President Trump Brings Keystone Pipeline Back From the Dead

The Keystone XL Pipeline project was mostly dead, but slightly alive.
The Keystone XL Pipeline project was mostly dead, but slightly alive. Photo courtesy of Bold Nebraska
It's official. President Donald Trump has raised the Keystone XL Pipeline from the dead.

Well, sort of.

Ever since it was first proposed, the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project by TransCanada to tote sticky black bitumen from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, has been a point of fierce contention as environmentalists opposed the pipeline, which labor leaders and conservatives wanted built. During his time in office, President Barack Obama tried to navigate around the issue without making any of his allies — who were on both sides about the pipeline project — angry.

By 2011, Obama was running for re-election and he couldn't really afford to alienate either faction, so he did what any good politician would do and stuck the issue into his back pocket. And he kept it there right up until he finally announced his decision in 2015 and killed it.

However, Trump's administration is beginning to get up and running and Trump has gone back — in yet another move that reads as undoing Obama's work — and signed a document that makes it possible for the government to reconsider the Keystone XL Pipeline, along with the Dakota Access Pipeline, the project that inspired vehement Native American protests in recent months.

“It's a hell of a sign,” Ed Hirs, an energy economics professor at University of Houston, says of bringing back the Keystone. “It's a clear repudiation of the Obama administration, but keep in mind that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had approved of the Keystone and recommended it be approved based on its merits of bringing in 800,000 barrels of crude a day from the Canadian Tar Sands.”

Reviving the possibility of the Keystone may make it seem like Trump is doing some more political posturing, but it also simply makes sense to sign off on the project, Hirs says. It won't actually affect the environment or create jobs on the scale that opponents or supporters initially claimed, but the Keystone will provide a better way to transport crude oil that is currently being moved via trucks and rail lines, Hirs says.

Studies have shown that the Keystone is more of a symbolic issue for both sides anyway, as we've noted before. It won't do the level of environmental damage that opponents claimed it would, but it also won't create jobs on the scale that supporters have contended it would.

What it will do is get more of the Canadian Tar Sands crude oil off the rails.

Over the years that the pipeline project has been stuck in political limbo, the Canadian Tar Sands oil hasn't sat idle in the ground. Instead, a lot of it has been trucked and shipped by rail to get it to market. This has been particularly problematic because when these oil trains have derailed, the fallout from such accidents has been massive. (The 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killed 47 people.)

As far as Texas is concerned, none of this will actually mean much — the Texas leg of the Keystone was completed years ago — but it looks like this will mean more protests up north.

But don't expect that the Keystone — or the Dakota Access Pipeline, for that matter — won't be met with protests and strong opposition. Opponents of the Keystone haven't given up hope of stopping the project from being completed by any means. “This is not a done deal,” Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmentalist group 350.org, said in a statement. “The last time around, TransCanada was so confident they literally mowed the strip where they planned to build the pipeline, before people power stopped them. People will mobilize again.”
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray