New York City, 2017 – Protestors rally against the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline.
On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order canceling the permit for TransCanada (TC) Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline, ending the controversial plan proposed in 2008.
TC’s first Keystone pipeline was commissioned in 2010 and ranged from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. The XL pipeline was proposed as an extension to the first pipeline, ranging from the Canadian oil sands to Nebraska, where it would merge with the other pipelines heading to the Gulf Coast, carrying around 830,000 barrels of oil daily. The pipeline was estimated to create around 13,000 high-paying jobs, a significant economic boost for both the U.S. and Canadian governments but also for the communities along the 1,700 mile-long pipeline.
In an interview with Fox News, David and Kristina Dickerson, two workers who have spent multiple decades in the oil and gas industry, stated they were “feel[ing] pretty betrayed” by the project’s cancellation. The Dickerson family, along with many other affected members of the industry, feel a significant threat to their economic stability, many of whom are using their retirement savings to stay afloat.
Jason Kenney, the Premier of Alberta, called the decision a “gut punch” to his province, whose status is mainly a result of the oil and gas industry’s success. “The Biden administration refuses to give this country sufficient respect to hear us out on this pipeline. In that policy context then, yes, there absolutely must be reprisals,” Kenney told CBS News. In a comment made to the press, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the decision’s implications on the workers who spent years forging the plan. Trudeau plans to address the cancellation with President Biden. However, with regards to Kenney’s aforementioned (economic) reprisals, Trudeau refuses to endorse sanctions against Canada’s largest trading partner.
Even after the cancellation of the pipeline, the U.S. will still receive a major portion of its oil imports from Canada. However, the loss of more imports from Canada has forced Gulf Coast refineries to look for alternative imports from states such as Russia and Venezuela.
While the decision heralds loss for many families and communities, it should not come as a surprise. Since TC’s proposal in 2008, the extension has received massive backlash from courts, governments, and environmental groups who argue the threat of spills and oil extraction was too dangerous for the environment. When the proposal finally made its way to President Obama’s desk in 2012, and subsequently in 2015, he vetoed the proposal. The following year, however, President Trump approved the permit, considering it was one of his main campaign goals. After years of battling the courts in Montana and Nebraska, President Trump was forced to issue a new permit in 2019. The tide turned against TC in 2020 when President Biden was elected, and in 2021, he made good on one of his foremost campaign promises to cancel the project. Though TC planned to invest $1.7 billion in solar, wind, and battery power to drive the pipeline, Biden said, “The Keystone XL pipeline disservices the U.S. national interests.”
This decision comes as a huge win and relief for the Indigenous-led climate movement, which fought to end the project since its inception. Farmers and ranchers have fought alongside Native Americans, arguing the pipeline’s location would rupture many areas critical to their water sources. President Biden stated that he intends to review around 100 environmental regulations affected by the Trump administration, restoring protections to multiple sacred Indigenous sites, as well as issuing a temporary prohibition on the oil and gas industry active in Arctic national wildlife refuges.
Doug Jones, mayor of a county in Alberta, spoke on behalf of his constituents, stating they are “disappointed” and hope “the decision will be reversed,” no matter how unlikely. TC has announced its immediate cessation of the project and expects its earnings to take a blow this quarter.
By Michael Hlavaty