Federal Court Halts Keystone XL Pipeline for Climate Impact Review
On Thursday, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for Montana ordered TransCanada to halt work on the Keystone XL pipeline pending a new review of the project's climate impact.
Once built, the Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the American pipeline system, which will transfer it south to refineries and seaports on the U.S. Gulf Coast. For Canadian oil producers, it is a priority project, as it will open new overseas markets and end America's near-exclusive, preferential access to Canadian oil exports.
The Obama administration denied a key federal permit for Keystone XL in 2015, citing the greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impact that would result from its operation. Tar sands oil has historically been estimated to produce about 17 percent more GHG emissions than conventional crude oils on a lifecycle, well-to-wheel basis. The Trump administration reversed this decision and approved permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline in 2017. At the time, the State Department also noted that the heavy oil that will be transported by Keystone XL produces greenhouse gas emissions "five to 20 percent higher" than estimated previously.
Judge Morris' decision compels the administration to revisit the Keystone XL permit because it allegedly "ignored" the Obama administration's reasoning for rejecting the pipeline's application, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. "The [State] Department did not merely make a policy shift in its stance on the United States’ role on climate change," Morris wrote. “The Department instead simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal."
Morris also called for the government to update its review to include consideration of the pipeline spills that have occurred since the last environmental impact statement for Keystone XL in 2014. Large spills over the intervening years include the 360,000 gallon spill near Sweetwater, Texas; the 530,000 gallon spill in Ash Coulee Creek, North Dakota; the 420,000 gallon spill in Logan County, Colorado; and the 400,000 gallon Keystone (not Keystone XL) pipeline spill near Amherst, South Dakota.