Does Obama's Keystone XL Decision Still Matter?

John Upton notes some startling changes among Gulf oil refineries - the ones that had been clamoring for the Keystone XL pipeline to be built in order to access Canada's oil sands. It's been two years - and the oil is flowing - with or without it.

Read Time: 2 minutes

September 7, 2013, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Oil is flowing in the United States, thanks to booming shale oil fracking in Texas and North Dakota, and to the railroads that can transport it to refineries in the absence of connecting pipelines.  What's more, existing pipelines are being enlarged to transport the Canadian crude, as we noted here on August 12: "Pipeline builder Enbridge, Inc., has been working on a project for a slightly smaller pipeline that would carry 660,000 barrels of crude from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf by 2015."

It turns out that President Obama's decision to delay a decision on TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline, designed to transport 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil a day, has, in effect, been a decision in itself. "Keystone XL has been back-burnered for so long that any relevant parties have been able to make plans as though the project never even existed in the first place," according to one analyst, writes Ben Lefebvre in The Wall Street Journal (subscription) on September 5.

Valero Energy Corp., which "had signed to receive oil from Keystone XL when the project was first announced" now "says it no longer considers the pipeline critical to its business" as it has expanded rail terminals at many of its refineries, including Benecia, Calif.

Even when pipelines are not delayed, refineries are opting for delivery by rail (known as crude-by-rail or CBR). After refineries last June rejected the 'Freedom Pipeline' to transport West Texas oil to California refineries (also based on a Wall Street Journal article written by Ben Lefebvre), opting for CBR, we asked, "Will the Alternatives Have Greater Environmental Impacts?". Similarly, Upton asks, "Is this is a good development for the environmental community, or a bad one?" in regards to the potential irrelevance of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Upton's writes that the answer is not clear. "Opposition to the pipeline has helped stall it to the point where the domestic oil industry is giving up hope on it ever being built, and that could reduce the amount of tar-sands oil that get mined from Alberta."  But, he notes with some dismay, that Alberta crude has still managed to find its way to the U.S., plus all the new fracking in the U.S. points to "scores of new battles to fight in the war against fossil-fuel domination and climate change."

Thursday, September 5, 2013 in Grist

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

Aerial view from directly overhead of buses parked in large asphalt lot

U.S. Transit Agencies Face a Financial Crisis

Transit providers around the country are scrambling to find new sources of revenue to replace lagging ridership and reorienting their systems to a future less dependent on daily commuters.

5 hours ago - Smart Cities Dive

Water SUpply

California Rejects Six-State Colorado River Plan, Proposes Its Own

State officials claim a proposal agreed upon by the other six states using Colorado River water disproportionately impacts California farmers.

6 hours ago - Los Angeles Times

Pedestrians in zebra crosswalk with green bike lane in downtown Seattle, Washington with three-story brick building in background

Washington Focuses Road Safety Efforts on Individuals, Neglecting Design

Legislative efforts to reduce traffic deaths could move the needle toward Vision Zero, but state leaders failed to commit infrastructure funds to making structural improvements.

7 hours ago - The Urbanist