Energy & Environment

Weekly Oil & Gas Update: Industry Groups Criticize Biden’s Move To Block Keystone XL

Trade groups representing the oil and gas industry say revoking a key permit needed for cross-border construction of the pipeline will cost jobs. Plus: ExxonMobil is accused of over-valuing a key asset in the Permian Basin. 

In this Feb. 1, 2012 file photo, miles of pipe ready to become part of the Keystone Pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla.

As expected, Houston's oil and gas industry is adjusting to immediate changes in energy policy from the incoming Biden administration. Among those actions was revoking a key permit needed for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have sent oil from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The move has been mostly criticised by oil and gas advocacy groups representing companies in Houston and across Texas.

“Essential energy infrastructure like pipelines benefits our economy and the environment,” read a Tweet from the Texas Oil & Gas Association, “creating thousands of jobs, keeping energy prices low, ensuring energy is reliable, and reducing emissions.”

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas businesses in Texas and across the country, called it a “significant step backwards.”

“This misguided move will hamper America's economic recovery, undermine North American energy security and strain relations with one of America's greatest allies,” API President Mike Sommers wrote in a statement.

Houston-area Republicans are also criticizing the move. Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted that revoking the pipeline's permit would only help “Russian oligarchs,” while U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands tweeted that the move would kill 10,000 blue collar energy jobs, many in Texas.

In a statement, Sen. John Cornyn characterized Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline as “kicking Texas energy workers while they're down.”

The jobs generated from work on the Keystone XL pipeline would likely have been temporary construction jobs, and many environmental groups dispute the number of jobs it would have created. Clean energy and environmental advocates both nationwide and in Texas are applauding the permit cancellation.

Overall, the incoming Biden administration plans to set the country on a path to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. On his first day in office, Biden recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord, and issued an executive order directing agencies to review and address Trump-era policies regarding the environment.

Some experts say this could also be an opportunity for Houston, which has dedicated resources and funding to clean energy development.

"There are obviously conflicts when it comes to how to deal with the environment and climate change because there's such a hub here in Houston for those industries," University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said this week on Town Square, "but there's also opportunity because there's money available."

Many investors have also indicated their interest in moving away from traditional oil and gas activity and instead funding companies with robust climate change mitigation goals.

Also this week we learned that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation into ExxonMobil regarding how the company calculated oil assets in the Permian Basin. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the whistleblower complaint accusing Exxon of over-valuing a key asset in the shale field.

"Several people involved in valuing a key asset in the Permian Basin, currently the highest-producing U.S. oil field," reads the complaint as reported by the Wall Street Journal, "complained during an internal assessment in 2019 that employees were being forced to use unrealistic assumptions about how quickly the company could drill wells there to arrive at a higher value."

The company’s actions may have over-valued the asset by billions of dollars.

"Actual and provable performance exceeded drilling plans for the Permian, and such performance has been accurately represented to the investment community," an Exxon spokesperson told Reuters. "Historically, the company's unconventional drilling performance has increased in short timeframes as engineers and planners gather more data in basins across its portfolio."

Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider and Lucio Vasquez contributed reporting.

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Kyra Buckley

Kyra Buckley

Energy Reporter

Kyra Buckley is an Energy Reporter with Houston Public Media. Before joining the News 88.7 team she was the Morning Edition Host and a reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado. She started in public radio in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon where she hosted Weekend Edition and reported for KLCC....

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