The Supreme Court Upheld Block On the Keystone XL Pipeline

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

A history of spills, fouled rivers, and polluted lands is a legacy we can avoid.

While most of us focused on COVID-19 news, some good news occurred in early July. The Supreme Court upheld a block on the Keystone XL pipeline. This spring, the U.S. District Court in Montana put a hold on the nationwide permit for the pipeline until the Army Corps of Engineers completes a consultation as the Endangered Species Act requires. The District Court ruled that the Army Corps violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued a nationwide permit. What this means is that nearly all construction on the pipeline will be delayed until 2021.

“This is an important win that will protect imperiled wildlife from the dangers of Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The environmental impact of Keystone XL

The Keystone XL pipeline, proposed by TC Energy, would expand the company’s Keystone Pipeline system, which has operated since 2008 and sends Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to processors in the U.S. The expansion would transport 830,000 barrels of Alberta’s tar sands oil per day to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The tar sands come from Alberta’s boreal forest. Canada’s boreal forest covers 667 million acres and comprises 28 percent of the world’s boreal zone. A wide range of animals lives in the boreal forest.

There are two segments to Keystone XL. One runs between Cushing Oklahoma and Port Arthur, Texas, and is already completed. The other segment is the contested part and would be 1,179 miles long, running from Hardisty, Alberta, through Montana and South Dakota, to Steele City, Nebraska.

Tar sands oil is thicker, more acidic, and more corrosive than lighter conventional crude, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, and that makes a leak more likely.

A study found that from 2007 to 2010, pipelines carrying tar sands oil in Midwestern states spilled three times more per mile than the national average for pipelines that carry conventional crude oil. The original Keystone Pipeline System leaked 12 times. One spill in North Dakota spewed a 60-foot, 21,000-gallon geyser of tar sands oil.

An analysis by Greenpeace USA found that tar sands pipelines could harm water resources. The three companies proposing to build four tar sands pipelines (TC Energy, Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and their subsidiaries) experienced 373 hazardous liquid spills from their U.S. pipelines from 2010 to 2017, which released 63.221 barrels of hazardous liquids. In 2010, Enbridge spilled 20,082 barrels of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River.

The U.S. crude oil system has averaged one significant incident and 570 barrels released per year per 1,000 miles of pipe from 2007 to 2017, the Greenpeace analysis also found. The Keystone XL could cause 59 significant spills over 50 years. Diluted bitumen spilled into water is harder to clean up than conventional crude oil because bitumen sinks in water.

TC Energy stays committed to the Keystone XL pipeline

TC Energy is not giving up on the Keystone XL pipeline. “TC Energy remains committed to the future of this project,” the company told Bloomberg. “We will continue to evaluate our 2020 U.S. scope. In Canada, our work in 2020 remains unchanged.”

Environmental groups pledge to keep fighting to stop the second segment of the pipeline. “We will continue fighting to protect our climate from fossil fuel corporations at every turn,” said Keep it in the Ground campaigner Kendall Mackey. Sierra Club Senior Attorney Doug Hayes said, “We’ll continue to fight to ensure it is blocked for good.” 


Climate Politics & Policy