TransCanada could begin clearing land in Montana this fall, as part of the initial steps in construction of its highly contentious Keystone XL pipeline.  Canadian Press photo by Alex Panetta.

TransCanada expects construction of Keystone XL to begin in 2019

Initial work clearing the way for the contentious Keystone XL is expected to begin in Montana this fall, according to a report by Reuters.

Crews will begin removing brush along the pipeline route in Montana which would be the first step required to begin construction on camps for workers and pipe yards.

A letter from the US State Department to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes sent in early April said construction of the 1,900 Km line from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, could begin next year.

“As you may be aware, TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. (Keystone) intends to begin vegetative clearing in preparation for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (Project) this fall,” the letter said.

TransCanada has yet to make an official investment decision on the $8 billion project, though in the past, the company has said it would begin construction in 2019.

“We are progressing towards a final investment decision. We expect construction to begin in 2019 and we are doing the necessary work to prepare for those activities,” TransCanada told Reuters on Thursday.

The State Department letter was sent on April 10 and Bloomberg reported it said it was meant to continue government-to-government communication to “avoid, minimize or mitigate” any negative effects of the project.

Keystone XL has been mired in controversy for a decade.  Environmentalists and local tribes cheered when former President Obama denied TransCanada permission to build the international pipeline in 2015.

At the time, Obama said that Keystone XL “will not serve the national interests of the United States.”

Not long after current US President Donald Trump was sworn into office, he gave the green light to the project.

“It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North America and energy independence,” Trump said on March 24, 2017.

Since Trump’s OK of the pipeline, TransCanada has run into more hurdles, including in Nebraska where state regulators did not approve the company’s preferred route.  The approval is now under appeal.

“The question is will they build a pipeline to nowhere?” said Brian Jorde, a lawyer who represents Nebraska landowners fighting the pipeline told Reuters. “This is an investment risk analysis TransCanada must perform.”