The executive order said, in part, “[The] approval of the proposed pipeline would undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence of the United States in urging other countries to take ambitious climate action.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) countered the move, saying, “The biggest losers from this decision are the energy workers who stood to benefit from the pipeline. There’s no doubt our energy industry has already suffered during the pandemic, and President Biden’s answer is to kick the industry further down the well.”
First rejected during his tenure as vice president for then-President Barack Obama, the pipeline’s fortunes improved when former President Donald Trump authorized the permit.
Now, following in the footsteps of his former running mate, Biden has raised a sizable barrier to the project’s completion.
The pipeline is an extension of an already existing system that connects Port Arthur, east to Patoka, Illinois, up to Manitoba, and over to Alberta. Rather than following the Winnipeg detour, the extension more directly connects the tar sands to the existing pipeline near the Nebraska-Kansas border.
It runs from Alberta, down through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. After that connecting point, the current pipeline descends through Kansas, Cushing, Oklahoma, and down East Texas to the state’s Gulf Coast energy hub.
When constructed, the pipeline could transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day. TC Energy Corporation, the company that owns the pipeline, says it will have an $8 billion economic impact on the North American economy. This includes over 100,000 jobs in construction of the pipeline and its operation and the indirect commerce that will accompany the project.
Commissioned in 2010, the project has had to navigate bureaucratic red tape and obstructions along with a public relations fight.
The more direct route provides another outflow and increases the cost-efficiency of the oil transport. Less oil would be transported via truck or train, and thus fewer emissions given off. However, critics of the pipeline point to potential environmental hazards such as oil spills, the disruption of habitats through which the pipeline runs, and property rights falling victim to eminent domain.
Oil from Alberta’s tar sands is more acidic than conventional crude oil, such as that which Texas produces, and so pipeline leaks are more common with tar sands oil.
There’s also objection from the administration to anything that facilitates the use of fossil fuels as an energy source. Oil and gas production emissions, while not nonexistent, have improved significantly over time such as a 64 percent reduction during the last decade in the Permian Basin’s methane flaring intensity — the amount of methane given off per barrel of oil produced.
In response to Biden’s pre-inaugural announced intention to pull the permit, the company behind the pipeline’s construction promised zero-emissions for the project. To accomplish this, TC Energy would spend $1.7 billion on renewable energy-powered construction methods.
Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, criticized the move, stating, “The Keystone pipeline is nearly completely built and an important link for North America’s economic security. The decision today to rescind the permit makes it crystal clear that Mr. Biden stands with the extreme green lobby and not average Americans.”
Lauren Pagel, policy director for the environmental organization Earthworks added, “[T]his administration must hasten the transition away from fossil fuels and toward more just and equitable energy policies. The rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline must be only the beginning. The Biden-Harris administration must stop the continued expansion of oil and gas facilities that sacrifice frontline communities and, too often, disproportionately impact historically marginalized people.”
To appeal to both the environmental left and energy-reliant moderates, Biden ran on a broad and largely progressive, but more moderate than some, energy plan. It included a drilling ban on federal lands, carbon-neutralizing the energy grid by 2035, and revamping America’s transportation in a publicly oriented direction.
The appeal by those pushing the project to placate the new Biden administration is a shrewd business maneuver that has, as of now, failed to avoid the one big thing that could disrupt its completion.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a quote from the president’s executive order made available after the article’s publishing.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.