Key facts about controversial Keystone XL pipeline

Environmental activists during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC to  protest against the Keystone pi
Environmental activists during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC to protest against the Keystone pipeline project, on February 3, 2014

US President Barack Obama blocked the construction of a controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States Friday following years of bitter and politically charged debate.

His Republican opponents vowed to revive the project, which they say is critical to the nation's energy independence and will provide much-needed jobs.

Critics, however, have warned of an unjustifiably heavy environmental impact and that the economic benefits would be limited because all but a handful of the jobs it generates would disappear when the two-year construction project was complete.

Here are key facts about the project.

What was it?

Keystone XL was an expansion of TransCanada's existing system to funnel oil from Alberta's to refineries in the United States.

The initial $7 billion proposal in 2008 was to build a from Hardisty, Alberta that would cut through Montana to meet up with TransCanada's existing line in Steele City, Nebraska—and then add on a new southern leg to bring the oil to Texas refineries.

After years of delays, TransCanada separated the southern portion into a project that did not require presidential approval and the Gulf Coast pipeline began delivering oil from Oklahoma to Texas in January 2014.

US President Barack Obama speaks on the Keystone XL pipeline, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry (R), and Vice President J
US President Barack Obama speaks on the Keystone XL pipeline, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry (R), and Vice President Joe Biden, on November 6, 2015 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC

What remained was a $5.3 billion proposal to build a 1,179-mile (1,900 kilometer) pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.

Why is it so controversial?

Alberta's tar sands are considered to have the 'dirtiest' oil on the planet. Unlike traditional crude which gushes from a well, tar sand oil must be dug up and essentially melted with steaming hot water before it can be refined.

This means more fossil fuels need to be burned as part of the extraction process, which further contributes to climate change. It also results in huge lakes of polluted water and the strip-mining of millions of acres of once-pristine boreal forests.

Environmentalists argue tar sand oil contains a harmful and corrosive component—bitumen—which makes pipeline ruptures or leaks more likely and carries greater health and safety risks.

There was also significant opposition to the initial route, since changed, because it passed through Nebraska's environmentally sensitive Sand Hills grasslands and over a huge, critical aquifer that serves eight US states.

Demonstrators hold signs against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in front of the White House
Demonstrators hold signs against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in front of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2015

Economic Impact

The proposal was welcome news to a nation suffering from the 2008 financial crisis. The State Department estimated the new, shorter route would have created 42,000 temporary jobs over the two-year construction period. Opponents noted that just 35 permanent jobs would be created for pipeline maintenance and argued that the project will kill more jobs than it creates by diverting investment away from more labor-intensive green energy alternatives like wind and solar power.

Energy Security

"Drill baby, drill" was a common chant at Republican political rallies ahead of the 2008 election, and many Americans still do not believe climate change is a reality. TransCanada argues that bringing another 830,000 barrels of oil a day from friendly, neighboring Canada would reduce US dependence on the Middle East and Venezuela by up to 40 percent.

Opponents argue that Keystone will have no impact on the nation's energy security because much of the oil will be shipped to refineries in tax-free foreign trade zones and then exported.

The Keystone pipeline
The Keystone pipeline


TransCanada argued that buried pipelines are far safer for transporting oil than ships or trains and claims to have "one of the best safety records in the industry." It also notes that there are more than 2.6 million miles of and gas pipelines in the United States "that deliver 99.9998 percent of their products safely and reliably every day."

The pipeline would have been equipped with 21,000 sensors that provide updates every five seconds via satellite and the ability to isolate a problem within minutes through remote-controlled valves. Critics note the existing Keystone pipeline developed a dozen leaks in its first year of operation.

Explore further

Keystone pipeline's fate to be decided during Obama's term

© 2015 AFP

Citation: Key facts about controversial Keystone XL pipeline (2015, November 6) retrieved 18 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 09, 2015
It was NOT to transport "oil", it was to transport tar dissolved in nasty solvents. They even call it "dilbit" for diluted bitumen - tar.

Nov 09, 2015
So what? Your implication is a lie.

"...diluted bitumen is and always has been safe to transport. The United States has been safely importing increasing amounts of diluted bitumen from Canada for more than 40 years."

"No evidence of chemical or physical properties of diluted bitumen that are outside the range of other crude oils.

"The dilution process needed to help these heavy oils flow yield a stable and fully mixed product for shipping by pipeline with density and viscosity levels in the range of other crude oils transported by pipeline in the United States

"No evidence of unique or extreme properties that make diluted bitumen shipments more likely to cause internal corrosion or erosion"

"Studies by Batelle Memorial, Penspen Integrity, the University of Calgary, Natural Resources Canada, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have also concluded that diluted bitumen behaves the same way as other crude oil in pipelines and is just as safe"

Nov 09, 2015
You are the lie, otto. You are not real, but someone playing the game about which you bragged.

I stated the product was not oil, but "dilbit".

You just cut and pasted boilerplate for Big Oil, and did nothing to refute my factual assertion.

Get over your silly little need to get even with me. Grow up.

Nov 09, 2015
and did nothing to refute my factual assertion
-And if you had actually read the excerpts in my post you would have seen that theyre about your little buzzword, which means 'diluted bitumen'.

"A dilbit is a bitumen diluted with one or more lighter petroleum products, typically natural-gas condensates such as naphtha. Diluting bitumen makes it much easier to transport, for example in pipelines."

-Pretty obvious you didnt know what this buzzword meant. You just thought that using it, and calling it nasty, would make you appear more knowledgeable than you actually are.

Just like using the words 'volatile solids' or 'nitrogen oxides' without having any idea what they meant.

You are an obvious phony hiding behind your lies.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more