Oil has begun flowing on the southern segment of North America’s most controversial pipeline project: the Keystone XL. TransCanada announced Wednesday that it had begun operations to send crude from the congested pipeline and storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma to the refining center of the U.S. Gulf Coast. (See related Interactive: Mapping the Flow of Tar Sands Oil.)

But the larger northern portion of the project, the link from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to Cushing, continues to await approval by President Barack Obama’s administration. (See related, “Keystone XL Pipeline Marks New Battle Line in Oklahoma.“) The project plan was re-routed through Nebraska to avoid the sensitive Sandhills ecosystem. But concern over the greenhouse gas emissions impact of providing a route to market for more carbon-intensive crude from the oil sands has invigorated an international network of climate activists.  (See related: Pictures: Animals That Blocked thePath of the Keystone XL.“)

Observers expect a decision early this year.  The tea leaves so far provide conflicting evidence as to which way the president is leaning. A former national security aide recently said he believes the project will be approved. But in a speech last summer, Obama said Keystone XL would only be deemed in the nation’s interest “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  (See related: “Scraping Bottom: The Canadian Oil Boom.”)

The U.S. State Department’s environmental analysis on Keystone XL concluded there would be little additional carbon impact, because if the pipeline doesn’t get built, the oil will get to market anyway–by train. TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling on Wednesday indicated he would do his part to make that happen, saying he is in discussion with oil and rail companies about building rail terminals for oil in Alberta and Oklahoma if Keystone XL is not approved.

That declaration comes as safety officials in both the United States and Canada are grappling with the issue of whether new safeguards for the public are needed to address an unprecedented amount of fuel being transported across North America by rail. (See related, “Illinois Village Leads Charge for Tougher Oil Train Rules,” and “Eight Steps for Safer Trains Eyed by U.S. Officials.“)


  1. Trae G
    Richmond, VA
    May 28, 2014, 11:19 am

    I find it saddening that Nat Geo keeps calling it a crude oil pipeline, a statement which is incredibly misleading. The tar sands in this pipeline deteriorate steel quickly, endangering the surrounding area by spilling hot chemically infused tar into our ground by the millions of gallons. Way to go Nat Geo, keep misinforming people…

  2. Jena Ardell
    Los Angeles
    February 4, 2014, 11:43 pm

    Enlightening fact I just discovered…

    Who owns National Geographic? Shaw Media/Shaw Communications
    Who owns Shaw Communications? J.R. Shaw (Executive Chairman)
    Who is J.R. Shaw? a Canadian businessman who currently sits on the board of directors of Suncor Energy.
    Who is Suncor Energy? Suncor Energy is a Canadian integrated energy company based in Calgary, Alberta. It specializes in production of synthetic crude from oil sands.

    Well now that’s interesting.

  3. Msfitt Doll
    February 3, 2014, 5:05 pm
  4. Daniel E Marks
    Opelika Alabama
    January 29, 2014, 9:26 am

    Welfare for the Oil Industry should be curtailed. But the pipeline should not be held hostage once a reasonable pathway is established. America should foster more green initiatives as has Germany etc.

    Once getting the oil is priced as too expensive the market will punish that endeavor naturally. The Problem has been the republican love affair with big oil companies. Welfare for the rich needs to stop cold turkey.

  5. Gary Conn
    Grand Haven, Michigan USA
    January 23, 2014, 4:09 am

    Marianne Lavelle: The discussion about development of a petroleum industry and its impact upon the environment and human lives is about survival. By working together, corporations, government and the public can make clean air, clean water, and healthy lives a reality. As long as we continue environmental devastation, pollution, and economic exploitation, the goal of a more healthy lifestyle seems to be infinitely pushed further away. —GaryConn
    (My YourShot photo gallery is: http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/profile/18688/)