What was the Keystone XL pipeline and why was it cancelled?

CBC Kids News • Published 2021-06-16 06:00

Pros and cons of pulling the plug

A 13-year-long oil pipeline project has officially come to an end, and emotions are running high for both supporters and opponents of the project.

On June 9, TC Energy, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline project, said it was pulling the plug following a move by U.S. President Joe Biden in January to suspend an essential permit that would have allowed the company to build the pipeline across the U.S. border.

The pipeline’s history has been hot and cold, with former U.S. president Barack Obama rejecting plans for the project several times, former U.S. president Donald Trump reinstating the project in 2017 and Biden again turning off the tap earlier this year.

But why exactly was the pipeline cancelled? And how will the decision affect Canadians? Let’s take a deeper look.

The cancellation

Biden suspended the permit for the project due to concerns that it could have harmful effects on the environment.

Back in May 2020, he campaigned on the promise that he would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project as part of his initiative to tackle the causes of climate change.

“I've been against Keystone from the beginning. It is tarsands that we don't need, that in fact is a very, very high pollutant,” he said at the time.

Of course lots of people, including many Canadians, were disappointed by Biden’s decision to cancel the project.

Keep scrolling for a look at some of the pros and cons.

CON: Albertans and other Canadians will lose jobs

The Keystone XL project was supposed to result in tens of thousands of jobs for workers to build the pipeline throughout Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan.

Along with builders, the Keystone XL project would have employed Canadians at manufacturing companies to create materials like steel needed for the project. (Image credit: Todd Koro/Reuters)

The cancellation also affects the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies, as the pipeline was supposed to result in higher tax revenues for communities along the pipeline route.

PRO: Good news for environmentalists

Opponents of the pipeline include those who say that pipelines contribute to climate change.

This is partly because pipelines transport fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere when burned.

Keystone XL has been a target of environmentalists for years. In 2014, students protesting against the pipeline marched to the Washington residence of John Kerry, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time. (Image credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

They also say that pipelines can harm the environment if they leak.

Last June, for example, an oil spill at the Trans Mountain Sumas pump station in Abbotsford, B.C., saw 190,000 litres of crude oil — roughly 1,200 barrels — leak after a pipe fitting came loose.

The cancellation removes the possibility of the Keystone XL project having an environmental impact.

CON: Alberta may be out more than $1 billion

Last year, Alberta invested $1.5 billion, plus loan guarantees, in Keystone XL to help kick-start the project.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney marked the start of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the province, in the town of Oyen, last summer. (Image credit: Flickr/Alberta Government)

The province spent that money on pipe and other materials.

While construction had already started on part of the pipeline, many of the materials had not yet been used.

Alberta’s government said it is hoping to sell some of the leftover parts to companies involved with other projects — either in Canada or abroad — to make back some of its investment.

The Alberta government also said it is examining its legal options to make back some of the money it’s invested, which — if history is any indication — may involve filing a lawsuit with the U.S. government.

CON: Some Indigenous communities are negatively affected

The cancellation means that jobs that would have been created for some Indigenous communities are no longer on the table.

Dale Swampy hoped that the Keystone XL project would bring valuable jobs to Indigenous communities in Alberta. (Image credit: Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, said earlier this year that the cancellation was a major setback for Canadian Indigenous people.

Swampy said the decision was “quite a blow to the First Nations that are involved right now.”

He said many people had hoped the project would help reduce poverty on reserves.

PRO: Some Indigenous groups are happy

Although the project was set to create jobs for some Indigenous communities, some members of those communities actively protested against the project.

Bill Erasmus says he doesn’t think the short-term jobs that would have been created by the Keystone XL pipeline would have been worth the harm to the environment. (Image credit: John Last/CBC)

Bill Erasmus, who was the Dene national chief for almost 30 years, lobbied against the pipeline and said projects like it were contaminating lands all the way up to Canada’s North.

"Our people have been concerned about pipelines being built south of us for a long time. It's scientifically known that our waters are being contaminated from the tailings ponds,” he said.

He and many other Indigenous activists are relieved following the news of the cancellation.

With files from Alexander Panetta/CBC, The Canadian Press, and Tony Seskus/CBC
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: (Alexander Panetta/The Canadian Press)


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