Pipeline builder TransCanada says it is moving forward with the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and hopes to begin construction next year after securing enough long-term commitments from shippers.

A recently concluded "open season" resulted in firm, 20-year commitments to move 500,000 barrels per day through the pipeline, the company said.

While Thursday's announcement isn't a final decision, it shows TransCanada has no immediate plans to halt its nearly decade-long pursuit of the pipeline, despite recent developments in Nebraska.

"Interest in the project remains strong," the company said in a news release, and it will continue to work to sign more shippers while preparing for construction.

Opponents scoffed at TransCanada's assertion that construction could begin by 2019.

Anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska issued a news release saying shipper support for the project is still "shockingly weak" and includes a subsidy from the Canadian government.

Jane Kleeb, the group's founder, accused the company of "posturing" because of recent negative headlines surrounding Keystone XL and some of its other projects.

TransCanada's announcement comes just shy of two months after the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved an alternative route for the pipeline through the state, opting against the company's preferred route. 

That decision raised questions about the pipeline's fate, requiring the company to gain land rights from new property owners and inviting fresh legal challenges by landowners, environmental groups and Native American tribes that oppose the Keystone XL.

“The Keystone XL pipeline will never be built,” Kleeb said in a news release. “TransCanada clearly does not have the support necessary for this project, since the company could secure just 500,000 (barrels per day) of commitments from shippers on its 830,000 bpd-capacity pipeline — and that’s only with a giant subsidy gift directly from the Canadian government.

"What’s more, the landowners’ lawsuit challenging the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s approval of an illegal pipeline route is still set to be heard by the Nebraska Supreme Court in late 2018.” 

TransCanada spokeswoman Robynn Tysver said support from shippers brings the company closer to making a final investment decision.

"TransCanada is continuing outreach in the communities where the pipeline will be constructed and is working collaboratively with landowners in an open and transparent way to obtain the necessary easements for the approved route," the company said in the news release.

If completed, the pipeline would carry oil sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to a terminus in Steele City, en route to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Keystone XL was first proposed nearly a decade ago, and was originally scuttled by then-President Barack Obama in 2015. President Donald Trump breathed new life into the project soon after he took office last year.

At the time, Nebraska regulators still hadn't OK'd a route for the pipeline in the state. The Public Service Commission's decision Nov. 20 — approving a route, but not the one the company preferred — came as a surprise to many.

But with Thursday's announcement, the company showed no signs of backing down.

"We thank President Donald Trump and his administration for their continued support and appreciate the ongoing efforts of Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska legislative and congressional delegation, Omaha Federation of Labor, Nebraska State AFL-CIO, our customers and various stakeholders to advance this project," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and CEO.

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