Judge Blocks Keystone XL Pipeline Construction Over Environmental Concerns

in a 'Landmark' Ruling

By Eli Meixler - TIME - 09. November 2018
Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally protesting President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing the projects next to the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 24, 2017. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

A federal judge in Montana issued a “landmark” ruling temporarily blocking construction on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline Thursday in a decision welcomed by environmental groups. The order came as a Canadian energy company prepared to assemble initial stages of the 1,200-mile long, cross-border project.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said the Trump administration’s projections for the pipeline’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, potential for oil spills and impact on the local Native American community fell short, the Montana-based Great Falls Tribune reports.

“The [State] Department must supplement new and relevant information regarding the risk of spills,” Morris wrote.

The $8 billion pipeline would convey up to 830,000 barrels crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana to facilities in Nebraska and Oklahoma. The State Department initially denied the pipeline a permit in 2015, under the Obama administration. A presidential permit is required for infrastructure projects that cross international borders.

Thursday’s ruling deals a major blow to President Donald Trump and the oil industry. Trump signed memoranda approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines early in his presidency in January 2017, promising the projects would provide jobs and stimulate the economy. Both pipelines have drawn significant public backlash, with activists arguing that the oil spills could pollute downstream water sources.

But the Trump administration dismissed environmental objections as roadblocks and claimed that there were “numerous developments related to global action to address climate change” in the years since Obama-era rejection of the project. Yet Trump himself has pledged to withdraw from one the most sweeping of those efforts, the Paris climate agreement, which seeks to prevent global temperatures from increasing 2°C.

“An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past,” Morris wrote Thursday. He also demanded that the State Department provide a “reasoned explanation” for the turnaround.

Morris’ ruling came as Canadian energy company TransCanada began delivering pipes to Montana in anticipation of construction in 2019. A coalition of environmental and indigenous rights groups filed a lawsuit against the firm and the State Department in March to block Trump’s permit, according to the Tribune.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the complainants’, called Morris’ ruling “a landmark.”

“We have never had a ruling against a president overturning a substantive finding a project is in the public interest,” Volker told the Tribune.

(*) Author Eli Meixler can be contacted via


In this Oct. 5, 2016, file photo, heavy equipment is seen at a site where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline were being buried near the town of St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D. The Standing Rock Sioux are challenging new government conclusions that the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline poses no significant environmental threats to Native Americans in the Dakotas. The Army Corps of Engineers in August finished more than a year of additional study ordered by a federal judge. The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File Tom Stromme

It has been three years since the Obama administration stopped the Keystone XL pipeline from moving forward. Under President Obama, the State Department, which has jurisdiction because the pipeline crosses the U.S./Canada border, concluded that the pipeline was just too dangerous — to the environment and wildlife, to the global climate and drinking water, and to local communities and indigenous peoples.

President Trump, backed by the tar sands oil industry, then revived the project by executive order just days after taking office, and he has been doing everything in his power ever since to ensure this destructive pipeline gets built.

But this court order, the result of a lawsuit by our allies, sent a message loud and clear: the pipeline is a disaster for our climate, communities, and wildlife, and should be shelved forever.

The Standing Rock Sioux had challenged new government conclusions that the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline would pose no significant environmental threats to Native Americans in the Dakotas.

The Army Corps of Engineers in August finished more than a year of additional study ordered by a federal judge. The agency said the work substantiated its earlier determination that the chances of an oil spill are low, any impacts to the indigenous people's hunting and fishing will be limited and that the project does not pose a higher risk of adverse impacts to minority and low-income people.

The Standing Rock Sioux, who are leading a lawsuit brought forth by four First Nations and allies against the four-state pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, in court documents filed Thursday asked a federal judge to reject the findings.

"The corps has conducted a sham process to arrive at a sham conclusion, for the second time," Sioux Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement.

DAPL dangers include a gigantic oil-spill possibility

The pipeline has the capacity to move half of the oil produced daily in North Dakota, the nation's second-leading producer behind Texas. It passes just north of the Standing Rock Reservation, beneath a Missouri River reservoir that is the peoples' water source.

The pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois since June 2017. That same month, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled that the Corps largely complied with environmental law when permitting the pipeline but needed to do more study of its impact to tribal rights. The Corps filed its work with the court in late August.

Standing Rock's challenge says the Corps "failed to grapple with extensive technical input provided by the tribe and others undermining its conclusions." The major example the tribe offered is information it says shows the Corps has underestimated the risk and impact of an oil spill.

The indigenous nation continues to maintain that the only lawful way to resolve the matter would be through a full environmental study that includes consideration of route alternatives.

The Corps had planned to do a more extensive environmental study before President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, who simply then pushed the completion of the stalled project through with an executive order. Financial interests linked to the business empire President Trump had built before he took office are said to have been a major factor.

The agency said in court documents in August that the additional study concluded a more thorough review is unwarranted. The Sioux and their four co-plaintiffs asked Boasberg to reject that conclusion.

The federal judge now blocked the constructionworks on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and ordered the government to revise its environmental review of the reckless project.

The judge ruled that the Trump administration violated bedrock environmental laws when approving the proposed pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of dirty, climate-busting tar sands oil each day from Canada's boreal forest through America's heartland.

Among other things, the judge found that the administration’s environmental impact statement glaringly ignored the pipeline’s obvious impact on climate change, and the high risk of dangerous, hard to clean oil spills.

This news came just hours after 150,000 individuals from across the USA submitted public comments to the State Department opposing its faulty, hastily-produced draft environmental impact statement for Keystone XL.

Read more:

The Keystone XL Pipeline, Oil, and the Future of the Environment

Oil in the Sand – Photo Essays


President Trump had advanced Keystone pipeline, DAPL with an executive order