The demise of the notorious Keystone XL (KXL) tar Sands pipeline will go down as one of the generation’s most significant environmental triumphs. After more than ten years of persistent protests, long-drawn legal battles, and shifting executive orders that span three presidents’ administrations and three presidential administrations, the Keystone XL pipeline is now gone forever. Read some Keystone Pipeline Facts here!
The project’s main corporate sponsor, the Canadian energy infrastructure firm TC Energy — has officially ended it in June 2021 in the wake of the decision of President Biden to deny the permit that was crucial to his first day as president.
But the way towards victory wasn’t always straightforward. Many had hoped that the disastrous project was finally done for in November 2015, when the Obama administration vetoed the pipeline–acknowledging its pervasive threats to climate, ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health.
However, shortly after the election in 2016, President Donald Trump brought the zombie pipeline back into existence, as did the legal battles that were fought against it. When president Biden was elected in 2021 and was set to keep his campaign promise to end the permit for crossing borders, the dirty energy pipeline was now one of the biggest controversies over climate change of the moment.
This is everything you need to be aware of about the historic KXL battle, its final elimination, and what it could mean for pipelines waiting to be reopened.
What Is Keystone XL?
Keystone XL pipeline extension Keystone XL expansion of the pipeline, which was conceived through TC Energy (then TransCanada) in 2008, was intended to transport the world’s most polluting fossil fuel, tar Sands oil to the market — and quickly.
In addition to the already existing Keystone Pipeline System, which has been in operation since the year 2010 (and continues to deliver Canadian crude oil from the tar sands from Alberta to processing hubs across the central United States), the pipeline would dramatically boost the capacity to process more than 168 billion barrels of crude oil buried beneath Canada’s boreal forests. The pipeline was planned to carry 8,30,000 barrels of Alberta oil from the tar sands each day to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Three million miles of gas and oil pipelines have already been running across the country; however, KXL was not your typical pipeline, and tar sands crude isn’t the typical crude.
Keystone XL and Tar Sands
The boreal forest
An oily, sticky layer known as tar sands is under the wilds of northern Alberta’s boreal forests. The sands are made up of bitumen, a gooey oil that can be converted into fuel. It’s no easy feat to extract the oil out of tar sands, and it is a major cost to the environment and economy. However, during the mid-2000s, when gasoline prices rose, oil companies increased production. They looked for other methods to transport their products from the remote tar sands fields of Canada towards midwestern and Gulf Coast refineries.
Keystone XL Pipeline Map
The planned Keystone XL extension comprised two sections. The southern segment, had been completed and ran through Cushing, Oklahoma, and Port Arthur, Texas. Opponents of this pipeline now referred to as the Gulf Coast Pipeline, claim the pipeline was constructed by TC Energy.
TC Energy took advantage of legal loopholes to get forward with the project by obtaining approval through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nationwide permit while avoiding the more stringent vetting process of individual permits that require public input. The other segment was the tense 1,209-mile northern section–a shortcut of the sort that would have traveled through Hardisty, Alberta, through Montana and South Dakota to Steele City, Nebraska.
2015 in 2015, the U.S. State Department, under the presidency of President Barack Obama, declined to allow the northern part of the Keystone XL project the authorization needed to construct maintenance, repair, and operate the pipeline along the U.S.-Canada border. President Trump later granted a permit, but president Biden had to deactivate.
Keystone XL Pipeline Environmental Impact
Leaks and pipelines
Tar sands oils are thicker and more acidic and more corrosion-prone than lighter conventional crude, which increases the chance that pipelines carrying it may leak. A study has found that between 2007 and pipelines transporting oil from the tar sands, Midwestern states leaked triple the number of miles than the U.S. national average for pipelines transporting conventional crude.
Since it began operation in 2010TC, Energy’s initial Keystone Pipeline System has leaked more than a dozen times. One instance in North Dakota sent a 60-foot geyser that weighed 21,000 gallons of oil from the tar sands out into the sky. Two years before the project was removed, the Keystone pipeline for tar sands was shut down temporarily following the leak within North Dakota of reportedly more than 383,000 gallons during late October 2019. and the possibility the Keystone XL would have spilled was increased due to the length of time that pipes were left in stockpiles.
“A study published in early 2020, co-authored by TC Energy’s scientists, found that the anti-corrosion coating on the project’s pipes was damaged from being stored outside and exposed to the elements for the last decade,” says NRDC the senior lawyer Jaclyn Prange who has been in the field of KXL litigation.
EPA staff conduct samples of sediment and oil close to Battle Creek, Michigan, following the Kalamazoo spill.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen
In addition, leaks are often difficult to spot. When tar sands oil spills, it’s far more challenging to wash up than standard crude since it falls to the floor of the river. Wildlife and humans who contact tar sands ‘ oil are exposed to harmful chemical substances. At the same time, rivers and wetland habitats are especially in danger of the possibility of a spill. (For proof, take a look at the 2010 oil spill caused by tar sands in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, which caused Enbridge more than 1 billion in clean-up costs and required six years to resolve in the court.)
Keystone XL could have traversed ecologically sensitive and important agricultural areas, such as hundreds of streams, rivers, aquifers, and water bodies. One of them was Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water to millions of people and 30 % of the nation’s water for irrigation. The consequences of a spill could have caused a catastrophe for the ranches, farms, and communities that depend on these vital ecosystems.
What is tar sands oil?
The oil sands industry is an environmental threat. Mines that are mined cause havoc on Canada’s boreal forest, where mining operations cut and flatten forest areas to access the oil beneath, destroying habitat for wildlife and becoming one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks. Mining depletes and pollutes freshwater resources, creating massive ponds filled with polluted waste, threatening the health and well-being of First Nations people who live close to these ponds.
Refining the gunk, which is sticky and black, generates piles of petroleum coal, a dangerous coal-like byproduct. Furthermore, the entire process of removing the oil in order to use it produces an average of three as much carbon dioxide that comes from traditional oil extraction, processing, and refinement. “This isn’t your grandfather’s typical oil,” says Anthony Swift, NRDC’s Canada project director. “It’s nasty stuff.”
Keystone XL, climate change
If it was fully realized, Keystone XL would have led to the further mining this “nasty stuff” by accelerating the rate at which it’s manufactured and transported. (Indeed, Keystone XL was considered a key component for the oil industry’s plans to triple production of tar sands by 2030.)
New scientific research clarifies that it could also lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions. We cannot afford to try to prevent the most disastrous environmental impacts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first declared that on a wells to wheels basis, oil from the tar sands releases seventeen percent higher carbon emissions than all other forms of crude.
However, a few years after it was discovered, the State Department revised this number up, noting that carbon emissions may increase by “5 percent to 20 percent higher than previously indicated.”