Why Is the Keystone XL Pipeline Disputed?
The Keystone Pipeline system has been the subject of controversy for years as environmentalists and others have fought to prevent construction and expansion of this oil-delivery network. Recently, the United States Supreme Court sided with environmental groups in ruling that the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) — a rerouted addition to the existing system — would need to undergo a much lengthier and more detailed permitting process before the expansion could occur.
While this ruling represents a victory for those who oppose the project, future construction on KXL remains a hotly debated issue — and for good reason. This pipeline has a history fraught with turmoil, resistance and legal battles, and there’s no indication that the fight to prevent future development of KXL may stop anytime soon.
The History of the Keystone XL Pipeline
To understand KXL and the tumult surrounding it, it helps to go back to the beginning: the Keystone Pipeline. Running from the town of Hardisty in Alberta, Canada, through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Illinois, the original Keystone Pipeline opened in 2010 with the purpose of delivering Canadian crude oil into the United States where it would be refined, stored and distributed. The pipeline is exactly what it sounds like: a network of massive steel and plastic pipes — some of which are up to 4 feet in diameter — through which oil is transported. Various pump stations positioned along the pipeline help to push the oil through the network, which exists primarily underground.
Who’s Opposing the Pipeline — and Why?
Opposition to KXL started in a very likely place: with then-President Barack Obama and among various environmental and cultural groups. As mentioned, a Presidential Permit is necessary for construction of this nature to take place, and President Obama was unwilling to issue one for KXL due in part to recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While reviewing project proposals and the scope of KXL, the EPA determined that the State Department’s prepared studies and assessments of the potential environmental impact of the new pipeline merited the lowest feasibility rating possible because of their insufficient information.
Legal Battles Over the Pipeline Ignite
Before he left office, President Obama officially ordered all work relating to KXL to stop after vetoing several bills that would’ve allowed pipeline construction to move forward, noting that the project "would undercut U.S. leadership on reducing carbon emissions." This cancellation lasted throughout the remainder of his presidency, following the State Department’s official rejection of the new pipeline. KXL was a non-starter, and it appeared this would stay the status quo — until Donald Trump was elected. Less than a week after taking office in 2017, Trump signed an executive order allowing the permitting and eventual construction of KXL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, another famously contested project, to resume. In a presidential memorandum, he also invited TransCanada to resubmit an application for KXL. Just two months later in March of 2017, a permit for the project was issued.
Rulings and Red Tape: What’s Happening Now?
Various rulings have taken place following litigation against KXL. For example, in November of 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris found that numerous environmental reviews were insufficient and outdated and that they violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The judge ordered the U.S. government to perform an updated environmental review and blocked construction of KXL in the interim.