Even with the overwhelming support of the Trump administration there is no assurance in the United States that the Keystone XL Pipeline will ever be built.
Last week a federal judge has ordered the State Department to conduct a more thorough review of the pipeline’s proposed pathway after Nebraska state regulators changed the route, raising the possibility of further delays for a project first proposed in 2008.
Opponents of Keystone say that it is not your average pipeline and that tar sands, which contain a gooey-like bitumen which needs to be extracted in a complicated process before it can be refined for fuel, is not your average crude.
Tar sands oil is thicker, more acidic, and more corrosive than lighter conventional crude, and this increases the likelihood that a pipeline carrying it will leak. Indeed, one study found that between 2007 and 2010, pipelines moving tar sands oil in Midwestern states spilled three times more per mile than the U.S. national average for pipelines carrying conventional crude. Within its first year of operation, TransCanada’s original Keystone Pipeline System leaked 12 times; one incident in North Dakota sent a 60-foot, 21,000-gallon geyser of tar sands oil spewing into the air.
Tar sands pipeline leaks are difficult to detect. And when this oil does spill, it’s highly volatile—posing an elevated risk of explosion—and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude. People and wildlife coming into contact with tar sands oil are exposed to toxic chemicals, and rivers and wetland environments are at particular risk from a spill. Presently there is no known safe way to clean it up.
A motley group of environmentalists, land owners and sundry Indian tribes have thus far prevented Trans Canada from moving ahead with construction. Legal arguments in the Nebraska lawsuit are pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court and likely will not be heard until October.