Ever since 2008, when a gas and oil corporation called TransCanada first proposed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a battle has been waging among environmentalists, indigenous peoples, government officials and fossil fuel proponents. To this day, the saga continues. On Nov. 8, Federal Judge Brian Morris blocked President Donald Trump’s decision to allow the construction of the project’s final phase. This move is a powerful victory for those like myself in opposition to the pipeline. However, I must point out that the larger battle is not yet won.
The Keystone pipeline is a system of pipelines that ships oil from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. states of Illinois and Oklahoma. The final phase, known as Keystone XL, was proposed as both a more efficient shortcut as well as an extension of the pre-existing pipeline into Texas. The portion connecting to Texas has already been constructed, but the 1,179-mile shortcut through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska is currently being debated.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL on the grounds that building it would contradict America’s leadership in the battle against climate change. The extended pipeline would carry tar sands, which are 17 percent more polluting than conventional oil. Because they are thicker, tar sands are also three times more likely to leak per mile of pipeline, and spills are more difficult to detect and clean up. The pipeline is planned to cross over 1,000 bodies of water including Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which is the source of 30 percent of America’s irrigation water and provides drinking water for millions of people. Given the fact that the original Keystone pipeline has already leaked 12 times, building Keystone XL would be a near guarantee of additional environmental degradation.
Indigenous peoples also oppose Keystone XL because it poses a threat to culturally and historically significant land. In 1851, the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed to give millions of acres of the Great Plains over to Lakota leaders. Though this land still rightfully belongs to them, Keystone XL is planned to cut straight through it in a sly act that mimics the injustices our nation has inflicted upon indigenous peoples since the first settlers arrived on the continent.
Unlike Obama, Trump is clearly not concerned with the many logistic and moral reasons against building Keystone XL. He confirmed his plans to resuscitate the project just two days into his term, and his support hasn’t waned. He’s championed the pipeline’s ability to create jobs and decrease our dependence on foreign fuels, yet in actuality, it will only create 35 permanent jobs, and the majority of the fuel will be exported. Morris’ recent decision to block Trump’s efforts is a major blow to the Keystone XL pipeline, and for that we ought to celebrate. But, as Mark Squillace, expert on environmental law at the University of Colorado, says, “It’s feasible, if [the Trump administration and TransCanada] do the work, and show their work, and they explain, with serious, fact-based analysis… that the courts would uphold it.”
Keystone XL represents more than a physical pipeline; it is a symbol of the dangerous status quo of environmental degradation, pollution and injustice that is perpetuated by large fossil fuel corporations and the Trump administration. Especially now, divesting from fossil fuels is imperative in order to curb the worst effects of climate change. Through protests and rallies, we successfully opposed Keystone XL during Obama’s presidency, and we must continue to oppose it until the project is completely shut down. We must continue to oppose a system that threatens our lives and our futures, a system represented by Keystone XL.
Georgia Kerkezis is a junior majoring in environmental studies.