Fight over Canadian oil rages on after pipeline's demise

Biden Keystone XL Pipeline

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Keystone XL is dead after a 12-year attempt to build the oil pipeline, yet the fight over Canadian crude rages on as emboldened environmentalists target other projects and pressure President Joe Biden to intervene — all while oil imports from the north keep rising.

Biden dealt the fatal blow to the partially built $9 billion Keystone XL in January when he revoked its border-crossing permit issued by former President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, sponsors TC Energy and the province of Alberta gave up and declared the line “terminated."

Activists and many scientists had warned that the pipeline would open a new spigot on Canada's oil sands crude — and that burning the heavily polluting fuel would lock in climate change. As the fight escalated into a national debate over fossil fuels, Canadian crude exports to the U.S. steadily increased, driven largely by production from Alberta's oil sands region.

Even before the cancellation, environmentalists had turned their attention to other projects, including Enbridge Energy's proposal to expand and rebuild its Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, the target of protests this week that led to the arrest of some 250 activists.

“Don’t expect these fights to go away anytime soon,” said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future, an energy and environmental think tank in Washington. “This is going to encourage environmental advocates to do more of the same.”

Bill McKibben, an author who was arrested outside the White House while protesting the Keystone XL in 2011, said its defeat provides a template to kill other pipelines, including Line 3 and the Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota's Bakken oil field.

Describing Keystone XL as “a carbon bomb,” McKibben said Line 3 is the same size and "carries the same stuff. How on earth could anyone with a straight face say Line 3 passes the climate test?”

Enbridge said the cancellation of Keystone XL will not affect its projects, describing them as “designed to meet current energy demand safely and in ways that better protect the environment.”

A second TC Energy pipeline network, known simply as Keystone, has been delivering crude from Canada’s oil sands region since 2010. The company says the line that runs from Alberta to Illinois, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast has moved more than 3 billion barrels of oil.

Canada is by far the biggest foreign crude supplier to the U.S., which imported about 3.5 million barrels a day from its neighbor in 2020 — 61% of all U.S. oil imports.

The flow dropped slightly during the coronavirus pandemic but has largely rebounded. Import volumes have almost doubled since the Keystone XL was first proposed in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said Thursday that it expects no immediate effect on production from Keystone XL's cancellation, but the group predicted more oil would be moved to the U.S. by rail.