The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Officially Dead

A marker for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is seen on the construction site in Park Rapids, Minnesota on June 6, 2021.

Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP (Getty Images)

In a shocking move, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline has announced it will no longer move forward with the project. The controversial pipeline has been at the center of a fight over Indigenous treaties, land rights, and the permitting process. Now, it’s dead.

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TC Energy, the company behind the pipeline project, announced that on Wednesday that “after a comprehensive review of its options, and in consultation with its partner, the Government of Alberta, it has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.” The project’s permits were rejected by former President Barack Obama, reinstated by former President Donald Trump, and rescinded again by President Joe Biden on his first day in office. The political seesaw, years of lawsuits, and spirited public opposition to the pipeline appear to have worked. (Disclosure: Prior to becoming a journalist, in 2011, I was arrested at a Keystone XL protest. It was worth it.)

“When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn’t be beat,’ Bill McKibben, author and the founder of 350 who has fought the pipeline for more than a decade, said in a statement. “But when enough people rise up we’re stronger even than the richest fossil fuel companies.”

The project would’ve transported a staggering 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta tar sands across the border. The pipeline raised risks of an environmental catastrophe, especially Nebraska’s Sand Hills, where delicate geology meant a spill could’ve contaminated drinking water supplies.

“On behalf of our Ponca Nation we welcome this long overdue news and thank all who worked so tirelessly to educate and fight to prevent this from coming to fruition,” Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, Jr. said in a statement. “It’s a great day for Mother Earth.”

TC Energy’s Keystone pipeline has a history of spilling on the regular, which didn’t exactly bode well for the larger Keystone XL project. It also would’ve been a climate nightmare; tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on Earth, and the pipeline would have locked in a steady stream of it to the global markets.

“For over a decade we’ve said Keystone XL would never be built—and we meant it,” Colin Rees, a campaigner with Oil Change International, said in a text. “KXL has been dead on arrival for years, but it’s good to see TC Energy publicly recognize its own obsolescence. The fossil fuel era is ending—the only question is whether our leaders will prioritize people or polluters in the transition.”

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In its announcement that the project was done for, TC Energy CEO François Poirier highlighted the company’s last-ditch effort to make the pipeline palatable by claiming it would be “net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle,” a cheap marketing gimmick oil companies are deploying with increasing vigor in hopes of keeping polluting projects like this alive. The company also hinted it would continue trying to make climate-friendly oil a thing, which bless their hearts.

It’s hard to underscore how huge a victory this is for activists and particularly Indigenous organizers that have been out in front to stop Keystone XL. It comes as a number of other high-profile pipeline fights are underway, including protesters in Minnesota fighting the Line 3 pipeline and the entire state of Michigan locked in a fight over the Line 5 pipeline. Both are operated by Enbridge, another Canadian company looking to pump Canadian oil sands into the market.

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Keystone XL’s cancellation will surely be a wind at protesters’ backs. Biden, however, has yet to support those fights. In fact, his administration has undermined another pipeline battle over the Dakota Access pipeline and pushed forward a controversial Arctic drilling project, both of which are opposed by Indigenous groups.

“This news comes as Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security is brutalizing Indigenous water protectors resisting the deadly Line 3 tar sands pipeline in northern Minnesota. Biden must act immediately to stop Line 3 and shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Rees said.

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The Indigenous Environmental Network also noted in a press release that while it was celebrating the death of the Keystone XL pipeline, some Indigenous protesters were still facing charges in South Dakota for actions taken late last year. Meanwhile, a growing number of states have passed or proposed laws that impose stiff penalties on anti-fossil fuel activists despite having numerous laws in place to deal with acts like trespassing and vandalism.

The world also needs to start building out clean energy infrastructure to replace the dirty infrastructure currently undergirding the economy. On that front, the administration has also said it’s willing to let go of some climate-friendly proposals that are part of its $2 trillion infrastructure package, which immediately received pushback from some Congressional Democrats. How much pressure activists put on the administration—and state and local governmentson these myriad issues will in many ways define the decades to come. In other words, the fights are nowhere close to over yet.

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This is a developing story and will be updated.

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