Trump’s Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Promise, Unkept & Undone

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File this one under I for It’s déjà vu all over again. The notorious Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline was dead and buried by the end of the Obama Administration, only to be jolted back to life by President* Trump soon after he took office, only — not! Yesterday a federal judge in Montana issued an order that all but guarantees the project will die another death by a thousand cuts.


The Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline That Wouldn’t Die

For those of you new to the topic, the Keystone XL oil pipeline was intended to bring oil from tar sands oil fields in Canada down to the US.

Back in 2012, CleanTechnica described the Keystone XL oil pipeline as “probably one of the last great infrastructure projects of the petroleum era in the U.S.”

That was before ExxonMobil expanded its petrochemical operations in Texas, but still.

The ambitious project was sold to the US public as a means of raising the domestic supply of oil, thereby lowering the cost of oil.

However, on closer inspection it became apparent that Keystone XL would convey Canadian tar sands oil straight down to refineries on the US Gulf coast, where it would sail off to overseas markets.

Adding injury to insult, the northern part of the oil pipeline would relieve a transportation bottleneck that was helping to keep petroleum costs low in several mid-northern US states. All else being equal, the pipeline would send more product southwards and send local prices upwards.

Keystone stakeholders also tried to sell the public on job creation, but that didn’t stand up to scrutiny, either. After construction, the oil pipeline would yield a less than impressive total of less than 40 permanent positions in the US.

Then there’s the whole issue of taking lands by eminent domain, and when the company taking the land is a foreign company — Canada-based TransCanada, well, that’s rubbing an awful lot of salt into a festering wound.

The project also focused attention on risks to water resources and impacts on tribal lands.

And so on and so on. The Keystone XL oil pipeline offered little in the way of domestic benefits, and much in the way of climate change issues involving tar sands oil as well as the potential for local environmental impacts.

Over and above all this, the Keystone XL oil pipeline had to pass muster with the US Department of State in addition to going through any other normal state and federal reviews.

The State Department review was required because the pipeline crossed an international border (you know, the one between Canada and the US). Under the Obama Administration, it did not pass muster.

Under the Trump Administration, somehow magically it did. About two months after Trump took office, the State Department reversed course and approved a permit for the pipeline, thus fulfilling one of the President’s campaign promises.

Or not, as things now stand.

Whither Keystone XL?

Our friends over at The Hill have the scoop:

In a major victory for environmentalists and indigenous rights groups, Judge Brian Morris of the District Court for the District of Montana overturned President Trump’s permit for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, which the president signed shortly after taking office last year.

Morris’s ruling repeatedly faulted the Trump administration for reversing former President Obama’s 2015 denial of the pipeline permit without proper explanation. He said the State Department “simply discarded” climate change concerns related to the project.

Did you catch that thing about “repeatedly faulted?” Do read the full piece for more details on the ruling, which politely but firmly took a Banksy to the State Department permit.

The judge ordered a complete do-over on economic and environmental impacts, with a focus on the current state of oil markets, climate change, cultural resources, and the potential for oil spills.

For good measure, the judgement requires that the State Department justify tossing its Obama-era position.


Naturally, pipeline opponents have cheered the ruling. The Sierra Club has already collected some representative samples including this one from the organization Bold Alliance:

Farmers and our Tribal Nation allies in Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana celebrate today’s victory foiling the Trump administration’s scheme to rubber-stamp the approval of Keystone XL…We’ll continue to stand together against this tar sands export pipeline that threatens property rights, water and climate at every opportunity, at every public hearing. People on the route deserve due process and the Ponca Trail of Tears must be protected.”

The Hill cautions that the Trump Administration could appeal the ruling instead of going back and doing its homework on the permit, but that will be a tough row to hoe. The appeal would go to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco:

That court is a frequent target of criticism by Trump and Republicans, and has ruled against major Trump policies, including his travel bans for people from certain Muslim-majority countries and his ban on transgender military troops.

So, there’s that. For now, consider construction of Keystone XL yet another in a long list of campaign promises Trump has yet to fulfill.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the “Solar XL” campaign. Launched through the Indigenous Environmental Network, the campaign involves installing solar panels along the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline route.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to the Indigenous Environmental Network for an update on that project, so stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: via Indigenous Environmental Network.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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