Passing Gas (oil) With Our Northern Neighbors: The Keystone XL Pipeline Makes An Uncomfortable Comeback

EMMA HOLLOWELL – According to TransCanada, the group which proposed the building of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), “KXL represents a safe, reliable, and environmentally sound way to connect the American economy with an abundant North American energy resource produced by a neighbor that shares a commitment to a clean and healthy environment.”[i] That should settle it then; good for Canada, apparently good for the US, why quibble? Unfortunately, TransCanada is not completely TransParent about KXL’s environmental impacts.

In general, oil and gas mining, pumping, transporting, refining, and burning produces carbon dioxide, methane, and various other toxins.[ii] These toxins are proven greenhouse gases that cause climate change, acid rain, and ground level ozone and other pollution forms that are dangerous and damaging to human health via heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and other severe ailments.[iii] KXL poses its own, unique problems too. The structure is projected to be a 3 feet wide, 1,179 miles long, steel pipeline stretching from the fertile oil sands of Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.[iv] KXL will cover a nearly unfathomable distance, and with it, a great amount of land. This means KXL will also have nearly unfathomable potential to disrupt wildlife migration, deforest and fragment native vegetation, and expose those surrounding the 1,179 miles of land to oil spills and other forms of unpredictable and disastrous pollution.[v]

These were the types of issues the EPA cited when advising President Obama not to approve KXL in 2010.[vi] Ultimately, President Obama agreed with the EPA, and decided against KXL because the project would not lower petrol prices, create long-term jobs, affect energy dependence, and would run afoul with his administration’s attempt to join the world’s leaders in cutting carbon emissions.[vii] New President Trump; however, is unconcerned with cutting carbon emissions. President Trump, who campaigned on the premise that the proven scientific evidence of climate change is a hoax, made clear at a recent White House meeting with auto executives that he believes environmental regulations are “out of control” and stand in the way of the US economy.[viii]

Because of this, on January 24, 2017 President Trump signed executive memorandums, with the intent of reversing President Obama’s blockage of both the KXL and the Dakota pipeline, the latter of which garnered national attention in 2015 and 2016 for its potential to disrupt preserved Native American property.[ix] Whilst signing the memorandums, President Trump gloated his measures would create 28,000 “great construction jobs” and spur the American steel industry.[x] However, the State Department, which has the ultimate authority over KXL, estimates that of the jobs the project could generate, a mere 35 would be permanent.[xi] Further, there lies issues with the utility of the pipeline, as most American refineries (where KXL intends to ship oil) have been refitted to accommodate a different product—shale field oil and gas, the product of “fracking.”[xii]

The Canadian oil industry, on the other hand, is ready for KXL to be built, yesterday. This puts Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a hairy situation. The oil industry is one of the most important to our northern neighbor’s economy, and attempts to halt it are generally met with fierce opposition.[xiii] Trudeau, however, has become globally popular for his progressive views on everything from feminism to climate change—something he and President Obama agreed upon. President Obama had taken this conflict off the Prime Minister’s plate, but President Trump’s actions force Trudeau to take a stance, one that will certainly enrage either environmentalists or the petrol community.[xiv] For now, the Prime Minister has expressed unwavering loyalty to the protection of the Canadian economy.[xv] Depending on the will of the State Department and proposals from TransCanada, though, Trudeau will soon have to really test this loyalty against his desire to be a world climate leader.[xvi]

[i] Keystone XL, TransCanada (2017),

[ii] How Does Oil Impact the Environment?, Environment and Ecology,

[iii] Id.

[iv] Keystone XL Pipeline: Why is it so disputed?, BBC NEWS, (January 24, 2017),

[v] Seven ways oil and gas drilling is bad news for the environment, The Wilderness Society,

[vi] Supra, see note iv.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Peter Baker and Coral Daveport, Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama, New York Times, (January 24, 2017),

[ix] Id.

[x] Trump backs Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, BBC News, (January 24, 2017),

[xi] Supra, see note viii.

[xii] Clifford Krauss, Keystone XL Pipeline: A New Opening, but What Lies Ahead?, New York Times, (January 26, 2017),

[xiii] Ian Austen and Clifford Krauss, For Justine Trudeau, Canada’s Leader, Revival of Keystone XL Upsets a Balancing Act, New York Times (January 25, 2017),

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Id.

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