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In Harm’s Way: How Keystone ThreatenED Endangered Animals, Plants

No matter how you look at it, Keystone XL would've been bad for wildlife, especially for endangered species.

Many imperiled species live along the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline's path and in areas where tar sands oil is produced. If the pipeline had been built, most would've had nowhere else to go.

The Center for Biological Diversity released a report called In Harm’s Way: How the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Have Ignored the Dangers of the Keystone XL Pipeline to Endangered Species.

Our analysis found that at least 12 threatened and endangered species in four states would've been put in harm’s way by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, including whooping cranes, interior least terns, American burying beetles, northern swift foxes, greater sage grouse, piping plovers, pallid sturgeons and black-footed ferrets.

Threats from this project include habitat destruction from the massive ground disturbance this pipeline would've caused, bird deaths from power line collisions, and the potentially catastrophic impacts of pipeline spills.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are required to analyze the potential impacts of projects like the Keystone XL pipeline on threatened and endangered species.

In analyzing the proposed pipeline’s impacts, the State Department and Fish and Wildlife Service summarily dismissed or ignored some of the most significant harms that these species would face if this pipeline is approved and built, failing to fulfill their duties under the Act and to the American public, which overwhelmingly supports the protection of wildlife.

We found that both agencies excluded consideration of the impact of pipeline spills on endangered species, despite otherwise acknowledging that spills are all but certain to occur. They also failed to consider the impacts of related infrastructure like power lines and roads, improperly downplayed the impacts of ground disturbance, and ignored the impacts of increased tar sands production on endangered species in Canada.

Luckily, in November 2015, President Barack Obama finally rejected the proposed KXL pipeline.

Among the wildlife impacts of Keystone XL owuld have been:

Whooping cranes: Toxic tailing ponds in Canada, power line collisions, oil spills.
Black-footed ferret : Habitat impacts in recovery habitat.
Interior least tern: Disturbance of breeding habitat, power line collisions, oil spills.
Piping plover: Power line collisions, increased exposure to predators, oil spills.
Greater sage grouse: Oil spills near strutting grounds, construction noise.
American burying beetle: Loss of vital grass habitat, smashing during construction, oil spills.

Details on Impacts

Pipeline Spills

  • The agencies in charge of evaluating spill risks minimized the risk and consequences of KXL spilling.
  • KXL would've spilled an average of 1.9 times annually, releasing an average of 34,000 gallons of dirty tar sands oil each year. Past tar sands oil spills have devastated local wildlife, but the State Department completely fails to consider the cumulative effects of spills on terrestrial wildlife and migratory birds in important bird areas.
  • Even though the agencies admitted that the toxic effects of tar sands spills can reduce entire populations or biological communities of sensitive species, they came to the unsupported conclusion that endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon and American burying beetle would not be adversely affected by pipeline spills.

Power Lines

  • KXL would've required the construction of 378 miles of new power lines, creating significant collision threats for imperiled birds and bats.
  • Only about 300 endangered whooping cranes remain in the wild. Nearly all of the pipeline’s proposed route through Nebraska was within the migratory corridor used by 90 percent of these whooping cranes, and cranes are particularly susceptible to collisions because they are so lanky. The agencies wrongly concluded that by utilizing bird flight diverters — devices scientists deem only marginally effective — power line collisions would not adversely affect whooping cranes or other avian species.

Ground Disturbance

  • Construction on just the northern U.S. segment of the KXL pipeline would've directly disturbed about 15,500 acres and would've required the construction of hundreds of new roads.
  • While the State Department admitted that building KXL could've resulted in the crushing of endangered northern swift foxes with young in dens, the State Department and Fish and Wildlife ignored their legal duty to consider impacts to these tiny imperiled foxes under the Endangered Species Act.

International Wildlife Impacts

  • By creating new infrastructure to move dirty tar sands oil, building KXL would've allowed for more tar sands extraction in Canada’s rich boreal forest. Threatened woodland caribou are experiencing a rapidly declining due to loss of habitat in the tar sands region, with one once-vast herd tragically expected to soon fall below 10 individuals.
  • Increasing tar sands extraction would've had devastating climate impacts. Species such as Arctic polar bears and emperor penguins are already in rapid decline due to climate change, and building KXL would've exacerbated this problem. The agencies refused to consider KXL’s international repercussions.


Whooping crane photo courtesy Flickr/DaseInDesign