The Keystone XL pipeline is lifeless. However the struggle in opposition to related initiatives is way from over.

After greater than 10 years, the embattled Keystone XL pipeline has formally been deserted.

In a Wednesday assertion, the Canadian developer TC Power stated that after reviewing its choices with the federal government of Alberta, Canada — its companion on the $8 billion undertaking — the corporate had determined to not transfer ahead.

The choice ends the lengthy battle over the proposed pipeline growth, which might have delivered greater than 800,000 barrels of carbon-intensive tar sands oil per day from Alberta to Steele Metropolis, Nebraska. As soon as there, the pipeline would have met with present pipeline infrastructure to journey farther south to grease refineries within the Gulf Coast.

Development on the undertaking has been halted since January, when President Joe Biden issued an govt order revoking the pipeline’s allow on his first day in workplace. In doing so, Biden made good on his promise to the local weather activists who helped get him elected.

But activists and specialists say the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline is only a begin. Additionally they need present Keystone XL infrastructure to be eliminated and for Biden to cancel different cross-border fossil gasoline growth initiatives, just like the Line 3 pipeline growth in Minnesota.

Right here’s how the Keystone XL pipeline was lastly defeated — and why local weather and Indigenous activists say their struggle continues to be removed from over.

The Keystone XL pipeline, briefly defined

The Keystone XL pipeline grew to become an virtually good instance of the assorted stakeholders — Native communities, local weather activists, scientists, policymakers, farmers, landowners, and on a regular basis residents — partaking within the broader debate about local weather change.

Canada-based TC Power (previously TransCanada) first proposed the 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline in 2008 as a solution to rapidly pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands (a.ok.a. oil sands) per day from Canada’s Alberta province throughout the border to Steele Metropolis, Nebraska. As soon as there, the Keystone XL extension would converge with present pipeline infrastructure, touring south to Texas for processing in Gulf Coast oil refineries.

A map of the proposed Keystone XL extension.
Laris Karklis/The Washington Put up through Getty Pictures

When the thought for Keystone XL was conceived again within the 2000s, the undertaking made a variety of sense — the US economic system trusted oil, and supporters of the pipeline claimed it was in each nations’ curiosity to discover a solution to transport oil effectively throughout the continent. With oil costs excessive and demand regular, Alberta’s oil sands simply racked up $200 billion in funding.

However there are appreciable variations between oil from Alberta’s tar sands and traditional oil, which rapidly started to put on on the area.

For starters, extracting oil from Alberta’s oil sands, which comprise bitumen (tar), a dense sort of petroleum, takes a variety of power. Most of Canada’s tar sands oil is trapped beneath boreal forest — solely 20 % of the oil is situated close to the earth’s floor, the place it may be simply mined, which suggests the forest have to be cleared for essentially the most intensive mining.

Nearly all of the oil is mined by injecting scorching water into wells 75 meters beneath floor to liquefy the oil for pumping, which is why tar sands oil has a status for being among the many dirtiest forms of oil.

Many Indigenous rights teams and folks from communities alongside the proposed route argued the pipeline extension would have disastrous impacts for Native communities in Alberta: A whole lot of the water used to assist extract oil from Alberta’s oil sands comes from the Athabasca River. Research have linked leaks from oil sands pipelines like Keystone XL to vital degradation of close by land and water assets.

A significant concern is tailings ponds, the product of poisonous waste from mining within the tar sands that may sicken communities and wildlife that rely on the land to outlive.

“The land is our answer, the water is our answer, the air is our answer to fulfill our wants,” Jesse Cardinal of the Kikino Metis Settlement, director of Keepers of the Water, a collective of First Nations who’ve come collectively to guard the close by Mackenzie River Basin, advised me. Cardinal helped lead the Tar Sands Therapeutic Stroll, a grassroots motion to deliver folks head to head with the destruction of the oil sands as a manner of therapeutic.

Environmental teams took observe of Indigenous opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. After then-President Barack Obama’s local weather laws suffered a stinging defeat, the local weather motion coalesced round getting the Keystone XL pipeline canceled in 2011.

Impressed by Indigenous-led opposition to the pipeline, a number of environmental teams organized two weeks of sit-ins in entrance of the White Home within the fall of 2011, resulting in the arrest of greater than 1,200 folks. The arrests introduced elevated media consideration at a time when there was comparatively little nationwide protection of climate-change-related points.

James Hansen, who has been known as the “father of worldwide warming” for his function in testifying earlier than Congress in regards to the science of human-induced local weather change manner again in 1988, attended the protests on the White Home. On the time, Hansen stated unchecked exploitation of Canada’s oil sands could be “recreation over” for the local weather.

Going through immense strain from the anti-Keystone motion, Obama lastly canceled the pipeline in 2015. He defended his resolution in a press convention, saying the pipeline wouldn’t make gasoline any cheaper or enhance American power safety. He added that approving the pipeline would finally undercut US international management on local weather change, which he’d beforehand stated was a crimson line for approving Keystone XL.

In January 2016, TC Power filed a lawsuit in opposition to the US for canceling Keystone XL, utilizing the North American Free Commerce Settlement (NAFTA) to request $15 billion in damages for what the corporate stated was the arbitrary suspension of the undertaking. The corporate then waited to attempt its luck with the following administration — which turned out to be Trump’s.

Keystone XL begins — and stops — below Trump

In January 2017, simply days into his presidency, President Donald Trump issued an govt order inviting TC Power to reapply for a presidential allow for Keystone XL to cross the Canadian border. He additionally promised a speedy course of, simply over a yr after Obama had stated the pipeline extension wasn’t within the nationwide curiosity.

A couple of months later, the State Division granted the allow.

However Obama’s causes for canceling Keystone XL — it wasn’t in America’s nationwide curiosity, and it conflicted with US management on local weather change — had been nonetheless legitimate, and activists (and far of the general public) had been nonetheless paying consideration.

“Earlier than Obama’s resolution, pipeline corporations and the oil trade assumed each pipeline would get authorised no matter how poorly conceived the undertaking was,” the Pure Sources Protection Council’s Anthony Swift advised me.

After Obama’s resolution, it grew to become harder to justify Keystone XL to the general public.

“Public scrutiny round Keystone XL and the allowing course of has shifted the expectation that pipelines could be rubber-stamped on its head. Now the general public does wish to see a strong evaluation and a affirmation course of that does make it tough to maneuver such pipelines ahead,” Swift stated.

As a result of oil spills from tar sands pipelines are commonplace, scientists and activists argued {that a} “sturdy evaluation” to look at the dangers to water assets and the communities that rely on them ought to be performed earlier than the Keystone XL undertaking goes ahead.

In 2016, the Nationwide Academy of Sciences launched a examine that stated diluted bitumen (which composes nearly all of tar sands oil) differed from the opposite forms of oil touring via US pipelines in a manner that makes it extra prone to hazardous leaks. In 2017, 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the present Keystone pipeline in South Dakota.

“Any fact-based environmental evaluation reveals causes policymakers shouldn’t grant permits to fossil gasoline growth initiatives like Keystone XL in a world that’s attempting to keep away from essentially the most catastrophic impacts of local weather change,” stated Swift.

However the want for an environmental evaluation didn’t cease the Trump administration from attempting to hurry via Keystone XL.

In January 2020, Trump’s White Home made a last-ditch try and fast-track Keystone XL and related initiatives throughout the nation by limiting implementation of the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act (NEPA), which requires the federal authorities to conduct assessments of the environmental, financial, and social influence of its actions earlier than getting began on any undertaking.

However in July 2020, the Supreme Court docket killed any hope of finishing Keystone XL below the Trump administration, siding with environmental teams from Montana who argued that the Military Corps of Engineers’ allowing course of for the Keystone XL pipeline ought to bear a full environmental evaluation as a result of it will cross our bodies of water.

Biden killed the pipeline for good — however demand for it had already weakened

Demand for oil, which had already been declining for a while, was hit exhausting in 2020 by falling funding, extreme storms that harm manufacturing, and the coronavirus pandemic. And in recent times, Alberta’s oil sands trade, as soon as booming with cash, has had hassle attracting funding.

“With falling oil costs, each due to the pandemic and customarily down since 2014, the trade is below an actual squeeze, and we’ve seen a variety of gamers exit the market,” Sven Biggs, Canadian oil and gasoline packages director at, an environmental grassroots group, advised me again in March.

“ConocoPhillips, Shell, Statoil from Norway, [and] the Koch brothers have bought their stakes within the tar sands and moved on, which suggests there’s much less want for these pipelines than beforehand anticipated,” Biggs added.

TC Power had a tough time attracting personal traders to Keystone XL — it was solely able to placing shovels to the bottom within the undertaking with the assistance of a subsidy from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who authorised greater than $1 billion in public funds within the spring of 2020 to assist the undertaking.

So when Biden pulled the plug for good on Keystone XL, local weather issues and falling funding in Alberta’s oil sand led specialists to imagine that Keystone XL was lifeless.

However for a lot of Indigenous teams, local weather activists, and folks from communities impacted by fossil gasoline infrastructure, the struggle is larger than Keystone.

“The Keystone XL pipeline was by no means about any single pipeline. It’s about establishing a litmus check rooted in local weather science and local weather justice for presidency initiatives and infrastructure,” Kendall Mackey, supervisor of’s Hold It within the Floor marketing campaign, advised me in March.

The following huge battle — to cease the Line 3 pipeline growth — is already right here

Keystone XL is lifeless, however the Indigenous-led struggle to halt the Line 3 pipeline undertaking is already right here. The battle has been heating up since December when Enbridge, the Canadian multinational chargeable for the undertaking, started building.

If accomplished, the roughly 340-mile pipeline growth undertaking will transport 1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta throughout a lot of northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.

Enbridge says the undertaking will create hundreds of jobs and pump billions of {dollars} into Minnesota’s economic system. The corporate additionally advised Vox through e mail that it has completed every thing required below the legislation to obtain approval for the pipeline and guarantee it operates safely.


Police in riot gear arrest environmental activists on the Line 3 pipeline pumping station close to the Itasca State Park, Minnesota, on June 7, 2021.
Kerem Yucel/AFP through Getty Pictures

However Indigenous activists are calling on Biden to cancel Line 3 like he did Keystone XL as a result of they are saying it poses a big threat of oil spills that would destroy valuable water assets, wetlands, and ancestral lands. In keeping with one report, opening Line 3 could have the equal local weather influence of bringing 50 new coal vegetation on-line.

The depth of opposition to the pipeline reached a crescendo earlier this week as hundreds of protesters converged on Minnesota. Near 200 folks had been arrested.

And now that TC Power has lastly ditched Keystone XL, the strain is on for President Biden to ax Line 3.

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