President Donald Trump’s approval of the cross-border permit that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be laid across the 49th Parallel eliminates the hurdle that stopped it in 2015. But other obstacles have cropped up in the meantime, and opponents of the TransCanada project in both the U.S. and Canada are joining forces to fight the pipeline—led by Indigenous Peoples.
“Today, the fight to kill the Keystone XL Pipeline begins anew—and Donald Trump should expect far greater resistance than ever before,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Indigenous people are rising up and fighting like our lives, sovereignty, and climate depend on it—because they do. Over and over again, we’ve seen Trump choose the profits of his billionaire friends over our sovereign, treaty and human rights. It shows a clear disregard of our tribal rights to consent and self-determination, and it is unacceptable in this day and age.”
Trump had signed executive orders and memoranda days after taking office that were designed to move forward both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Soon afterward the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Energy Transfer Partners the last permit it needed to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. And on Friday March 24, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon signed a permit for TransCanada “to construct, connect, operate, and maintain pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Canadian border in Phillips County, Montana for the importation of crude oil,” according to a State Department press release. (Newly appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, had recused himself from the decision, according to McClatchy newswire.)
“Today we begin to make things right,” Trump said on Friday March 24, according to The New York Times.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said the approval would do anything but. Chairman David Archambault II decried the Keystone XL approval and vowed that the tribe would fight it as vociferously as it had stood ground against DAPL.
“Once again, the treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation are threatened by Keystone—a perilous pipeline,” Archambault said in a statement. “President Trump has described the proposed pipeline as ‘the greatest technology known to man or woman.’ If that is the case, then I would encourage him to do some research and look at the number of oil spills we’ve experienced throughout this country, the levels of water pollution, and the science behind climate change. This is not the way of the future.”
The $8 billion pipeline is slated to transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of viscous bitumen from the Alberta Oil Sands in Canada, to the U.S. and eventually to the Gulf Coast for likely export. Given the need to reduce fossil fuel extraction and consumption, Obama in 2015 declared it was not in the best interests of the United States.
The project has been hit with resistance in both the U.S. and Canada.
“Governments should be supporting action to fight climate change and support Indigenous rights, not trying to ram through projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart in a statement from the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, a consortium of 122 First Nations and tribes on both sides of the border. "Indigenous peoples across the continent will stand together to protect our rights and our traditional territories.”
The indigenous groups oppose expansion of the Alberta oil sands in general and has been working to block passage of various pipeline and rail projects to transport crude from that region.
Trump’s actions do not ensure that the pipeline will be built. It lacks permits in key areas, and some of its existing permits have expired elsewhere, meaning the company will have to reapply. And opponents such as Bold Nebraska, where the route remains unapproved, plan to step up their game.
“TransCanada still has no state permit or approved route in Nebraska,” Bold Nebraska said in a statement. “The Nebraska Public Service Commission just launched an 8-12 month review of their pipeline route permit application. The process includes public hearings and formal 'intervenor' proceedings that will take legal, Treaty and water experts.”
Also standing between TransCanada and approval “is the core group of brave farmers and ranchers, who for seven years have refused to give in to TransCanada’s threats of using eminent domain for their private gain,” Bold Nebraska said. “Landowners have fought the TransCanada’s attempts to seize their land against their will and continue to fight this abuse of eminent domain for private gain in the courts.”
With exemptions to Trump’s stated requirement that Keystone XL be made with U.S. instead of foreign steel, plus the minimal number of jobs that would be created, are not engendering much faith in the project’s necessity.
“The Trump Administration’s review of this toxic pipeline was tainted from the beginning, leaving no doubt that Trump would try to force this pipeline through regardless of the consequences it would have on the communities it touches, or on our climate,” Goldtooth said. “We’ve stopped the toxic Keystone XL Pipeline once, and we will do it again. Indigenous nations stand united not just here in the U.S. but around the world. This fight is not over, it is just beginning.”