Hundreds of workers are back in southeast Alberta to work on the Keystone XL pipeline project, although instead of construction activity, crews will spend the summer fixing up the land.
TC Energy suspended the project in January after U.S. President Joe Biden pulled the presidential permit for the proposed pipeline, which would have transported oil from Alberta to the American Midwest.
About 150 km of pipe was installed in Alberta and — for now — TC Energy plans to leave it underground.
In a regulatory filing last week, the company said it will work to preserve the pipe and two constructed pumping stations to maintain their integrity.
“Our first priority is to make sure we wind down construction activities safely and with care for the environment and that is what we continue to focus on,” TC Energy said in an email to CBC News.
“A longer-term plan is being developed to deal with the assets that have already been constructed and we continue to evaluate our options.”
About 190 km of land was disturbed during the construction of the pipeline, so crews are working to reclaim the land, much of which is used for farming.
“They’re going to now try to restore the topography back to what it looked like before they dug the trench. The only difference being, they will still leave the pipe in the ground, for now,” said Dennis McConaghy, an author on energy issues and a former TC Energy executive.
He suspects the pipe may be left underground permanently, since that’s usually what happens when pipelines are no longer in service.
“You never know when something might become useful again, or that the costs of actually taking it out, are really not justified relative to just leaving it in the ground,” he said.
During construction of the Canadian leg of the pipeline, about 1,000 workers were based in the town of Oyen, located 300 km east of Calgary.
After the project was suspended, the workforce dwindled, but increased to about 250 to 300 workers in the spring, said Doug Jones, the town’s longtime mayor. He expects the workers to remain until the fall.
While the community is no longer buzzing without the much larger workforce, there is still a noticeable benefit to shops and stores.
“It’s not the big influx we saw, it’s nothing like that. It’s a slow trickle,” said Wanda Diakow, an economic development officer in the region.
“You see the workers again in the grocery stores and renting places,” she said.
The 1,897-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline was first announced in 2005 and designed to carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Hardisty, Alta., to Nebraska. It would then connect with the original Keystone that runs to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
TC Energy and the Alberta government, which has an equity stake in the project, are still considering whether to sell leftover materials or launch legal action against the U.S. government to recoup their losses.