Keystone Light: The Keystone XL Alternative You’ve Never Heard of Is Probably Going to Be Built

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&search_tracking_id=9jonVX_chXoMZ1Hmsjh5Gw&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=oil+pipeline&search_group=&orient=&search_cat=&searchtermx=&photographer_name=&people_gender=&people_age=&people_ethnicity=&people_number=&commercial_ok=&color=&show_color_wheel=1#id=119911651&src=4ocwvpg71y-K-2J6dgU_QA-1-75">Kunal Mehta</a>/Shutterstock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Last week, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, hit another snag: The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General said that it is investigating a possible conflict-of-interest issue in the project’s environmental impact study. The inspector general is probing whether the company that produced the environmental impact study, Environmental Resource Management (ERM), failed to disclose its past working relationship with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.* But while Keystone XL languishes, a rival pipeline plan is speeding through the approval process.

One of TransCanada’s rivals, Enbridge Inc., has quietly been moving ahead with a slightly smaller pipeline project that could be piping 660,000 barrels of crude per day to the gulf by 2015. (The Keystone line would carry 830,000 barrels per day.) For environmentalists hoping that blocking the Keystone pipeline would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster.

The 774-mile pipeline would run from Patoka, Illinois, to St. James, Louisiana, alleviating a pipeline bottleneck in the Midwest, where the shale oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation meets the flow from Alberta’s oil sands, overwhelming the capacity of the current pipelines. And although 200 miles of pipe destined for Keystone XL sits collecting dust in North Dakota with no shipping date in sight, the bulk of the Eastern Gulf project is already built—almost three quarters of it will be repurposed natural gas line. Without the public outcry that has bogged down Keystone, the project has flown along smoothly under the radar.

There’s reason to be concerned: Enbridge was behind the largest overland pipeline spill in US history. In 2010 an Enbridge pipeline loosed more than 1.1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and its surrounding wetlands. The spill is still being cleaned up, with the bill rising to over $1 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there may be as much as 100,000 gallons of oil still lingering on the bottom of the river.

The Eastern Gulf line is only one piece of a larger plan. As Inside Climate News reported earlier this summer, Enbridge is building a 5,000-mile network of pipelines that would far overshadow the potential impact of the Keystone line. And TransCanada has new plans in the works in case President Obama blocks the Keystone project. Earlier this month, the company announced its plan for a new venture that would link eastern and western Canada, providing an outlet for Alberta’s booming oil sands producers. And the Canadian ambassador to the United States has vowed to ship crude to US refineries on trains if the pipelines aren’t approved.

The recent news about the latest hitches for the Keystone XL pipeline may have cheered its opponents. But they’re going to have to start thinking a lot bigger if they want to block further tar sands oil development entirely.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the company Environmental Resource Management as “Energy Resource Management.” We regret the error.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate