Keystone XL Developer Abandons Pipeline Project

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

In a week that’s seen me post on three depressing environmental topics – U.S. non-adherence to the Basel Convention, a UN report on soil pollution, and cyclone damage to the Sundarbans, I’m pleased to report some good news: the Canadian developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, TC Energy and the government of the province of Alberta, has abandoned the project, which would have transported 800,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Canadian tar sands to Nebraska, and then onward through existing pipelines to to the Gulf Coast.

Cancellation was expected after Biden on his first day in office revoked a construction permit for the pipeline. As the New York Times reported in The Keystone XL pipeline project has been terminated.:

On the day he was inaugurated, Mr. Biden, who has vowed to make tackling climate change a centerpiece of his administration, rescinded the construction permit for the pipeline, which developers had sought to build for over a decade. That same day, TC Energy, the company behind the project, said it was suspending work on the line.

On Wednesday, the company wrote in a statement that it “will continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the project.”

Keystone XL would have expanded the original Keystone pipeline. Planning for the extension commenced at a time when oil market conditions were very different from those that prevail today. According to the WSJ in What Is the Keystone XL Pipeline and Why Did President Biden Issue an Executive Order to Block It?:

The expansion was originally conceived when oil prices were at historic highs—just before the 2008 financial crisis and American shale oil boom—as an artery that would pump 500,000 barrels of Canadian crude more than 1,700 miles from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The line, which is now partially built but not operating, was eventually expected to transport 830,000 barrels of oil 1,210 miles from the Canadian oil sands to Steele City, Neb., where it would link to existing pipelines heading to Gulf Coast refineries.

Solid opposition and protest from environmental groups has in recent years hindered construction of pipelines. In 2015, Trump’s predecessor declined to approve a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Trump made good on campaign promises to support the Keystone XL project and other fossil fuel pipelines, via executive orders and other policies, as I discussed in Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Making Good on Campaign Promise:

[Trump’s] decision to approve the [Keystone XL] pipeline reverses a 2015 decision to scupper the project. That earlier decision was made over concerns that to do otherwise would undercut the apparent US leadership role in efforts to fight climate change, as reported in 2015 by The New York Times in Citing Climate Change, Obama Rejects Construction of Keystone XL Oil Pipeline:

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut ]that global leadership.”

Despite those ostensible concerns, the previous administration allowed major expansion of US fossil fuel production via fracking (and withheld a key report on environmental consequences until well into lame-duck status, as I discussed in this December 2016  post, EPA Concludes: Fracking Harms Drinking Water).

Reactions to cancellation of the pipeline were predictable. On one side, according to the NYT:

Environmental activists cheered the move and used the moment to urge Mr. Biden to rescind the Trump-era permits granted to another pipeline, the Enbridge Line 3, which would carry Canadian oil across Minnesota. Hundreds of protesters were arrested earlier this week in protests against that project.

“The termination of this zombie pipeline sets precedent for President Biden and polluters to stop Line 3, Dakota Access, and all fossil fuel projects,” said Kendall Mackey, a campaign manager with, a climate advocacy group. “This victory puts polluters and their financiers on notice: Terminate your fossil fuel projects now — or a relentless mass movement will stop them for you.”

The prevailing reaction of fossil fuel proponents was also not a surprise.  Again as per the NYT:

On Capitol Hill, Republicans slammed Mr. Biden. “President Biden killed the Keystone XL pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy committee. “On Inauguration Day, the president signed an executive order that ended pipeline construction and handed one thousand workers pink slips. Now, ten times that number of jobs will never be created. At a time when gasoline prices are spiking, the White House is celebrating the death of a pipeline that would have helped bring Americans relief.”

The Bottom Line

Biden administration policy on its face appears less congenial to fossil fuel producers than Trump’s policy was. Whether that apparent shift represents  a sincere change in emphasis, or is just a consequence of lower fossil fuel prices, isn’t altogether clear to this cynical observer.

I’ll however celebrate victories where I find them. This appear to be one.

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  1. JTMcPhee

    “I’ll be back…” here or at some other place, like Enbridge… the oil must flow, including the dreck from tar sands and fracked landscapes.

    Don’t seem possible to “kill it with fire,” it’s a Freddie Krueger or Jason monster.

    1. jefemt

      Agree 1,000%

      Energy demand is UP, despite Pandemic. 7.9 billions of aspirational folks trying to scratch their itches, starting with a life with food, clean water, and no violence.

      Go stand on any major intersection in Anytown, Anynation State at 7:30 AM or 4:30 PM – local time, and sit for an hour to observe, ponder, breathe deep the rarified good air of the pinnacle of man’s innovations in the 21st century.

      How many pedestrians? Bicyclists? Public transportation?

      What type of vehicles? Do they turn off while stopped? E-cars? Motorcycles?

      How many people per car?

      That’s just the personal transportation demand in your local berg. And transpo is apparently only 65% of oil-energy demand. Oil is pretty amazing energy-dense transportable stuff.

      When I read that ‘they’ are shuttering and reclaiming the tar sands, I might find a bit of cheer. Ditto the coal mines in SE BC, which are expanding up the Elk River Valley.

      And that is just in my neck of the woods.

      Walt Kelly and his little harbinger Pogo said it best. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

      Reading a great book on Salmon:

      ” Salmon are not the problem for us. We are the problem for salmon” Extend that logic to any ‘natural world problem’… I think of grizzlies and wolves near my home.

      “The world, we are told, was made especially for man- a presumption not supported by all the facts
      John Muir- A Thousand Mile Walk to The Gulf

      The Keystone XL and Alberta Tar Sands make me think of the coyote’s ecosystem. Take one out, three will come in to compete and fill the void. Capitalists in a nutshell. I seem to recall the money behind the tar sands was VERY trans-national.

      I was wondering: if Bezos survives his little flight into space, and beholds the Big Blue Marble, might he come back with some paradigm-shifting epiphany and energy for the earth and ALL humanity, besides being in on every sale of every consumer item?

      He sure is in a position of influence. My old boss, one of the worlds great pessimists, makes me look like a piker, used to opine that
      True Evil is someone who has the knowledge and capacity to do good, and chooses not to.

      Many devils among us, including me. No person an island, no free lunch, omelettes take broken eggs, yada yada…

      I should be cheered about the XL announcement, but seeing all the mothballed steel pipeline in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and knowing a bit about human behavior, the lack of appetite for stranded capital, the adoration for picking up the pieces for pennies on the dollar… I am just not feeling it.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If Bezos sees Earth from space, his reaction will be ” Mine! All mine! . . . some day . . . “

  2. Gc54

    Venezuela will be back on the DC agenda. Gotta find sludge for US refineries to blend with fracked light oil somewhere.

  3. Keith Newman

    I don’t share the environmental enthusiasm re the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. Diluted tar could still be shipped by rail.
    The tar could even be refined in Alberta and shipped out, although that would require the building of refining facilities, admittedly an unlikely prospect.
    Demand for crude is what underlies a big part of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Shutting down the Keystone pipeline affects supply. What of demand? Tar sands synthetic crude is dirtier to produce than other sources but overall it makes little difference for GHGs. True there is the danger of pipeline spills but that exists for rail cars as well. With respect to supply, crude oil will still be obtained from elsewhere, granted with a smaller carbon footprint.

    1. Skip Intro

      According to some, reducing supply raises prices, which reduces demand and encourages alternatives to be discovered and used. Others feel that all means of extraction should be blocked, so postulating alternatives to the pipeline as a reason to support the pipeline is illogical.

    2. Philo Beddoh

      Easy to kill KXL? But DAPL’s fracked crude, or increased fracked LNG exports & ethane crackers? Who KNOWS? I’m surprised, we’ve backed down on Nord Stream 2, that Exxon backed off their Frackistan cracker & we’re NOT fueling NYC’s 15 peaker plants with bomb-train dilbit, yet (as we lose three more pretty damn scary old fission reactors!)

    3. Michael

      “”the Keystone pipeline affects supply. What of demand?””

      USA not so adept at reducing demand.

      During a previous drought in N Cal where I lived, Water Dept asked for conservation and the citizens responded by cutting use nearly 20%: brown lawns etc.

      Well that was too much, budgets suffered, inadequate reserves.
      Can I have a little more sir ($$) pls? We’re all in this together dontcha know.

    4. Monte McKenzie

      Keith…The world is full of oil more suppliers than needed and now that people world ove are getting scared of the warming, a lot less will be used!
      Invest in U233 liquid salt or geothermal electricity generation! they will replace all FF energy requirements world wide and your children might just see their ‘s enjoy life! Do a little research and learn the facts before you post again!

      1. Keith Newman

        Monte, you actually make my point. There is tons of supply so the loss of Keystone will just be worked around. A couple of commenters below provide more details.
        I can’t say I’d feel secure with nuclear energy as you suggest. Geothermal on sufficient scale to replace oil seems unlikely to me. It wasn’t practical to heat my house.
        The article did not deal with replacements for oil so I’ll leave my comments here.

    5. drumlin woodchuckles

      Cancelling the Keystone will spare all farms along its route from pipeline destruction and all soil and groundwater along its route from the threat of pipeline pollution. So that is something specific to be enthusiastic about.

      1. Not Havinit

        Pipelines cause pollution???

        More like they stop pollution from trains, long haul trucks, or boats from delivering the crude. Pipelines may leak from time to time, but they don’t pollute and they are much safer than exploding trains, sinking boats, or crashing trucks. All of which have occurred in the past while transporting crude. Pipelines are the safest and most environmentally friendly means to transport bitumen. There are over 500 000 miles of pipelines in North America, some that need replacing due to age in order to protect the earth and our way of life. Also, this cancelled pipeline would help North Americans not rely on oil from despot dictators like Saudi Arabia.

        Since your against oil, have you stopped using any oil by-products yet?
        Feel free to lead the way and show the rest of us how it’s done.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          When pipelines rupture and leak, they cause pollution. Here’s an example. There are others.

          This pipeline in particular was worth opposing because it was not going to transport oil. It was going to transport Alberta Tar Dreck mixed with Super Cancer Juice ( benzene). Nothing wrong with moving normal oil through the normal pipelines we already have, unless they are too old to safely function and are in too inherently dangerous a place. ( Enbridge over Straights of Mackinaw).

          ” Since your against oil” . . . . the word you want is ” you’re”, not ” your”. And I am against the wasteful overuse of oil with gay abandon, not the unavoidable use of oil when there is just no around its necessity in certain cases. Anyway, I gave up the delightful game of “find the hypocrite” when I graduated from junior high school. I see you still haven’t.

          In a world based on oil, its hard to use zero. Here’s what I have done. I have never owned a car and have never even driven a car since 1991. How about you?

    6. drumlin woodchuckles

      Can a whole Alberta-load of BOEs be found elsewhere equal in size to Alberta’s Tar Dreck? If not, then the carbon footprint will be just that much smaller.

      More to the point, it offers a visible victory to people who need one to create some morale. It shows a project can be killed.

  4. orlbucfan

    There are miles of old, abandoned pipelines and drilling equipment crisscrossing this country. They are rusting and rotting and have never been removed. To call this an ongoing ecological disaster is a gross understatement. The cancellation of this pipeline is a huge victory. Thanks for the great news, Jerri-Lynn.
    Sincere best wishes for a rapid and full recovery, Yves.

  5. ChiGal in Carolina

    >Trump’s predecessor

    Nice one, Jeri-Lynn! And you have been rocking it this week with your posts—Biden doubles down on press freedom, WHO celebrates Ivermectin setback—many thanks for stepping up so Yves can take a break from her punishing schedule to heal.

    And yes, Yves, we miss you but please take the time you need to recover knowing NC is in good hands.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Thanks! I should however give credit where it’s due. Nick Corbishley wrote the ivermectin post and Kenny Stancil of Common Dreams the Biden press freedom piece.

  6. rjs

    don’t celebrate too much…the Capline, which has 50% more capacity than Keystone XL would have had, was reversed about a month ago to carry tar sands oil from Patoka south to St. James, LA…at the same time, the Enbridge Line 3 expansion, now being built in Minnesota, will bring even more tar sands into the country…tar sands exports to the US are already at record levels, and capacity to ship tar sands crude from Canada to the US is scheduled to rise by at least 420,000 b/d this year…

    if Keystone XL were built today, it would initially have to run half empty…and Biden had to know these competing projects were in the works when he cancelled permits for Keystone XL

  7. Dave in Austin

    The tar sands oil project has large environmental costs compared to natural gas and the Keystone XL pipeline (which I believe is 95%+ complete) would ship it to the states.

    But as reader RJS, above, said, there are workarounds using other pipelines which are happening. Blocking one pipeline is like blocking one interstate highway and declaring “we have won” the war against air polution; the trucks will simply take an alternate route.

    Worse, the XL pipeline went through all the hoops, got approved, and was built in good faith by the owners- including the Ontario public employees’ pension fund, at a cost of two billion dollars before demonstrators got Biden to cancel it. Note Biden asked for a long “study” to see if it whould be built. He is trying to avoid the XL owners invoking the US/Canadian WTO investment treaty provisions which says if a soverign entity approves a project, takes the money and later changes its mind it has to pay the foreign owner for the confiscation of assets. So the U.S. taxpayer will be forced to pay the Canadians two billion when this go to arbitration.

    Behind the shadowplay in the press over good and bad are real laws that will protect the XL owners and leave you and me footing the bill- which will be a one paragraph article in the NYT business section in 18 months. No wonder the general educated readers are so poorly informed

    1. Philo Beddoh

      Methane, ethane (and oil) fracking have pretty “large environmental costs” as well, you might need a FLIR scope to see this, or satellites imaging a single blow-out in Ohio spewing more methane in 19 days, than entire EU nation’s extraction, processing & transmission leak in a year (while still poisoning air, water, crops & livestock: causing novel pediatric cancers of folks red-lined into Cancer Valley). KXL wasn’t ever “built in good faith” as evinced in my previously posted PHMSA links as to pretty ubiquitous quality issues, REPEATEDLY encountered in the 80% SMYS large diameter pipelines produced immediately prior to the Marcellus shale tight gas/ oil Ponzi scheme. Scores-of-thousands of hydrofracked wells; 8 per pad, 20K’ deep & a couple miles out, through multiple permeable strata. Cement-jobs, annulars, even casing will fail eventually (as Schlumberger’s own documents predict). There’s basically NO way for Biden, Harris or whatever comes after can “plug” or stop this with taxpayers’ money! Then, once we’ve unleashed the methane Kraken… it’ll be, “OK, Gates, Bloomberg, Musk & Bezos will somehow magically save us with: geo-engineering, GE Monoculture & carbon sequestration scams?

  8. John Zelnicker

    For those interested, the refineries on the Gulf Coast that are capable of refining that tar sands drek from Canada are mostly owned by the Koch brothers.

    If they can’t get it from Canada, they will get it from Venezuela, regardless of the sanctions.

    1. youMustBeJoking

      might this be why (Postmedia is as reliably right wing as the WSJ)

      “Albertans will owe about $1.3 billion for Keystone XL as the government and TC Energy confirmed Wednesday the pipeline project is officially dead.

      The announcements come after U.S. president Joe Biden signed an executive order to revoke the pipeline’s permit on his first day in office in January — a move he had promised during his election campaign.”

      finally showed up “below the fold”:

      1. synoia

        I believed for a ling time that the best approach for the Canadians is:

        1 A refinery in Alberta
        2. An wast west pipeline to supply domestically.

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