History of the Keystone XL: Nothing but a pipe dream

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, killed Wednesday after the project’s sponsors pulled the plug, was proposed in 2008 by TransCanada Energy and planned as a 1,184-mile pipeline meant to pump up to 830,000 barrels oil from remote tar sand fields in Canada down to facilities in Nebraska.

Tar sands, according to the American Geosciences Institute (AGS), are a mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen, which is a thick, sticky oil product formed by the decomposition of lighter oils by bacteria.

Bitumen may be most recognizable to you as the binding agent for asphalt. According to the AGI, “most of the bitumen produced from tar sands is refined and mixed with lighter oils to produce synthetic crude oil that can be further refined and used in much the same way as typical crude oil.”

In the tar sand fields of Alberta, this product lies beneath the province’s arboreal forests. Extraction in many cases means open-pit mining, which information from AGI says can strip back the surface, destroying wildlife and leaving a residue of oil spread across the surface.

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From its inception, the KXL has been a topic of controversy, facing opposition from groups ranging from environmental activists and organizations, Indigenous communities, religious leaders and the farmers, ranchers, and business owners along its proposed route.

Among the main concerns are issues revolving around leakages and climate change. These critiques are highlighted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who say that tar sand’s increased corrosiveness increases the likelihood of leakages, and that the use of tar sand for fuel will increase global emissions.

In South Dakota, the opposition of the Indigenous community has been especially impactful. Tribes have spoken out against the pipeline consistently. In 2017, the chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate voiced the disappointment of members of the tribe when Nebraska regulators approved the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline after an oil spill near the tribe’s reservation.

In 2019, Tribal officers on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation made it clear pipeline workers were not welcome, escorting them off the reservation, and issuing the following statement:

“Any vehicles or personnel working on the Keystone XL pipeline are not welcome on this reservation. Unlike the United States we welcome free speech and concerned citizens standing up for the law. This is Sioux Territory, we will not stand for more encroachments and defilement of our land. I would like to thank the tribal members who brought this to our attention and stand with them in our opposition to the KXL pipeline”

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier

It appeared the pipeline might meet its end in 2015, when the Obama administration vetoed approval of the pipeline. The project was resuscitated, however in 2017 when his successor, Donald Trump, issued orders to advance the construction of the KXL and Dakota Access pipelines.

The following year a federal judge in Montana ordered a pause on construction of the pipeline to provide more time to study the project’s potential environmental impact.

In an attempt to circumvent this judgment, Trump issued a new permit in March of 2019. A federal judge once again ruled in April 2020 that some work would have to be halted, allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental review.

In May 2020, the first cross-border segment of the pipeline was constructed as TC Energy began setting up labor camps in Montana and South Dakota. On January 17, 2021, TC Energy announced a pledge to make the KXL pipeline carbon neutral, meaning it would run entirely on renewable energy, by 2030.

The company claimed in the announcement this would be achieved by purchasing renewable energy from electricity providers or through purchasing ‘carbon offsets.’ Carbon offsetting is the process of putting money into renewable energy in an attempt to balance out the effect of the carbon you produce.

The next day, January 18, it was reported by Politico that President-elect Joe Biden was planning to rescind the permit for the pipeline, which led to calls from South Dakota’s congressional delegation for him to reconsider.

On his first day in office, Biden issued an “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” which included the revocation of the KXL’s presidential permit.

The same day, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s office issued a statement decrying the decision. This was followed in March by a lawsuit from several states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, attempting to overturn Biden’s order. Paxton previously filed a separate suit in December 2020, attempting to overturn the presidential election by demanding 62 electoral votes from four states be invalidated.

Paxton was joined in this failed lawsuit by the State of South Dakota under the direction of South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

Finally, on June 9, more than 12 years after its inception, the Keystone XL pipeline was officially killed, its sponsor announcing that it was pulling the plug following the failure of Canadian officials to persuade the Biden administration to reinstate its permit.

Following the announcement that project had been scrapped, Chairman Frazier issued another statement, saying in part, “I have heard news today that has given me a sense of relief that I have not felt in a long time. It has been reported that TC Energy has cancelled the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which would run right through the middle of Great Sioux Nation treaty territory.”

Statement from Chairman Frazier

Frazier went on to thank those who took action to protect the land, describing the pipeline as an existential threat. Such concern is not without warrant, as there have been recorded spills in the region from currently existing pipelines, including an incident in 2017 in which TC Energy’s existing Keystone pipeline spilled more than 210,000 gallons of oil on agricultural land in Marshall County, S.D.

In South Dakota, the pipeline will retain its siting permit, issued by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), as these permits are valid without expiration, but will have its water permits issued by the S.D. Water Management Board cancelled or returned, making future construction under the existing PUC permit impossible.

The PUC says it will continue to monitor the project as the developers depart from the state in order to ensure protection of roads and bridges, as well as the reclamation of property used for storage, work camps and other pre-construction activities.

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