Federal judge halts construction of Keystone XL pipeline

November 9, 2018, 1:39 p.m.
A creek curls through the rolling hills of South Dakota in 2014 near the land where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would pass.
Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A federal judge has halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the government hadn't done its due diligence in assessing the environmental impact of building it.

The 54-page order by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturns the Trump administration's approval of the pipeline and issues an injunction preventing construction of the project, according to USA Today. Work on a section of the 1,800-mile TransCanada Keystone pipeline system was on track to begin in Montana, with pipes and materials already shipped to sites along the pipeline's path. The ruling affects the U.S. portion of the pipeline, which would run for about 875 miles through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The remaining 1,200 miles of this section is in Canada. (The photo above was taken in South Dakota in 2014, near land where the proposed extension would run.)

The ruling was met with celebration by environmental groups that had sued TransCanada and the U.S. Department of State shortly after President Trump signed an executive order to speed up the process and to issue a permit for construction in March 2017. Morris's ruling was the response to that lawsuit.

Later that year in November 2017, TransCanada won approval or the pipeline to run through Nebraska. At the time, the Nebraska Public Service Commission also voted to allow the project to move forward. Ironically, that vote came just four days after part of the Keystone oil pipeline in South Dakota was shut down after a 5,000-barrel leak, TransCanada said. That's the equivalent of 210,000 gallons of oil.

The completed line would transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta, Canada and Montana to existing pipeline facilities in Nebraska. From there, the oil would be delivered to Oklahoma and eventually the Gulf Coast, explains USA Today.

Keystone and Keystone XL

miles of pipe prepare for the Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota Miles of pipe sit in a lot outside Gascoyne, North Dakota, waiting for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The full Keystone Pipeline System is a 2,639-mile network that stretches from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. It began delivering oil in 2010, but the company behind it has been lobbying the U.S. since 2008 to approve an addition that would cut southeast from Canada, passing through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before linking to existing lines near Kansas. The plan has faced stiff resistance from environmentalists and residents.

The original permit was denied by then President Barack Obama on the grounds that it wasn't in the nation's best interest and that it was at odds with the nation's push to address climate change. Trump reversed that ruling, approving the permit soon after taking office.

In his ruling, Morris said the Department of State's about-face under Trump didn't make sense and required more factual information to bolster its claims that the pipeline wouldn't contribute to climate change.

"An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate," Morris wrote.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was originally published in November 2017.

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