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The Keystone XL pipeline could be an environmental disaster.

Thanks to legal work by the Center and allies, as well as actions by thousands of supporters, it might not come to pass — but it's going to take more work to make sure.

We’re fighting to make sure this planned 1,700-mile pipeline will not transport up to 35 million gallons of oil every day from Canada’s tar sands — one of the dirtiest energy sources in the world. And that it won’t increase U.S. dependence on fossil fuels or directly threaten at least 20 imperiled species (from the whooping crane to the pallid sturgeon), pristine wildlife habitat and a massive Midwest water source.

When President Obama announced he would reject the pipeline in January 2012, we cheered a victory for our air, land, water, and endangered animals and plants — but we knew the war over Keystone wasn’t over.

Sure enough, on Feb. 7, 2012, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would force the issuance of a permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline within 30 days, reversing the president’s rejection. Neither the pipeline nor its proponents, TransCanada, has disappeared. Congressional Republicans, backed by the oil industry, are claiming that Obama’s rejection of Keystone XL would cost tens of thousands of jobs. In reality, though, according to the State Department, Keystone XL would result in just an estimated 20 permanent, operational jobs in the United States and 2,500 to 4,650 temporary jobs. 

Not only are Republicans in Congress trying to ram through this legislation to move Keystone XL forward — they’re trying to attach it to other bills too. In March 2012, the Obama administration announced support for TransCanada’s plans to build a portion of the pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast in Texas — not heeding the fact that there had been no analysis of how that portion of the pipeline would affect wetlands or imperiled species in the region, including the whooping crane, interior least tern, Arkansas shiner and piping plover.


The Center has been leading the legal opposition to Keystone XL.

In early October 2011, we and our allies filed a lawsuit in Nebraska because — even though the pipeline had yet to be approved — work crews were already mowing 100 miles of native prairie grasses in Nebraska and capturing and moving endangered species to make way for the pipeline, a clear violation of federal rules to protect the environment. We expanded the suit in late October to challenge bogus claims that spills from the pipeline would be unlikely.

In fact, an existing pipeline called Keystone 1 has already leaked 14 times since it started operating in June 2010, including one spill that dumped 21,000 gallons of tar-sands crude. Other pipelines have also had massive spills in recent years, including one in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that leaked 800,000 gallons and another in the Yellowstone River earlier this year that dumped 40,000 gallons.

More than 1,000 peaceful protesters opposing Keystone XL were arrested in the summer of 2011. On Nov. 6 of that year, thousands of Center for Biological Diversity supporters were among 12,000 people who encircled the White House, urging President Obama to reject this dangerous project. And we made a difference — immediately after the rally, the State Department announced it would delay its decision on the pipeline to consider a less ecologically sensitive alternative route. 


Along its route from Alberta to south Texas, Keystone XL would have directly threatened scores of imperiled plants and animals, including the whooping crane, piping ploverwoodland caribou, interior least tern, black-footed ferret, pallid sturgeon, Arkansas River shinerAmerican burying beetle and western prairie fringed orchid.

The pipeline would have crossed more than 340 perennial water bodies and risk contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer — the main source of drinking water for millions of Americans. The pipeline also threatened Nebraska’s Sand Hills, the largest intact natural habitat left in the Great Plains ecosystem.

Producing oil from sand has terrible impacts on the environment, resulting in destruction of tens of thousands of acres of boreal forest in Alberta, pollution of hundreds of millions of gallons of water from the Athabasca River with each barrel of oil requiring three barrels of water, and providing a previously untapped and a massive source of fossil fuels that Dr. James Hansen has dubbed “game over” for averting the climate crisis.   

Indeed, greenhouse gas emissions from tar-sands development are two to three times higher than those from conventional oil and gas operations. That’s exactly the wrong direction for reversing global warming. Scientists tell us we must reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to 350 parts per million or less. Today it’s at 387 ppm. Keystone XL would certainly drive those levels up and worsen the staggering effects of global warming that we’re already seeing today around the world.

Photo of pipes for current Keystone 1 pipeline courtesy Wikimedia Commons/shannonpatrick17