Amidst Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, Keystone XL rises from the dead. Many didn’t think it would ever happen after a denial of necessary permits for its completion by President Obama and the State Department. The Keystone Pipeline System, commissioned in 2010, would run from the so-called “tar sands” in Alberta, through Montana (just west of the Bakken oil field) to refineries in both Illinois and Texas.
You might remember that the first section of the Keystone pipeline, from Alberta to Illinois, was completed in 2010. The second section, from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma was done in 2011. The “Gulf Coast Extension” that brings oil from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf Coast was done in January 2104. The contentious extension, the Keystone XL, was approved in 2014 by both the Senate and the House, but President Obama vetoed it.
The veto was disappointing to many who have interest in the Bakken oil fields, whether they worked there or invested in some way in Bakken oil. Even restaurants and schools saw big changes from the oil boom. The Keystone XL would have eliminated some of the truck traffic and railway congestion resulting from the increased oil production in the Bakken. Although the price of oil is down significantly from 2014 highs, production still remains close to a million barrels of oil per day in the Bakken. With production holding stead, there still needs to be a way for oil to get transported from Western North Dakota to downstream facilities for processing.
However, the Keystone XL doesn’t seem to be a ghost of the past anymore. The proposal might just be back on the table. At the end of November, President-elect Donald Trump laid out his plan, which he calls “Donald Trump’s Contract With The American Voter,” for the first 100 days in office. Among items affecting the energy industry was a direct reference to the Keystone XL. The second section of his “contract” that included “seven actions to protect American workers,” in which Trump said he would “lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.” And then, he would “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.”
Since the pipeline was already once approved by both the House and the Senate, now, with Trump’s support and a Republican Congress on board, it’s likely this is one piece of legislation that will move forward without many roadblocks, just as Trump promised.
One might still want to consider the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, still going on in North Dakota, even despite a blizzard, freezing temperatures and icy prairie winds. The protesters there, who call themselves “Water Protectors,” have made it clear that the pipeline there something they’re going to continue to fight against. What began as a fight against the route of the pipeline to protect the water supply and sacred Native American sites has turned into a what appears to be both fight for Native American rights in general against and a fight against oil extraction itself. The protest camp is said to have around 7,000 folks living there, mostly in temporary housing, in a solid act to fight the DAPL’s completion.
Many of the protesters are not Native American. In fact, a large chunk of protesters are there to fight against the energy industry and what they believe is destructive behavior. A recent Washington Post article explained the “pipeline politics” behind their actions:
Traditionally, activists have tried to lobby government to prevent energy firms from accessing new areas for oil, gas and coal, to regulate how they refine oil, extract coal, and generate electricity. They have sought tougher fuel efficiency standards and mandates for electricity companies to use of renewables in electricity generation. Sometimes they have lobbied customers, hoping that they will sanction firms for bad policies.
So the activists have turned to pipelines in an attempt to fight back. The Post continues:
Now, activists are trying something new — disrupting how the fossil fuel industry transports its products. Their objective is to prevent the fossil fuel industry from accessing the pipelines and railroad networks they need to move their products. The logic is simple; if products cannot be moved, they cannot be sold and will not contribute to global warming.
This “pipeline politics” does not ask governments to enact new regulations. Instead, it leverages the existing regulatory framework. Environmentalists have built coalitions with actors that are more interested in local issues than in global climate change. These actors fear that transportation of fossil fuels might contaminate their water resources, infringe on their fishing rights, or desecrate their sacred lands. Native American nations are an especially attractive ally, because they often have treaty rights over land and water use that the U.S. government is obliged to take account of.
The Post goes on to further discuss the alignment of environmentalist groups with Native Americans, since many of the concerns are similar–contamination of water resources, infringement on fishing or hunting rights and a basic respect for the land itself.
Bringing us back to the Keystone XL. It’s hard to forget the controversy and protests against the Keystone, especially when the DAPL protests sure seem to dredge up similar arguments and mimic the rhetoric. Even some of the protest signs are similar. The Keystone XL protests were really just a huge protest against oil extraction, too. Specifically–tar sands oil. Environmentalists saw the Keystone veto as a huge win, and they hope they’ll see a similar outcome in stalling the DAPL.
So even with Trump’s likely removal of “roadblocks” that keep pipelines from being built, the wild card this time isn’t Trump. It’s the protesters. And we’ll have to just wait and see if they can keep their own roadblocks in place.