Keystone XL Pipeline Just Cleared One Of Its Final Hurdles Despite A Massive Leak
Even if it gets approval for a new route, TransCanada may still not even build the pipeline.
The company expects to spend $ 8 billion on the project, which would take nearly three years to build. The firm has already spent $ 3 billion on steel piping, land rights and lobbying. Pipelines make transporting crude cheaper, a critical revenue driver at a time of persistently low oil prices. But the oil industry doesn’t necessarily want Keystone XL anymore.
Canadian tar sands oil ? a prime target for activists and a frequently-struck bruise on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental record ? could face new regulatory pressure in coming decades as climate change worsens, making the fuel a risky bet. That made moving crude out of Canada by rail a more attractive option, because train shipments don’t usually require long-term commitments.
Moreover, other pipeline projects moved ahead in the years Keystone XL languished and briefly died. Enbridge Inc. expects to finish an extension of its existing pipeline from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, by 2019, while Kinder Morgan Inc. plans to expand its Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia by 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Former President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015 after a seven-year fight. During those years, environmentalists transformed the project into a rallying cry for land rights activists, water conservationists and climate scientists who warned that the particularly dirty tar sands oil that would be carried through the pipeline would exacerbate global warming.
The proposed 1,179-mile pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing Keystone pipeline and transport the product to refineries in Texas. Tar sands, also known as oil sands in Canada, are a noxious mix of sand, clay and bitumen, a thick, viscous oil. Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels in the U.S. per day, producing climate-changing emissions equivalent to putting 5.6 million new cars on the road, according to estimates by the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth.
The pipeline route traverses Nebraska’s Sandhills, an area of ancient prairies and sand dunes. It goes through the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in North America, at times going underwater. The rock formation, spongey with gravel, silt, sand, and clay, formed 10 million years ago and replenishes very slowly from surface rivers and streams. The water level is close to the surface in Nebraska, making it especially vulnerable to a spill.
In a 2011 analysis, University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury found that TransCanada “made significant flawed and inappropriate assumptions about the frequency and severity of expected spills from its pipelines.” He estimated there would be at least two major spills per year, some potentially releasing as much as 180,000 barrels.
Water protection became a key theme in the fight against pipelines last year, when Native American activists in the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation battled for months to stop Dakota Access from cutting through a body of water held sacred by the tribe. Thousands descended on Washington, D.C., in March in a show of solidarity with the legions gathered at Standing Rock. Keystone XL, which has served as a symbolic rallying point for environmentalists since 2010, could build on that momentum.
“This decision mistakenly brushes aside the legitimate and serious concerns raised by Nebraska landowners and indigenous people that the Keystone XL pipeline would threaten their water and climate,” Anthony Swift, Canada project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Only a couple days ago, we got yet another grim confirmation — oozing across the land in South Dakota — that pipelines leak. There’s no safe route for Keystone XL, and we will continue fighting with every tool, in every venue and with every partner, to make sure it’s never built.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.