Tracing the Keystone XL Pipeline’s Potential Path of Destruction

Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Tracing the Keystone XL Pipeline’s Potential Path of Destruction

The proposed pipeline would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast and threaten wolves, warblers, and waterways.

By Emma Bryce
Published: 04/04/2013

The State Department has concluded that TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline would, for the most part, have negligible effects on wetlands, wildlife, and waterways. The judgment, the conclusion of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released on March 1, has sparked outrage among conservation groups, which maintain that the risks are too high.

The 1,700-mile-long pipeline's southward slither would begin in Canada's tar sands and travel through six U.S. states to refineries on the Gulf Coast. In northern Alberta, huge swaths of boreal forest have already been cleared to mine bitumen and heavy oil. "[The boreal forest] is critical breeding ground for birds coming through the United States," including the Canada warbler, an Audubon priority species, says Mike Daulton, Audubon's vice president of government relations. Caribou, lynx, grizzly bears, and gray wolves are suffering, too.

As the pipeline wends its way through Montana, South Dakota, and southward, it would cut through prairies home to vulnerable species, including greater sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope, and cross the Yellowstone, Missouri, and Red rivers. A spill could be devastating.

"The big deal is that tar-sand pipelines may be at risk to rupture because diluted bitumen is very corrosive," says Peter LaFontaine, the National Wildlife Federation's energy policy advocate. TransCanada says it uses state-of-the-art safety measures, but LaFontaine notes recent accidents along the company's existing pipelines.

In Nebraska the pipeline skirts the Ogallala Aquifer--a major water source for agriculture and communities. TransCanada has rerouted the pipeline to bypass the state's Sandhills region, migratory habitat for more than 500,000 sandhill cranes. Even so, points out Marian Langan, Audubon Nebraska's executive director, "this is the main migration corridor for the Central Flyway."

The pipeline's southern leg, which runs through Oklahoma and Texas, was approved last year and is already being built. The pipeline, if completed, would carry about a million barrels a day to the Gulf, where it would be refined, (largely) exported, and burned--exacerbating global warming. Even the State Department report found that tar-sands oil is more greenhouse-gas-intensive than other fuels.

And if warming continues as predicted, Audubon's models show, "people across large sections of the U.S. are likely to see declining bird diversity in their backyards, particularly during the summer," says Justin Schuetz, director of conservation science. Vulnerable species include the chestnut-collared longspur, American oystercatcher, black rosy-finch, seaside sparrow, and yellow-billed magpie.

President Obama could make a final decision on the pipeline as early as this summer, although even if he kills it, Congress could try to force it through. Which means, says Daulton, that now is the time to lean on elected leaders.


SPEAK UP: The National Audubon Society has launched a letter campaign to urge the Obama administration to undertake a more comprehensive review of the environmental impacts of the pipline. Click here to add your voice to the opposition. The deadline is April 22.


A version of this story, called "Pipe Dream," ran in the May-June 2013 issue.

Author Profile

Emma Bryce

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine



No detailed route information is necessary for the public to KNOW already that the ENTIRE pipeline, which ever route it will take, is dangerous and destructive and has to be REJECTED!

XL Pipeline

This proposed pipeline has the potential to be a long term danger to our national interests. We have seen, as you know the damaging effects this pipeline has had in the state of Arkansas. Please consider the contamination this pipeline will do to our wild life, the natural habitats to our aquifers our farm lands and to the air we breathe. The jobs you mentioned in your speech in San Francisco are temporary jobs. No more long term than any other pipeline that has been built. We do need long term solutions to the many damages already incurred by reckless destruction of the bounty given us by nature. We dare not continue on this course. I plead with you to consider the needs our children and our grandchildren, of what we are leaving them rather than the desires of the Oil companies. It is not better to leave at least the beginning of a solution than more damage that is irreparable?
Thank You.

No more destruction. We

No more destruction. We cannot any more! Wildlife as well as humans will suffer. Humans should not be all about money!

XL Pipeline

Please stop this now.

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