In a victory for Native American communities, climate activists, environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, and all human beings who want a livable planet, the Keystone XL pipeline is officially dead. According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, the Canadian firm TC Energy Corp and the provincial government of Alberta have officially abandoned the plan for the pipeline that would have moved dirty crude from Canada’s tar sands across the Great Plains states en route to refineries and export terminals on the U.S. Gulf coast.
The Keystone XL fight was extraordinary. The stakes were high. The process for extracting tar sands crude is extraordinarily energy intensive, and it yields crude that is dirty, viscous, and very high in carbon. The pipeline would have carried more than 800,000 barrels a day of the stuff to market — and the pipeline would have sent a strong market signal that Big Oil’s business model was here to stay, climate impacts be damned.
The battle also marked the first time that activists targeted a piece of oil infrastructure as a way to communicate the need to disrupt business-as-usual in defense of the climate. The fight over Keystone XL became a proxy fight against climate change itself — and a warning to the fossil fuel industry that it would face ongoing resistance attempting to extract reserves that threaten the planet.
The Keystone XL fight united a diverse coalition of activists, including those fighting to alert the planet to the threat of climate change (Bill McKibben wrote about getting arrested at a Keystone XL protest for Rolling Stone in 2011) as well as Great Plains farmers, ranchers, and Native tribes who were concerned about how the potential leaks and spills from the pipeline could endanger region’s water supply.
There was a time when the pipeline’s construction appeared a foregone conclusion. Keystone XL was initially given a green light by the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s state department. Pressure from activists eventually convinced that Democratic administration to reverse course and abandon its backing of the project. By 2015, Obama would veto a Republican-passed bill to approve the pipeline.
The Trump administration, ever eager to promote oil interests, reversed course and attempted to put the pipeline back on track. But the approvals process was stymied in the courts long enough for the Biden administration to take power — and revoke a key permit for Keystone XL in the first days of his administration. Without that permit, the project was all-but dead. Today, what was once an activist dream is now a reality.
The greater impact of the Keystone XL fight has been the Keystone-ization of other infrastructure fights, including the battle over the Dakota Access pipeline and the current battle over Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. At every step where oil companies are putting private profits over the longterm health of the planet, activists are showing up, putting their bodies on the line, and insisting that untapped oil reserves need to stay in the ground.