Trudeau’s Future of the Keystone XL Pipeline? Or America’s Future?

BY GAVIN RYNARD – “I certainly feel that Canada could have taken a different tack towards issues on energy and environment over the past 10 years. That’s certainly what I’m focused on, going forward.”[1] – Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s newly elected liberal Prime Minister has focused on the environment during his campaign, but has been vague in interviews and press conferences when it comes to endorsing the Keystone XL Pipeline.[2] Trudeau has been both a supporter of the Pipeline in the past and a critic of his predecessor’s, conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, poor diplomacy with respect to the Pipeline.[3]

In 2013, Trudeau told oil executives that the federal government was to blame for the delays in the Pipeline because Harper’s poor tact with President Barrack Obama has strained relations between the two nations. [4] Harper suggested that the Pipeline was a “no brainer” for President Obama to approve at a time the President was struggling with the environmental implications of the proposal.[5] “Any relationship as important as Canada and the United States goes beyond a single project,” Trudeau stated in a recent press conference. Trudeau’s statements indicate that he is not as staunch a supporter of the Pipeline as Harper, but nonetheless, a supporter. Therefore, Americans are left to ask what effect the new Canadian Prime Minister has on the future of the proposed Pipeline.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a Canadian company, TransCanada, proposed 1,179-mile, 36-inch-diameter system[6] cutting through the United States that is designed to carry nearly one-million barrels of petroleum per day from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries in Texas.[7] The oil sands harbor the third largest oil reserve in the world, and in recent years, Canada has tapped into that reserve.[8] With infinite profit prospects, TransCanada, with unequivocal support from Harper, proposed the pipeline in 2005 and applied to the United States State Department for a construction permit in 2008.[9]

Although the Pipeline is expected to create 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period and contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the United States economy, environmentalist oppose the construction of the Pipeline because of its contribution to carbon pollution and risk of a devastating pipeline explosion.[10]

The unconventional extraction of petroleum from oil sands requires much more fuel, water, and carbon emissions than pumping oil and gas the conventional way.[11] Thus, the international goal of curbing climate change greatly conflicts with TransCanada’s proposed pipeline because the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would mean that 80 percent of the petroleum from the oil sands would have to stay in the sands.[12]

Additionally, the risk of a pipeline explosion is eminent. In only one month, January 2015, there were five pipeline explosions in the United States.[13] One of the explosions was a three-million gallon spill of toxic, carcinogenic petroleum and chemical brine in Williston, North Dakota, which was three times the North Dakota pipeline spill record.[14] The old record occurred over a decade ago and the state is still cleaning up that spill.[15] Pipeline spills damage wildlife, add carcinogens to the drinking water supply, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs per spill.[16] Thus, both environmentalist and some Americans are concerned about the effects of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, and are calling on their government to oppose its construction.

Nevertheless, proponents of the Pipeline recently overcame two project hurtles. In January 2014, the State Department approved the Pipeline with an environmental impact statement finding that the Pipeline was unlikely to significantly increase the amount of the world’s carbon pollution.[17] In January 2015, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state in Thompson v. Heineman, allowing TransCanada to seize property from landowners using eminent domain laws.[18] The administrative and judicial developments paved the way for the Pipeline and shifted focus to Congress and the Executive to give the final approval of the proposal.

In February 2015, Congress passed a bill approving the construction of the Pipeline with a House vote of 270-152 and a Senate vote 62-36, which were both approximately four percent short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override a Presidential Veto.[19] In response to the bill, President Obama, citing concerns about security, safety, and the environment, vetoed the bill, blocking the construction of the Pipeline during his tenure in office.[20]

The President’s veto makes it highly unlikely that there will be a change in plans for the proposed pipeline over the next fifteen months. However, a Republican lead Congress and new Executive could approve the Pipeline with support from the Canadian government after the next United States election cycle. Thus, the question remains of what will be Prime Minister Trudeau’s effect on the proposed pipeline.

Although the Prime Minister stated that the relationship between the United States and Canada is more important than a single project—the Keystone XL Pipeline—that relationship may not have to be strained with a new Executive branch.[21] Trudeau has shown support for the Pipeline in the past, and with approval from all branches of the United States government, Trudeau’s support could turn to construction of the nearly decade-long contested project. [22] Thus, the real power turns back to the American people, not Trudeau. American voters have the power to elect a Congress and a President that either supports or rejects the Keystone XL Pipeline in the 2016 election. If American voters find the Pipeline to be a pressing issue, then they should keep track of the candidates’ stances on the proposal and vote accordingly.


[1] Lydia O’Connor, Justin Trudeau Supports Keystone XL But Climate Activists Aren’t Worried, The Huffington Post (Oct. 20, 2015, 8:41 AM),

[2] Id.

[3] Bill Graveland, Trudeau to Calgary Oil Execs: Harper Has Mishandled Energy File, The Huffington Post Canada (Oct. 30, 2013, 10:57 AM),

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Keystone XL Pipeline Project, Transcanada, (last visited Oct. 26, 2015).

[7] Coral Davenport, Keystone Pipeline Pros, Cons and Steps to a Final Decision, The New York Times (Nov. 18, 2014),

[8] Facts and Statistics, Alberta Energy, (last visited Oct. 26, 2015).

[9] Coral Davenport, Keystone Pipeline Pros, Cons and Steps to a Final Decision, The New York Times (Nov. 18, 2014),

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Suzanne Goldenberg, Canada’s New Prime Minister May Be a Liberal—But He Still Loves the Keystone Pipeline, Mother Jones (Oct. 20, 2015, 11:47 AM),

[13] Rachel Maddow, Another Day, Another Pipeline Explosion, The Rachel Maddow Show (Jan. 27, 2015),

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Coral Davenport, Keystone Pipeline Pros, Cons and Steps to a Final Decision, The New York Times (Nov. 18, 2014),

[18] Thompson v. Heineman, 857 N.W.2d 731 (Neb. 2015).

[19] Gregory Korte, Obama: Keystone Pipeline Bill ‘Has Earned My Veto,’ Usa Today (Feb. 25, 2015, 8:03 AM)

[20] Id.

[21] Steven Mufson, New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Brings Same Support for Keystone XL Pipeline, The Washington Post (Oct. 20, 2015),

[22] Bill Graveland, Trudeau to Calgary Oil Execs: Harper has Mishandled Energy File, The Huffington Post Canada (Oct. 13, 2013, 10:57 AM),

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