The Washington Post

Keystone XL project developer pulls plug

Biden yanked key permit for cross-border pipeline soon after taking office

- BY BRADY DENNIS AND STEVEN MUFSON

The firm behind the Keystone XL pipeline officially scrapped the project on Wednesday, months after President Biden revoked a cross-border permit for the controvers­ial pipeline and more than a decade after political wrangling over its fate began.

The pipeline, which would have stretched from Alberta’s boreal forests to the refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, became the center of a broader controvers­y over climate change, pipeline safety, eminent domain and jobs. Those same concerns have spawned similar battles to stop pipelines in states including Montana, Minnesota and Virginia, part of an effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The Keystone XL project also took on special significan­ce because of the sea change in public and business attitudes toward climate change. The process of extracting bitumen-like oil from the thick tar sands consumes enormous amounts of energy — a combinatio­n of strip mining and undergroun­d steam injection — and exacerbate­s the impact on the planet’s atmosphere.

TC Energy said in a statement that it decided along with the

government of Alberta to end the multibilli­on-dollar pipeline.

Activists who have spent more than a decade hoping to bury the project for good reacted with joy at the news Wednesday.

“When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn’t be beat,” said Bill Mckibben, who led sit-ins against Keystone XL in 2011 at the White House. “But when enough people rise up we’re stronger even than the richest fossil fuel companies.”

Republican­s and oil and gas industry officials decried the news, hammering Biden for putting the nail in the pipeline’s coffin. They argue that the project would have provided thousands of constructi­on jobs. However, with most of the pipeline constructi­on complete, including the fully operating southern leg, relatively few jobs are still at stake.

“It’s beyond clear that President Biden is beholden to extreme environmen­talists, and Montanans and the American people are bearing the burden,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-mont.) said in a statement Wednesday.

Robin Rorick, vice president of midstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group that had backed the project, chalked up its demise to “political obstructio­nism.”

“This is a blow to U.S. energy security and a blow to the thousands of good-paying union jobs this project would have supported,” Rorick said.

But Democrats defended the death of the pipeline.

“The rushed approval of the Keystone Pipeline by the previous administra­tion was a terrible idea,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-ariz.) said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the tireless efforts of Native American communitie­s, environmen­tal justice groups and advocates that fought this dangerous pipeline for years. This is their victory.”

The pipeline, which initially was expected to cost about $8 billion, has existed in a sort of limbo for years.

President Barack Obama rejected a key U.S. permit for the project in 2015, arguing that greenlight­ing a pipeline that would transport fossil fuels for decades would undermine the United States’ broader diplomatic effort to rally other nations to raise their climate ambitions.

“America’s now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said at the time. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face — not acting.”

President Donald Trump reversed that decision on his third day in office, though the pipeline remained bogged down in courts and by the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

When he took office in January, one of Biden’s first actions was to pull the permit, blocking the pipeline’s right of way. While environmen­talists lauded the decision, Biden has shown no sign of intervenin­g in other pipeline disputes.

The White House declined to comment Wednesday night.

The Keystone XL was designed to carry more than 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil, virtually all of it coming 1,210 miles from the tar sands to Steele City, Neb. A southern leg from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast was approved in 2012 and was constructe­d and is functionin­g. Most of the northern leg also has been completed, with some of the most important gaps in Nebraska.

In addition to opposition from environmen­talists and climate experts over the years, the pipeline also drew criticism from farmers, ranchers and Indigenous leaders who did not want to be forced to grant the company rights of way, and who feared the pipeline might one day leak and contaminat­e water supplies in the giant Ogallala Aquifer.

Jane Kleeb, a leading foe of the pipeline in Nebraska and now head of the state’s Democratic Party, tweeted: “Goodbye Transcanad­a. I don’t want to see you in our state ever again bullying landowners and disrespect­ing Tribes. Don’t mess with a mom in a minivan. #NOKXL”

The pipeline also drew criticism from Native American tribes who said that the pipeline would damage burial and archaeolog­ical sites. “This is great news for the Tribes who have been fighting to protect our people and our lands,” said Rodney Bordeaux, president of Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which along with other tribes sued the Trump administra­tion over the project. “The treaties and laws guarantee us protection­s, and we are committed to see that those laws are upheld.”

Despite the long battle over the Keystone XL pipeline, TC Energy (formerly known as Transcanad­a) earned a record $4.5 billion last year, operating about 3,000 miles of oil pipelines and about 57,900 miles of natural gas pipelines. To capture some of the tar sands business, the company plans to expand a previously existing Keystone pipeline by 50,000 barrels a day this year and perhaps 80,000 barrels a day in 2023, according to S&P Global.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government said it would continue to explore ways to recoup the $1.3 billion the government had poured into the project.

“We continue to be disappoint­ed and frustrated with the circumstan­ces surroundin­g the Keystone XL project, including the cancellati­on of the presidenti­al permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement. He vowed to continue to work with U.S. officials “to ensure that we are able to meet U.S. energy demands through the responsibl­e developmen­t and transporta­tion of our resources.”

The Biden administra­tion still faces conflicts over other pipelines, each a source of tension.

This week in Minnesota, protesters seized a constructi­on site along a pipeline route known as Line 3 in an effort to stop the $4 billion project from the Canadian company Enbridge — a move that led to tense standoffs between protesters and authoritie­s. Those fighting the project include Indigenous activists who oppose a carbon-producing fossil fuel project at a time of worsening climate change, and who worry about the potential for polluting tribal lands in the headwaters of the Mississipp­i River.

Environmen­talists on Wednesday hoped Wednesday’s news would provide momentum to their ongoing efforts to kill Line 3, in part by ramping up pressure on the Biden administra­tion to suspend the pipeline permit before the project is completed.

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 ?? ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES ?? Unused pipe, planned for the Keystone XL pipeline, sits in a lot near Gascoyne, N.D., in 2014. The Keystone XL project had taken on special significan­ce because of the sea change in public and business attitudes toward climate change.
ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES Unused pipe, planned for the Keystone XL pipeline, sits in a lot near Gascoyne, N.D., in 2014. The Keystone XL project had taken on special significan­ce because of the sea change in public and business attitudes toward climate change.

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