Obama Vetoed GOP Keystone XL Bill, But the Pipeline Battle Isn't Over

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President Obama recently vetoed a Republican bill that aimed to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. While environmentalists, conservationists, and many on the left have expressed their happiness with the president's decision, the fight to ban the pipeline's expansion isn't over. 

In case you haven't been able to follow the six years of Keystone XL drama, we've broken down the main talking points in order to make getting informed a breeze. 

What exactly is the Keystone XL Pipeline? 

First of all, the Keystone Pipeline has existed for a while, and is owned by TransCanada Corporation. The pipeline currently runs from Alberta, Canada all the way to Oklahoma through an underground system. What's currently being contested is the construction of an additional 1,179 miles of pipeline, which has been dubbed Keystone XL. 

The extra construction "would offer two sections of expansion," connecting "Cushing, Oklahoma, where there is a current bottleneck of oil, with the Gulf Coast of Texas, where oil refineries abound," according to NPR. The second would stretch from Alberta, Canada all the way to Kansas, making the pipeline go through the following states: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

If Keystone XL were to be approved, up to 700,000 barrels of oil could be transported per day to Texas, and "at peak capacity, the pipeline will deliver 830,000 barrels of oil per day." 


Map of the entire Keystone XL route. TransCanada

How many jobs would the pipeline expansion create? 

Supporters of the pipeline hold onto the State Department's claim that Keystone XL "would inject $2 billion in total economic benefits" for the U.S. While $2 billion is nothing to scoff at, the project might not be as lucrative long-term as some may like to believe. 

While oil is certainly a huge commodity, experts don't expect that the additional oil from Canada will drastically reduce gas prices for Americans. As the U.S. is slowly trying to embrace cleaner forms of energy, some are left to wonder if the pipeline would simply become a financial and environmental burden in the long-run. 

Proponents also argue that Keystone XL will create over 40,000 jobs, therefore stimulating the economy. It's true that the pipeline would create temporary jobs and would therefore be beneficial for a short time, but the State Department said they wouldn't expect more than 50 permanent jobs to come out of the project. Stability for two years may seem nice, but what will the tens of thousands of workers do when the construction is finished? 


Keystone construction workers gather together. TransCanada

What would the Keystone XL's environmental impact be? 

This question has been the source of a lot of controversy, with people on both sides of the debate finding information to favorably support their positions. 

The State Department published an environmental impact review last year that "concluded that the oil extracted from the Canadian oil sands produced about 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventionally extracted oil." However, an Environmental Impact Statement published in 2013 found that the pipeline "is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas." 

So, what's all the drama with oil sands anyway? Friends of the Earth notes that the extraction and refining process will lead to "levels of carbon dioxide emissions [that] are three to four times higher than those of conventional oil," as well as waste a significant amount of water. The organization states that because tar sands have tar (bitumen) that is mixed in with sand and clay, "it takes three barrels of water to extract each single barrel of oil." The water, which is mostly polluted, needs to be kept in manmade pools, and could eventually leak toxic materials into human water supplies.  

But the environmental impact stretches beyond water and pollution. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) found that the pipeline could gravely harm "12 threatened and endangered species in four states" by tarnishing habitats and inevitable oil spills. 

You may think the word "inevitable" is dramatic, but since 2010, there have been 14 pipeline oil spills, and the CBD estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline would spill about 1.9 times per year, "releasing an average of 34,000 gallons of dirty tar sands oil." 

Put another way, Forbes wrote that the pipelines construction requires 16,000 sensors that will require frequent evaluations and upgrades. Since inspecting and replacing all of the sensors would be labor-intensive and expensive, the chances of sensor neglect (due to a refusal to spend more money) leading to spills would be, well, nearly impossible to avoid. Even if TransCanada was diligent about checking in on the pipeline's structure, there's no way of preventing leaks 100 percent of the time. 

While some suspect that all sides of the debate are stretching the truth a bit, PRI noted that the Environmental Protection Agency "recently acknowledged that many of the environmental questions surrounding Keystone XL were probably under evaluated"”or not evaluated at all." Thats an incredibly unnerving statement, especially when tied to a massive underground oil transportation system. 


Protesters gather in New York to voice concern over Keystone XL's environmental impact, Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Will the pipeline also affect land inhabited by humans? 

Why, yes, it will. People are losing their land and their homes in order for the pipeline to be constructed, with the government using what's called eminent domain, which is defined as "the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use," by Cornell University Law School. 

Think Progress reports that people like Julia Trigg Crawford have been fighting with the government in order to keep her land from TransCanada, efforts that have ultimately failed to work in the landowner's favor. Crawford, who lives in Texas, was forced to give up a portion of her 600-acre farm in order for TransCanada to lay down pipeline, and is struggling to understand how this "foreign company was granted the right of eminent domain to build a pipeline that wouldn't be carrying Texas oil through the state of Texas," according to Think Progress

Crawford's not alone in her despair, either. Farmers in Nebraska have been protesting the pipeline to little avail. In January, the LA Times reports that TransCanada has "filed eminent domain proceedings against an estimated 90 Nebraska landowners." These landowners are increasingly feeling hope slip away as the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling that pipeline construction in Nebraska was unconstitutional. 

Some of these landowners, such as Nancy Allpress, have had claim to property for over a century. Allpress told the LA Times that "TransCanada has behaved like bullies with threatening tactics" in order to take her family's land. And while TransCanada is offering to buy the land, owners argue that no amount of money is adequate to replace a family's history.

But the pipeline will harm more than just farmers"”it's also going to have a serious impact on Native American tribes who have laid claim to land for centuries. 

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network told PRI that the government has failed to acknowledge treaties Native Americans struck centuries ago. 

"The Keystone pipeline passes right through the heart of the Oceti Sacowin Treaty area that was established before the Laramie Treaty back in 1868," Goldtooth told PRI. "A lot of the tribal nations really stick to the wording and negotiated agreements that were made and are treaties and we really encourage the federal government to really stick to those." 

These tribes aren't just concerned with treaties, though. Many are worried about the environmental impacts the pipeline will have, such as poisoning their water supply. The pipeline would pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, which CNN explains is "an underground layer of porous rock trapping large deposits of water that can often be accessed through wells." Around 2,500 of these deposits would be affected by the pipeline.

Many have focused on the environmental impact the pipeline would have on tribes, but there's something just as frightening that often goes overlooked: sexual assaults. CNN reports that tribes are worried that "camps with thousands of construction workers living near" tribal land could lead to a spike in diminished safety for native women. 


The Cowboy and Indian Alliance protests Keystone XL outside of the White House, Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

What now? 

President Obama vetoed the Republican bill to push Keystone forward, but that doesn't mean the battle over the controversial pipeline is over. TransCanada and the pipeline's supporters aren't giving up the fight easily, and neither are its opponents. 

Before Obama makes a final decision, he wants the State Department to complete a thorough investigation so it can make a "recommendation to Secretary of State John Kerry on whether Keystone XL is in the national interest," according to Think Progress

The decision could realistically go either way at this point, so stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks. 
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