On his first day in the Oval Office, US President Joe Biden has cancelled the permits required by Keystone XL, seemingly putting the final nail in the coffin of the controversial pipeline.
The oil industry and those involved in Keystone XL had long feared that a victory for President Biden in November’s elections would bring an end to the pipeline. Those worries have now come to fruition with the new White House incumbent killing the project within 24 hours of taking up the presidency.
Keystone XL has been something of a political football ever since it was first conceived. President Obama was against the project and refused to grant it the required permission. President Trump then revived the pipeline by signing it off, only for President Biden to now reverse that decision.
The XL branch of the pipeline was proposed to run oil in a more direct route 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to a junction with the existing Keystone pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska.
It would allow the United States to import increased amounts of oil from Canada, reducing America’s reliance on imports from the Middle East. For Canada, Keystone XL enabled supplies from Alberta to more easily traverse North America and reach refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, where most exports leave the continent bound for international markets.
President Biden’s decision to have Keystone XL cancelled has been met with disappointment in Ottawa. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We are disappointed but acknowledge the president’s decision to cancel the permit.”
The reactions of the TC Energy Corporation and the province of Alberta will have been less sanguine; they both invested $1.5 billion into Keystone XL before it was cancelled. The Canadian section of the pipeline was expected to be online and shipping crude by 2023.
Keystone XL was so controversial for two reasons. The first was because it would feature a larger diameter of pipe. The second was that it would pass through Nebraska’s sensitive Sandhills region, a route which left environmentalists up in arms and ultimately led President Obama to reject the initial application for Keystone XL in 2012.
In response, TC Energy changed the planned route of Keystone XL, but that still could not convince President Obama to approve the project. A two year battle ensured between various levels of state and national administrations and departments of government.
It looked as though Keystone XL was finished in 2015 when President Obama rejected the permit required to allow the pipeline to cross the border from Canada to the US.
Speaking at the time, President Obama said, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”
President Trump though had other ideas. He approved the project in 2017, since when construction on Keystone XL has been stop-start thanks to a series of legal challenges which have been upheld and then dismissed with such frequency it has been hard to keep up.
These delays may not have managed to cancel Keystone XL, but they did enough to hold up the project until the election of a President who would withdraw all support for the pipeline.
President Biden’s opposition to the project has long been known. In May 2020, his campaign released a statement saying that he would rescind Keystone XL’s presidential permit “and stop it for good.” There was further clarification of this position in August.
Keystone XL was just one of several oil-related issues that the new President had set his sights on. With the pipeline now killed, his attention will switch to other environmental issues that were floated on the campaign trail such as preventing drilling for oil on federal land. He is also known to be wary about the use of fracking in the US.
President Biden’s hopes for a North America less reliant on fossil fuels may be admirable, but they look set to clash with reality over the coming years. The amount of oil produced in Alberta is set to double from current levels by 2030 and the US has now cut off a way of straightforward importation across the border.
Keystone XL would have brought 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Nebraska, allowing America to trade with a strong ally as opposed to dealing with despotic regimes around the globe.
The fate of Keystone XL may have been sealed, but the future of energy security in the US is once again up in the air.