Data Dump: Keystone XL epitaph-by-the-numbers

President Joe Biden expected to kill the controversial pipeline

Numerous media outlets are reporting that one of President Joe Biden’s first acts from the Oval Office will be to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.  

First proposed in 2008, the 1,200-mile pipeline would carry heavy crude oil from Alberta oil sands to Steele City, Nebraska, en route to Gulf Coast refineries. Because the pipeline would cross a national border, the State Department oversaw the permitting process. In 2015 President Barack Obama denied the permit, citing climate concerns. In 2017, in denial of climate change and other environmental concerns, President Donald Trump reversed the denial.  

The Indigenous Environmental Network then sued the Trump administration. And in 2018 U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris ruled that the 2014 environmental impact statement and Trump’s 2017 approval were in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Morris then sent the State Department back to the drawing board to supplement the EIS by taking a “hard look” at the effects of current oil prices, potential increases in greenhouse gas emissions, new data on oil spills, and potential effects on cultural resources. 

In defiance of the court, Trump issued yet another permit for the pipeline in March 2019, even as his administration was still working on a supplemental environmental review. TC Energy, née TransCanada, began construction on the pipeline in April 2020, despite protests against it and the increasingly shaky viability of oil sands given persistently low oil prices. In November of last year the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Fort Belknap Indian Community filed a federal lawsuit to stop the construction. 


Environmental activists applauded the news of the pending cancellation and vowed to push the Biden administration to do the same to the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

To commemorate the event and Biden’s inauguration, Land Desk brings you a by-the-numbers epitaph for Keystone XL. 

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830,000: Barrels of crude oil in the form of diluted bitumen that the Keystone XL would carry per day

178 million: Tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year from combustion of the amount of oil carried by the pipeline

8.8 million: Tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year by the Four Corners Power Plant in northwestern New Mexico

17: Percent by which the “well-to-wheels” greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sand-produced gasoline exceed that of the average transportation fuel sold in the United States 

Fewer than 1: Number of spills that the 2014 EIS predicted would occur on the pipeline each year

1,484: Number of spills recorded by federal regulators on crude oil pipelines in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2014

200,000: Barrels of oil spilled in the aforementioned incidents

14: Number of crude oil spills from the Keystone Pipeline (also operated by TC Energy) since 2014

11,991: Barrels of crude oil spilled in those incidents

2016: Year that a National Academies of Sciences report determined that diluted bitumen, the type of crude produced from oil sands, “… starts to turn into a heavy, viscous, sediment-laden residue that cannot easily be recovered using traditional response techniques.” In other words, it’s far more difficult to clean up than conventional crude, which is, itself, rather messy. 

13: Number of spills since 2017 that involved the Dakota Access Pipeline and associated infrastructure

151: Number of barrels of crude oil spilled in Dakota Access-related incidents since 2017

$10 million: Amount donated to Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign by Energy Transfer Equity CEO Kelcy Warren and others associated with the company. Energy Transfer is the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

$11.8 million: Amount spent on lobbying by TC Energy née TransCanada, the pipeline’s developer, from 2008 through 2020

$761,519: Amount TC Energy agreed to pay the State of Montana Greater Sage-Grouse Stewardship Fund in order to mitigate damages caused by pipeline construction

378: Miles of new powerlines that would be required to be built to run pumping stations and other facilities associated with the Keystone XL pipeline. Many of the lines would be built in the habitat of whooping cranes, which have a tendency to crash into power lines. 

300: Approximate number of endangered whooping cranes remaining in the wild.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, U.S. Department of State, Center for Responsive Politics, Center for Biological Diversity, National Academies of Sciences, Native American Rights Fund.

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