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Keystone XL Pipeline Developer Cancels Project, Ending Decade-Long Battle

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Keystone XL oil pipeline will not be built. A final confirmation came yesterday from the company behind the controversial project, ending a decade-long battle. It is a big win for environmentalists and a defeat for the oil industry. NPR's Jeff Brady has covered the Keystone XL almost from the start. And he joins us now. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: Well, as we both know, this is something pipeline opponents have been fighting for years. I remember reporting on this issue years ago when I was based in the Midwest. How are these activists responding now?

BRADY: They are definitely celebrating. I talked with Jane Kleeb from the group Bold Nebraska, which started the campaign against the Keystone XL because landowners there didn't want the pipeline crossing their property. And also, there was a lot of concern that it would threaten the Ogallala Aquifer. Kleeb says she spent a lot of time in a minivan going to rodeos, bars and church basements, trying to convince people to join her in stopping the pipeline.

JANE KLEEB: You know, in the early days, we were organizing. And every single person, you know, other than my family and the pharmacy's lands was going to be taken, told us that we were never going to win, that there is no way that you can battle a big corporation and actually win.

BRADY: Now that they have won, Kleeb says she was experiencing all kinds of emotions. She's happy, of course. But also, she's relieved that it's over and the pipeline won't come through Nebraska.

MCCAMMON: And as you know, the oil industry pushed hard for this project. What are you hearing from the industry?

BRADY: Yeah. This is a big loss for the oil industry. If that pipeline had been built, it would transport oil from Alberta down to the Gulf Coast for decades. The industry and the company building the project, TC Energy, said it would have generated thousands of jobs, construction jobs, mostly, which means they'd go away once it was built. It would have created only about 50 permanent direct jobs. Still, those arguments convinced former President Trump to reverse Obama's decision to block the pipeline. Then when Biden became president, he reversed the reversal and blocked it again. Without any options, now the company is pulling the plug. And the American Petroleum Institute said this was a blow to U.S. energy security. The industry often argued that it's better to get oil from friendly Canadians than from hostile governments overseas. But that argument, it lost some steam as domestic oil production increased because of fracking. Now the U.S. actually exports oil.

MCCAMMON: And an important distinction here was the kind of oil the Keystone XL would have moved. I mean, it's different from what people might think of, right?

BRADY: Yeah. It's not the kind that gushes up from the ground. This has to be mined. And I visited one of those mines in Alberta. It's just overwhelming. There are these huge pits. They look like the Grand Canyon. There's a heavy tar smell in the air. Some people call this tar sands oil. It has the consistency of Play-Doh. So it needs extra processing to turn it into crude oil. Usually, that's heat, which means producing this oil emits more greenhouse gases. That's why environmental groups focused their efforts on stopping this pipeline. They want that oil sands or tar sands crude left in the ground. And scientists say doing that will be necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

MCCAMMON: We've seen similar protests over other pipelines in many parts of the country. I think of the Dakota Access Project a few years ago. What is the end of the Keystone XL mean for future pipeline battles?

BRADY: Well, pipeline opponents, they're invigorated and emboldened by the Keystone XL win. While the Dakota Access is moving oil out of North Dakota now. Its future is uncertain because of court challenges that still haven't been resolved. And now in Minnesota, there are protests around Enbridge's Line 3 project that's under construction. A lot of those protesters are calling on President Biden to stop Line 3 pipeline, just like he stopped the Keystone XL.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks so much for your reporting.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.