Some of North America’s biggest new pipeline projects are already in the ground.
As environmentalists and local activists make it extraordinarily difficult to build new oil and gas lines, energy companies are working around the opposition by supersizing old pipes that already crisscross parts of the continent.
Executives at some of the biggest pipeline operators in the U.S. and Canada, including Enbridge Inc. and Kinder Morgan Inc say they pivoted to the strategy as plans for new pipelines came under attack. For decades, new pipeline projects rarely drew attention, much less ire. “We used to just show up with a map,” said Al Monaco, president and chief executive of Enbridge. “Now we engage with the local communities and indigenous groups early and often.”
In recent years, groups with a goal of keeping fossil fuels in the ground have joined forces with Native American activists, landowners and other local opponents to stall numerous projects. Most notable among these was TransCanada Corp.’s much-debated Keystone XL pipeline for transporting Canadian crude southward.
Skipping new lines—and the environmental reviews and taking of land by eminent domain that they often require—and instead working under existing permits and rights of way is just common sense, pipeline executives say. Mr. Monaco said the expansions also minimize impacts to land and the environment in addition to being cheaper. “Once the pipe is in the ground, you can do a lot of things: reverse flows, expand it, optimize it,” he added.