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What is the Keystone XL pipeline and why has it been canceled?

The Canadian firm behind the Keystone XL pipeline has given up on completing the project after a decade of controversy, environmentalist declare victory.

What is the Keystone XL pipeline and why has it been canceled?
KIMBERLY WHITE AFP

The Keystone XL pipeline was commissioned in 2010 by TC Energy to transport 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The project has been a political football over three administrations with President Biden cancelling the projects permit upon entering the White House.

The beleaguered pipeline was denounced by environmental activists who pressured former President Obama to reject the project saying it would tarnish US credibility in its effort to fight climate change, arguing the project threatened the environment and would only worsen the climate crisis. Shortly after becoming president, Donald Trump rescinded Obama’s decision, allowing the project to progress only to be stopped once again by the courts.

What is the Keystone XL pipeline?

When complete the Keystone XL would have transported 800,000 barrels of petroleum derived from Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada. The larger Keystone pipeline project consisted of four phases, with the XL portion the final phase using a larger-diameter pipeline and a shorter 1,179-mile route to deliver the heavy crude oil to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would travel through sections of the pipeline now finished for its final destination at the Texas coast.

The controversy surrounding the pipeline was several fold, but primarily tar sands are an extremely dirty source of petroleum with a heavy carbon foot print. The route that the Keystone XL pipeline was due to take caused the project legal problems as well. Although former President Trump reauthorized the project upon taking office, a federal judge blocked construction because the White House had failed to perform adequate environmental reviews. The pipeline was originally set to go through the Sandhills, a National Natural Landmark, and over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. Environmentalists were concerned that an oil spill could contaminate the aquifer as tar sand oil is difficult to clean up and contains chemicals to dilute it so that it can can be transported.

Environmentalist celebrating victory

TC Energy’s termination of the project came as welcome news to environmental groups who used the occasion to pressure President Biden to end other controversial pipelines in the works, including Enbridge Line 3 and the Dakota Access pipeline.

“The termination of this zombie pipeline sets precedent for President Biden and polluters to stop Line 3, Dakota Access, and all fossil fuel projects,” Kendall Mackey, campaign manager of 350.org's Keep It in the Ground campaign, said in a statement. “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 Enbridge Line 3 would travel through the head waters of the Mississippi River and tribal lands in Minnesota. Earlier this week hundreds of protesters occupied a construction site for the pipeline leading to hundreds of protesters being arrested.