and transport up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day.
“Our main goal remains constructing and operating Keystone XL, which will allow our shippers and U.S. refiners to take advantage of the safest, most efficient and least greenhouse gas intensive way to transport oil,” Cooper said.
In January, TransCanada began condemnation proceedings in Nebraska to get the 10 percent of easements it still needs to build and maintain the project here. Those cases have been put on hold as two lawsuits in York and Holt counties brought by landowners work their way through the state judicial system.
The lawsuits challenge TransCanada’s right to use eminent domain to force land sales and are expected to end up before the Nebraska Supreme Court.