Federal Judge Blocks Keystone XL Pipeline

Published December 19, 2018

The U.S. District Court of Montana issued an injunction halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

For close to a decade, the final leg of the pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast, has been delayed, unable to the gain final approval from the U.S. State Department and the state of Nebraska. After the Trump administration and the Nebraska government gave their approval in 2017, activists sued to stop construction. Judge Brian Morris issued an injunction on November 8, 2018, requiring the federal government to do further environmental reviews of the plan.

Obama Administration Denial

The vast majority of the Keystone XL pipeline did not need federal approval and has been built or connected in segments stretching from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the Midwest. The final segment needed approval from the U.S. State Department and from Nebraska regulators who had to approve a route for the portion of the pipeline crossing the state.

Under President Barack Obama, the State Department twice issued reports concluding the pipeline would deliver large quantities of Canadian oil to U.S. refineries, create thousands of jobs, and have minimal environmental impact in the United States. Despite his State Department’s conclusions, Obama denied approval of the final leg of Keystone XL, saying it would contribute to climate change. Without federal approval, Nebraska regulators decided not to bother approving a safe route for the pipeline.

Just two months after being sworn in as president, Donald Trump reversed Obama’s decision and directed the State Department to approve Keystone XL. In June 2017, after reviewing its impact on the environment and climate, the State Department approved the permit to build the $8 billion transnational pipeline. By November 2017, Nebraska regulators had given the pipeline the final approval needed to begin construction.           

Blocking and Delaying

Environmental activist groups and representatives of indigenous peoples brought a lawsuit in federal court to block construction of the pipeline, claiming it would damage the environment. Among their complaints, the activists argued the Trump administration had failed to account for the possible impact the pipeline would have on climate change by promoting the continued use of fossil fuels. Morris, an Obama appointee, agreed, stating the Trump administration “simply discarded” Keystone XL’s effect on climate change.

Morris directed the administration to conduct further environmental reviews, including a “reasoned explanation” for the decision to approve construction.

Activists have been taking multiple tacks to halt Keystone XL, says Paul Driessen, a senior policy advisor with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“After President Trump was elected, environmentalists sprang into action to halt fracking, pipelines, and other fossil fuel projects,” said Driessen. “These radicals are using every tactic at their disposal—including blocking access to drilling and fracking sites, turning off pipeline valves, and other acts of vandalism and eco-terrorism—to force Americans to stop using fossil fuels.

“The anti-fossil fuel campaigners’ real objective is to put the fracking genie back in the bottle, even as it emerges in other countries, but that’s not going to happen, any more than previous generations of Luddites were able to eliminate textile mills, automobiles, or other technologies,” Driessen said. “So now they’re trying to prevent oil and gas from getting out of fields, and thereby strangle energy and revenue streams, bankrupt a few companies, or at least inflict some financial pain.”

‘Virtually Endless, Expensive Lawsuits’

Having lost the presidential election, activists are hoping leftist judges will block oil and gas development, says Jay Lehr, science director at The Heartland Institute.

“Liberal judges have been installed by Obama for the sole purpose of thwarting capitalism, impeding economic progress, and helping every member of the green religion to have their dreams come true,” Lehr said. “Depriving the nation of as much fossil fuel as possible is one way to help achieve their nefarious goals.”

Driessen says activists hope continually suing to block every pipeline or new oil and gas lease on federal lands will make such efforts too expensive to pursue, even if their lawsuits fail in court.

“Environmentalists are filing virtually endless, expensive lawsuits against pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, to drive up company costs by delaying or preventing oil and natural gas producers from getting their products to market,” said Driessen. “Especially for natural gas, the lawsuits and pipeline delays are having the desired effect of keeping some fuels in the ground, at least temporarily.”

“Groups repeatedly filing these frivolous, dilatory lawsuits in the United States and Canada need to be fined or otherwise penalized for their actions, which are costing both economies tens of billions of dollars every year for no climate or environmental benefits, since the rest of the world is using more and more coal, natural gas, and oil every year,” Driessen said.

‘Celebrate Oil and Gas’

The United States’ abundant supply of fossil fuels is a blessing to be celebrated, not derided, says Driessen.

“We should celebrate oil and gas, not vilify it,” said Driessen. “These fuels make economies and factories hum, create and preserve jobs, produce petrochemicals and plastics that enhance and safeguard lives, and generate billions of dollars in tax and royalty revenues.

“Renewable, so-called ‘green’ pseudo-replacement energy sources, do none of that,” Driessen said. “Instead, they require mandates, subsidies, and exemptions from environmental laws like those barring other energy producers from committing bird and bat carnage.”

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.