What’s Happening With The Keystone XL Pipeline?

Political pressure and environmental concerns are just two of the speed bumps on the way to Keystone XL completion


Keystone Pipeline

The Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline system that is designed to transport crude oil from the rich sand-oil fields of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the US Midwest and Gulf Coast region. Oil-rich regions of the US, such as the Bakken field in the Eastern Montana/Western North Dakota area also utilize the Keystone pipeline to deliver oil to refineries in the Gulf of Texas region. Portions of the pipeline are complete and are operational today. In fact, two of four phases are completely operational and have a capacity of 590,000 barrels of oil per day.


The next two phases of construction, dubbed “Keystone XL,” will be comprised of two separate legs of pipeline – one connecting Cushing, Oklahoma with the Gulf Coast, and the other spanning between Alberta, Canada and Steele City, Nebraska. The latter section, which will stretch over 1,000 miles long when complete, will provide a more direct route for Canadian and Northern US oil to travel en route to coastal or Midwestern refineries. The Keystone XL project has earned its share of praise – as well as a heaping serving of criticism.


What are the roadblocks to quickly completing the Keystone XL pipeline?


The remaining portion of the pipeline has been met with considerable opposition from political groups, concerned citizens, celebrity activists, and private enterprises. It seems that any project that involves oil or gas production is met with skepticism, but the Keystone XL initiative has driven some groups to organize and protest outside of the White House, to interrupt commerce and business through planned congestive activities, and to raise millions of dollars to oppose approval of the final stages of the pipeline.


Some of the arguments against completion of the Keystone XL pipeline include:


  • Environmental concerns – like potential pipeline oil leakage, contamination of drinking water near the buried pipeline sections, and the release of potentially damaging greenhouse gases.


  • Proposed economic impact – not everyone is convinced that the economic gains that are being promised by the purveyors of the pipeline are going to come to fruition. Job gains as a result of the increased construction efforts may not be as permanent as originally forecasted. Temporary construction employment jobs will naturally increase during the building phase, but even President Obama reports that permanent additions to the US job market may be as few as 150 new jobs – this in a job market with 150 million workers!


  • Issues with Indigenous population – the Keystone pipeline currently runs through areas with a high concentration of indigenous people. The proposed section of the Keystone XL pipeline may also run through lands that are considered sacred for certain groups of people.


  • Issues with oil prices – Opponents claim that oil that is sent from Canadian and Northern US sources to Gulf Coast refineries may end up being sold overseas – possibly increasing the cost of domestic oil in the US and Canada.


The proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline tout the safety increases, the reduction in greenhouse gas production, and the economic benefits as reasons to complete the project as soon as possible. Safety issues have been magnified after the horrific Lac-Megantic rail car accident this past summer near Quebec, in which train cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed, killing 50 people. Pipeline supporters allude to the fact that dozens of families wouldn’t be grieving today if that same oil were transported along pipelines versus railcar. The Bakken oil field is producing more oil each day than the Keystone pipeline can handle – further evidence that the XL project can help with domestic oil transportation needs.


When oil isn’t transported by pipeline, it must be moved via railcar, tanker trucks, or via ships. This option results in increased greenhouse gas emissions and more pollution in our atmosphere than would be emitted via the Keystone XL pipeline. Regarding the economic benefits of the Keystone XL project – more jobs would certainly be created. Whether the number of temporary jobs translates into a significant increase in permanent job figures, more jobs is always a good thing. The amount of permanent positions may increase as the oil industry continues to build across the US and Canada.


As of September 2013, the Keystone XL project is in a state of suspension. The Canadian government is already mapping out an alternative plan to construct a shortened, all-Canadian pipeline that will run north and terminate near the Arctic sea. This destination point will allow ships to ferry oil to ports across the globe. The opposition seems fierce, yet the latest polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans favor the Keystone XL project.