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Keystone XL may be dead, but the fight over Canadian oil is alive and well

After twelve years the Keystonr XL pipeline is now over – but for oil sands producers and environmental activists – the battle is not over.

Keystone XL may be dead, but the fight over Canadian oil is alive and well
Oil sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Image - eryn.rickard CC SA 2.0
Oil sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Image - eryn.rickard CC SA 2.0

After twelve years, any attempt to construct the Keystonr XL pipeline is now over – but for oil sands producers, investors, and environmental activists – the battle is not over.

And while Canada’s oil and gas sector is optimistic about its near-term future as economies recover and oil prices rally, the industry is still facing growing challenges, particularly in the long term, according to OilPrice.

There are still other pipelines to stop, including Enbridge Energy’s planned expansion of its Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, and the Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken oil field.

And all the while the protests and blockades are going on, the flow of oil from our northern neighbor continues, unabated. The thing is – activists and scientists argued that if it were completed, the Keystone XL pipeline would open a new spigot on Canada’s oil sands crude, according to ABC News, and that burning the heavily polluting fuel would lock in climate change.

But through all the protests, court-ordered injunctions, an on again-off again construction, Canadian crude exports to the U.S. steadily increased, driven largely by production from Alberta’s oil sands region.

Company pulls the plug on Keystone XL Pipeline
Bill McKibben speaks at a Stop the Keystone XL pipeline rally, outside the State Department hearing at the Ronald Reagan building, on 7 October 2011. Image, courtesy of Bill McKibben and chesapeakeclimate. CC SA 2.0

“Don’t expect these fights to go away anytime soon,” said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future, an energy and environmental think tank in Washington. “This is going to encourage environmental advocates to do more of the same.”

Enbridge is saying that the cancellation of Keystone XL will have no effect on its projects, including Line 3, describing them as “designed to meet current energy demand safely and in ways that better protect the environment.”

Some people may not know this, but TC Energy has another pipeline, simply called Keystone, and it has been moving crude from Canada’s oil sands region since 2010.

The company says the line that runs from Alberta to Illinois, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast has moved more than 3 billion barrels of oil.

People protesting the Line 3 pipeline with a sign reading “Don’t fund the fires of climate chaos” at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle in February 2021. Image – Stop the Money Pipeline, CC SA 4.0

Canadian oil and gas production

Canada doesn’t use much of the oil it produces, making it a huge exporter, and 98 percent of those exports go to the U.S., according to Natural Resources Canada.

Canada is by far the biggest foreign crude supplier to the U.S., which imported about 3.5 million barrels a day from its neighbor in 2020 – accounting for 61 percent of all U.S. crude imports.

And, yes, the flow did decrease somewhat during the heighth of the pandemic, but it has quickly rebounded. On Thursday, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said they expected no immediate problem with oil exports because of the shutdown of the Keystone XL, predicting oil would be moved to the U.S. by rail, if necessary.

Crude production in Alberta, the top oil province, averaged 3.62 million barrels per day (bpd) in March. This is up by 1.2 percent from March 2020 and 4.4 percent from March 2019—the best March on record, ATB Economics said last month. 

There is still that dirty bottom line to consider, though – Canada’s oil sands have the heaviest CO2 footprint of oil operations worldwide, according to a Rystad Energy analysis earlier this year. 

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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