On Wednesday, the Trump administration approved a right-of-way permitting the $8 billion Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built across 46 miles of land controlled by the federal government, taking a giant step toward completing the full construction of the pipeline.
As the Associated Press noted, the 1,200 mile pipeline had already garnered the requisite permits from states and localities to be built, but until Wednesday the section in Montana controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been off-limits.
Casey Hammond, assistant secretary of the Interior Department, confirmed that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had signed off on the agreement.
The Keystone pipeline had already been built in June 2010 traveling over 2,100 miles from Hardisty, Alberta in Canada through Steele City, Nebraska to Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois and Patoka Oil Terminal just north of Patoka, Illinois. In 2011, the Keystone-Cushing extension (Phase II) was completed, running almost 300 miles Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma. In January 2014, Phase III was completed, running roughly 500 miles from Cushing to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. In 2016, a lateral pipeline was added traveling to Houston, Texas.
The Keystone XL pipeline connects Hardisty to Steel City using the shorter route running through Montana and uses a larger diameter pipe, running through Baker, Montana.
The Senate passed a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in January 2015; the House followed suit in February 2015. President Obama vetoed the bill on February 24, 2015, stating that it “attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”
The Senate was unable to gain the requisite number of votes to override the veto by a two-thirds majority, with a 62–37 vote. In January 2017, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum to revive the Keystone XL pipeline; in March 2017 he signed a presidential permit to allowing it to be built.
But in November 2018, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris vacated the presidential permit. In March 2019 Trump revoked the prior permit and issued a new permit for the pipeline, writing, “I hereby grant permission, subject to the conditions herein set forth, to TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. … to construct, connect, operate, and maintain pipeline facilities at the international border of the United States and Canada at Phillips County, Montana, for the import of oil from Canada to the United States.”
Project sponsor TC Energy has stated it would like to begin construction on the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana in April. Environmentalists and Native Americans have protested the Keystone XL pipeline with a number of lawsuits; Steve Volker, representing the Indigenous Environmental Network, stated, “We have every confidence that the federal courts will set aside these approvals.”
Phillips County, Montana, county commissioner John Carnahan, aware that the pipeline will bring the county tax revenue of $1 million annually, stated, “It’s a no-brainer for us as far as how the community feels. We’d go out there and help them if we could. It’s not only good for the county, it’s good for America.”