The CEO of TC Energy Corp. says the company is fine-tuning its plan to guard against the spread of COVID-19 as it moves ahead with site preparation for the US$8-billion Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Russ Girling says crews are working on right-of-way clearing and moving pipe and equipment into position while starting to drill river crossings and constructing the border crossing into Canada from northern Montana.

Major pipe-laying activity on the route from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb., is expected to ramp up in June, he said during a presentation at the Scotiabank Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Energy Symposium which was held virtually on Wednesday.

Environmentalists have charged it's irresponsible for the company to go to construction during the current pandemic.

Calgary-based TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, announced last week it would go ahead with the pipeline after Alberta agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion as equity and provide a US$4.2-billion loan guarantee.

Girling said the provincial investment was important to mitigate against "inherent risks" in the project, adding he didn't want it to affect his company's credit-worthiness or its ability to proceed with $30 billion in other capital projects.

"Advancing new egress as you know for us has been a huge part of our strategy but it has inherent risks and we needed to find partners that shared the desire and the need and therefore we can share the risk with them," he said.

"That's kind of how that conversation came about and I think it works well for the upstream and the government in terms of getting this capacity on stream as quickly as we can."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.

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