Keystone XL Pipeline

The proposed Keystone XL Project would consist of approximately 1,711 miles of new,36-inch-diameter pipeline, with approximately 327 miles of pipeline in Canada and approximately 1,384 miles in the United States. The project would cross the international border between Saskatchewan, Canada, and the United States near Morgan, Montana and would have a nominal transport capacity of 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil.  (Note: one barrel = 42 US gallons.)The pipeline won’t just be carrying ordinary oil. Sweet crude, for example, is moved through pipelines at around 150 pounds per square inch, smooth as molasses. The Keystone pipeline will carry tar sands, also known as DilBit, a highly corrosive and benzene-laced mixture of sand, clay water and bitumen at some 1,400 pounds per square inch. The pressure is so great a leak in another Keystone pipeline once shot tar sands six stories high. 
Concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to over 400 ppm over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon – 240 gigatons – to add 120 ppm  (See page on Alberta Tarsands)


Latest news: Nov. 9 2018: Judge blocks Keystone XL pipeline, saying climate impact can’t be ignored – link


  • Latest updates
  • Why this pipeline is important / jobs argument
  • U.S. State Department role
  • Problems ahead for Keystone
  • What’s happening in Canada
  • The European connection
  • Why Nebraska is a prominent factor – is the pipeline safe?
  • Washington DC protests August/September 2011
 Latest updates

The controversial pipeline from Alberta is once again in the spotlight as the Trump administration alters course from Obama and moves to approve development. August 2018: A setback for Keystone XL pipeline. A Montana federal judge has ordered the U.S. State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route, possibly delaying its construction and dealing another setback to TransCanada. Last year, Nebraska regulators approved an alternative route for the pipeline, which will cost TransCanada millions of dollars more than the original path. link

February 2018: Keystone XL pipeline ruling: Trump administration must release documents. A federal judge in Montana ordered the Trump administration to release documents it relied on to approve construction of the pipeline last year. Environmental groups sued the Trump administration, saying its reversal broke three laws; opponents believe could stymie the controversial project. link

December 2017: Insurance giant dumps investments in tar sands pipelines. One of the world’s biggest financial services companies, Axa, is both dumping investments and ending insurance for controversial US oil pipelines, taking fossil fuel divestment to a new level. Axa is also quadrupling its divestment from coal businesses and increasing its green investments fivefold by 2020. Axa has broken new ground by not only divesting from 25 tar sands companies but also from three major pipelines needed to deliver their oil to market and by ending the insurance it provides, a total of €700m. link

August 2017: Keystone XL: Low oil prices, tar sands pullout could kill pipeline plan. It will be close to three years, at least, before oil could possibly be moving through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline – if the pipeline is completed at all. link
July 2017: The company behind Keystone XL isn’t even sure if there’s a need for the pipeline anymore – link

July 2017: Ranchers fight pipeline by building solar panels its path – link

President Obama on Keystone XL: highlights

President Obama on Keystone approval. “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution . . . The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” A decision by the Obama administration was delayed until after the November 2014 mid-term elections (June 2013) – link
November 2015: Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline. The move reinforces Obama’s commitment to making climate change the domestic and international legacy of his second term in the White House – even in the face of Republican hostility – link

Why this pipeline is important

September 2015: Understanding Keystone. Keystone XL has become a proxy for a much bigger debate about North America’s energy boom, which is creating jobs and lowering energy prices, but also threatens to cook the planet. link

October 2017: Enbridge’s Line 67, the quiet Keystone XL. Early October the U.S. approved a long-awaited permit that allows Enbridge to pump up to 890,000 barrels per day across the border between Canada and North Dakota, en route to Wisconsin. It’s a convoluted method for Enbridge to boost its capacity equivalent of a Keystone XL pipeline without gaining attention. Officials in Minnesota will need to sign off on the project, but said there’s no need for the additional capacity, and that the pipeline isn’t worth the risks of a spill. The state’s Public Utilities Commission will hold a series of hearings on the project in November. link

August 2013: Would the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution? The Sierra Club, Oil Change International, and 13 partner groups have released a report that settles the issue unequivocally: Keystone XL would be a climate disaster. Start with the one fact that the State Department, the U.S. EPA, climate scientists, and even Wall Street and industry analysts all agree on: The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create massive amounts of carbon pollution. However the State Department argued in its environmental review of Keystone XL that tar sands development was inevitable, regardless of whether the pipeline is built. That’s not true for several reasons. Tar sands can be processed only at specialized refineries. The accessible U.S. and Canadian refineries capable of handling it are already at or near capacity. In order to expand production, tar sands producers must reach the U.S. Gulf Coast, where the heavy crude can be refined or, more likely, exported. link

The decision on Keystone is watched around the world – link

March 2012: Tar sands exploitation will increase global temperature. A recent study has found that if the entirety of the tar sands were exploited it would raise global temperatures 0.36 degrees Celsius (0.64 degrees Fahrenheit). This represents around 45% of how much the world has warmed since the Industrial Revolution. link

 Bush administration legislated against tar sands oil 

In 2007, President Bush signed into law Section 526 of the Energy Independence and National Security Act of 2007 which prohibits the US government, the largest single fuel purchaser in the U.S., from using taxpayer dollars to purchase fuels that have a higher carbon footprint than conventional oil. This little-known law is significant because Congress crafted it, in part, with the explicit intent to block the US from buying Canadian tar sands oil, considered the dirtiest oil on the planet. link

January 2014: TransCanada looks at dangerous alternative if Obama says ’No’. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said his company will look to the more dangerous alternative of building rail terminals in Alberta and Oklahoma if the Obama administration doesn’t approve the controversial Keystone XL pipelinelink  (Enbridge is responsible for the 840,000 gallon spill in the Kalamazoo River -see below under ‘is pipeline safe?’)

The jobs argument. A Cornell study finds only 2,500 to 4,650 temporary jobs over two years would result from building the pipeline, not the 20,000 claimed by the TransCanada Corp. (A one year extension of a federal solar grant program could create 37,000 jobs.) Another downside is that during 2010, spills and explosions in America caused one billion dollars worth of damage and 22 oil workers were killed during that period. link

April 2013: Keystone XL will create just 35 permanent jobs and emit 51 coal plants of carbon. Secretary of State John Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all the information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. To learn the consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline he could peruse a new report from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.” The report’s recommendation: The State Department should base critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere. link

U.S. State Department role

September 2018: KXL pipeline would not harm environment – State Dept. The U.S. State Department issued an environmental assessment of a revised route for the Keystone XL crude pipeline that concluded it would not harm water or wildlife, clearing a hurdle for the project that has been pending for a decade. link

February 2015: EPA: Keystone XL to emit extra one billion tons of GHGs. The energy it will take to process Canadian tar sands oil and pipe it through the proposed Keystone pipeline is so great that it will lead to about 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if the pipeline were carrying conventional crude. That’s the U.S. EPA’s conclusion in its comments to the U.S. State Department. link

March 2013: State Department report on pipeline biased. The EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) recently concluded that Keystone XL “is unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the rate of Canada’s oil sands development. However the report was based on analysis provided by two consulting firms with ties to oil and pipeline companies that could benefit from the proposed project. link   July 2011: State Department blamed for inadequate assessmentFor the second time in a year, the State Department has issued an environmental impact statement about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. link

August 2013: Interior Department contradicts State on impact study. The Interior Department has warned that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could have long-term, damaging effects on wildlife near its route, contradicting the State Department’s March draft environmental assessment, which concluded the project would have only a temporary, indirect impact. link

Environmental Protection Agency officials found the first two drafts to be far from satisfactory and gave the first draft its lowest grade of ‘inadequate’ almost a year ago. They also report that on a well-to-tank basis the heavy crude extracted is 82% more carbon intensive than conventional oil. 

April 2013: EPA raises fresh concern over pipeline. The EPA weighed in rebuking the State Department’s review, saying it found environmental objections to the Department’s controversial draft environmental impact statement, issued in March, which it deemed “insufficient.” A 200-page comment submitted by environmental groups said perhaps the most glaring error is the State Department’s assertion that the tar sands will be developed at the same rate regardless of whether Keystone XL is built. link (The EPA says developing the tar sands would indeed have a negative impact on the environment, releasing as much as an additional 935m metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere over the next 50 years – link)  

 Some problems ahead for Keystone 

August 2014: Keystone XL emissions four times higher report. A new report concludes the Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year. Researchers estimate that the proposed pipeline would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, compared to the State department’s 30 million tons figure. link

December 2013: Canada’s oil sands look like a shaky investment. A new study examining the economics of Western Canada’s oil sands finds that even if the Keystone XL pipeline gets built, it’s unlikely that extracting the heavy, tar-like oil around Alberta will remain commercially viable over the next decade. link

October 2013: Canadian study spells trouble for polluting tar sands. A new Canadian study report on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions reveal that the CO2 emissions associated with a barrel of tar sands bitumen have been rising, not falling, in recent years, a trend that may well continue. link

September 2011: Is the pipeline safe? Semantics are being used to assure the pipeline is safe according to the NRDC whose research shows that only 12 of the 57 conditions set by federal regulators differ from the minimum standards already required for pipeline safety. link
(The first stage of Keystone had 14 accidents in its first year of operation. link)
July 2012: Top scientists urge Secretary of State Clinton to reassess pipeline – link

February 2011: Some landowners mount legal bid to deny right-of-way to  pipeline
TransCanada has gathered easements to use the property of 5,354 landowners along the oil pipeline’s route. Some in Oklahoma are among the last holdouts.  Oklahoma attorney Harlan Hentges said “The prospect of a foreign company using the U.S. law to take land from U.S. citizens, this is problematic.” link   

 What’s happening in Canada

December 2016: PM Trudeau says Trump very supportive of Keystone XL pipelineTrudeau, who also supports Keystone XL, said, “I’m confident that the right decisions will be taken.” link

September 2016: First Nations and tribes join forces to sign treaty to stop tarsands pipelines. First nation chiefs sign treaty alliance against tar sands expansion. Tribal Chiefs gathered today in Vancouver and Montreal to sign a new continent-wide Indigenous Treaty that commits already some 50 First Nations and Tribes from all over Canada and the Northern US to working together to stop all proposed tar sands pipeline, tanker and rail projects in their respective territorial lands and waters. The Treaty states: “Our Nations hereby join together under the present treaty to officially prohibit and to agree to collectively challenge and resist the use of our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including for the transport of such expanded production, whether by pipeline, rail or tanker.” link

50% of Canadians oppose Keystone XL pipeline. November 2011: Battle brewing over pipeline plans in B.C. So far British Columbia has been spared the kind of intense pipeline fight that buffets the proposed Keystone XL project to carry Alberta crude from the oil sands to Texas. But not for much longer. Pipeline politics in this province are heating up. This week, the pivotal Tsleil-Waututh Nation declared its strong opposition to the potential expansion of Kinder Morgan’s existing oil pipeline to Burrard Inlet and the increase in oil-tanker traffic it would bring to their traditional waters. link  (More on Tar Sands on Canada Page)  

 The European connection

       The European Commission has been debating whether to accept tar sands oil

February 2015: New hopes that tar sands could be banned from Europe. Landmark EU fuel quality directive gets a reprieve, opening the way for more-polluting tar sands oil to be taxed at a higher rate effectively pricing it out of the market. link

February 2014: European parliament again votes against tar sand oil. The European parliament voted for a continuation of the fuel quality directive beyond 2020, which would affect the import of high-carbon fuels such as those from tar sands. link  Update – December 2014: The fuel quality directive, as written, may be overturned and will now go to a ratification vote early in 2015 – link

Why Europe is connected to the Keystone project – link
Stephen Harper’s Canadian government, allied with big oil and is lobbying Europe not to regulate tar sands oil. link

January 2013: European Commission sticks to a plan to label fuel from tar sands deposits as highly polluting, deterring refiners bound by environmental rules. link (As of October 2013, the European Commission has said it is standing by its value for tar sands – of 107 grams per megajoule – making it clear to buyers that the fuel source had more greenhouse gas impact than average crude oil at 87.5g.)

 Why Nebraska is a prominent factor

November 2017: Nebraska commission’s approves Keystone pipeline. However it was not for TransCanada’s most preferred route, but for a more costly alternative. Opponents have promised to tie the project up in court for years and TransCanada is still studying its commercial viability. President Trump said Keystone XL would create 28,000 jobs nationwide, but a 2014 State Department study predicted just 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs. link

May 2017: Nebraska to become battleground over fate of Keystone XL pipeline project. There are 90 remaining landowners in Nebraska yet to sign easements with TransCanada. The route already has the necessary permits in Montana and South Dakota, where activists have begun preparing to oppose the pipeline if construction goes ahead. The route is set to cross underneath dozens of rivers and streams and under one of the world’s largest groundwater sources, the Ogallala aquifer, prompting serious concerns about the consequences of a major leak. link

April 2017: Last stand: Nebraska farmers could derail Keystone XL pipeline. Backed by conservation groups, Nebraskans plan to cast the project as a threat to prime farming and grazing lands – vital to Nebraska’s economy – and a foreign company’s attempt to seize American private property. Opponents are mostly farmers and ranchers, making a last stand against the pipeline – the fate of which now rests with an obscure state regulatory board, the Nebraska Public Service Commission. link

February 2014: Judge sides with landowners in eminent domain case. The law granting power of eminent domain to Nebraska’s governor, and in turn TransCanada, is ruled unconstitutional preventing authorization to advance pipeline construction in the state. link

December 2012: Keystone XL fails to use aquifer safeguards as used in Texas.
The leak detection technology that will be used on the Keystone XL is standard for the nation’s crude oil pipelines and rarely detects leaks smaller than 1% of the pipeline’s flow. The Keystone will have a capacity of 29 million gallons per day, so a spill would have to reach 294,000 gallons per day to trigger its leak detection technology. The Keystone XL also won’t get two other safeguards found on the 19-mile stretch of the pipeline over Austin’s aquifer in Texas: a concrete cap that protects the Longhorn from construction-related punctures, and daily aerial or foot patrols to check for tiny spills that might seep to the surface. link

July 2011: Keystone XL pipeline fight flares in wake of Yellowstone river oil spill – link

Why Michigan spill concerns Nebraskans.

July 2011: Study argues the pipeline operators have significantly underestimated the chances of a spill and painted an overly optimistic picture of how long it would take to shut down the pipeline, noting that TransCanada, in its estimates, sees the possibility of 11 serious spills on the pipeline during the course of 50 years where a more realistic estimate would be 91 accidents during that half century. Issue is also taken with TransCanada’s claims that it could shut down a pipeline within 19 minutes of a leak. A slow leak in a remote area of Montana or Nebraska could go undetected for days or even weeks between inspections, he warned. It took 56 minutes before ExxonMobil crews managed to stop the leak into the Yellowstone this month. link   March 2013: Enbridge warns Kalamazoo cleanup could approach $1 billion. Increasing dredging requirements resulting from Enbridge’s massive oil spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 could push the cleanup bill to almost $1-billion, above and beyond what is covered by insurance. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA ordered Enbridge to perform additional dredging to remove submerged oil and to maintain sediment traps throughout the river as a result of the rupture. link

August 2012: Tar sands in Utah. There are about 25 billion barrels of bitumen (oil sands) buried on state and federal land in Utah according to the Utah Geological Survey which would supply all the nation’s current oil needs for a little more than three years. link

Washington DC protests

February 2013: Biggest environmental rally in decades attracts nationwide media attention. As many as 40,000 protesters descend on the White House. link          

August 2011: An open letter from 20 prominent scientists to President Obama

“We are researchers at work on the science of climate change and allied fields. We are writing to add our voices to the indigenous leaders, religious leaders, and environmentalists calling on you to block the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada’s tar sands.
The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, but one that does not make sense to exploit. It takes a lot of energy to extract and refine this resource into useable fuel, and the mining is environmentally destructive. Adding this on top of conventional fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control. It makes no sense to build a pipeline system that would practically guarantee extensive exploitation of this resource.
When other huge oil fields or coal mines were opened in the past, we knew much less about the damage that the carbon they contained would do to the Earth’s climate system and to its oceans. Now that we do know, it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy—and that we leave the tar sands in the ground. We hope those so inclined will join protests scheduled for August and described at
If the pipeline is to be built, you as president have to declare that it is “in the national interest”.  As scientists, speaking for ourselves and not for any of our institutions, we can say categorically that it’s not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.”

    Activist leaders explain how they beat the Keystone XL pipeline – link