The Keystone XL Pipeline Project

The Keystone XL Pipeline has the potential of carrying 700,000 barrels of oil per day from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico. It also has the promise of providing thousands of jobs to workers in the United States, but because of many roadblocks, including lawsuits from oil refineries, criticism from environmentalists, and President Obama’s rejection of legislation introduced by Senate Republicans in November 2011 to try and force approval of the pipeline. Despite all the controversy, TransCanada stated in 2012 that it intends to move forward with a new proposed route.


Although the Keystone XL Pipeline has been making news worldwide since 2010, it was actually first proposed by TransCanada Corporation in 2008. They filed the application in 2009, the National Energy Board of Canada began hearings in the fall of that year, and approval was given in March of 2010. In the U.S., the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission granted a permit for the pipeline that same year.

It has not been smooth sailing for the Keystone XL Pipeline since March 2010, however. In the coming months, the National Resources Defense Council stated in its report that “the Keystone XL Pipeline undermines the U.S. commitment to a clean energy economy,” and 50 U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warning her that building the Keystone XL Pipeline could challenge the nation’s commitment to a clean energy future.

In July 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that the draft environmental impact study done for the Keystone XL pipeline was inadequate and should be revised because it didn’t consider oil spill response plans, safety concerns, and greenhouse gas issues. When the full study was released in 2011, it stated that the pipeline would cause “no significant impacts” to resources if environmental protection measures are followed, but if they are not followed, it would present “significant adverse effects.”

In December 2011, Congress gave President Obama a 60-day deadline to make a decision on TransCanada’s application, and on January 18, 2012, Obama rejected the application, postponing a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until 2013.

Proposed Route

Phase I of the Keystone Pipeline became operational in 2010, and runs through the following areas:

  • Hardisty, Alberta, Canada
  • Buchanan, Clinton, and Caldwell Counties in Missouri
  • Nemaha, Brown, and Doniphan Counties in Kansas

The 291 miles known as the Keystone-Cushing pipeline comprise Phase 2, and became operational in February 2011. Phase 2 is routed from Steele City, Nebraska through Kansas to Cushing, Oklahoma.

Phase 3, the Cushing MarketLink, is part of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This proposed phase would start at Cushing, Oklahoma and run 435 miles to a delivery point in Nederland, Texas that would serve Port Arthur, Texas, and another 47 miles to transport crude oil from Liberty County, Texas to the Houston area.

Phase 4 would start from the same area in Alberta, Canada as Phase 1, and would include a Canadian section as well as a United States section. The Canadian section would be made up of 329 miles of new pipeline, entering the United States at Morgan, Montana. From Morgan, the Keystone XL Pipeline would run through South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would join the existing Keystone Pipeline at Steele City, Nebraska. Phase 4 has caused the most controversy surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline because of its routing over the top of the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. However, in November 2011, the governor of Nebraska agreed to a compromise to move the route and approved state funding for an additional environmental study.

Environmental Issues

Many environmental issues have been raised regarding the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, among them:

  • The pipeline could pollute air and water supplies. The original route was planned to cross the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world. The Ogallala Aquifer crosses eight states, is the main source of drinking water for two million people, and also supports $20 billion in agriculture by providing water for irrigation systems. Because a leak in the pipeline could potentially pollute drinking water and devastate the economy in the heartland of the United States, TransCanada agreed to re-route the pipeline and avoid the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • Sections of the proposed pipeline will cross an active seismic area that had a 4.3 magnitude earthquake in 2002.
  • Environmentalists have expressed opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the emission of greenhouse gases. Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources has countered this criticism by saying that oil sands account for about 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Potential Jobs

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Pipeline Jobs