Keystone XL Pipeline Project: A Three-Way Collision of Interests — American vs. Canadian vs. Albertan

Part One – The Keystone Pipeline System

“As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree”. – US President Barack Obama, White House Official Statement on Keystone XL Pipeline 


“It’s hard for me to imagine that the eventual decision would be not to build that [Keystone XL Pipeline Project],” ………….The economic case is so overwhelming. The number of jobs that would be created on both sides of the border is simply enormous. The need for the energy in the United States is enormous.”
“[The controversy about the project is] all the more reason why Canada should look at trade diversification and particularly diversification of energy exports.” – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as reported in the Globe and Mail.


“I would prefer…we process the bitumen from the oilsands in Alberta and that would create a lot of jobs and job activity.”
“That would be a better thing to do than merely send the raw bitumen down the pipeline and they refine it in Texas that means thousands of new jobs in Texas.” – Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed as reported in the Tyee.




The US State Department has found the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, as proposed by TransCanada, to be not in the national interest of the US. Thus, the proponent’s application for permit to construct the pipeline has been rejected. The application was filed in 2008 with the proponent company seeking to build a 3,000 km pipeline that will transport, at its peak capacity, 830, 000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Cushing, OK market hub and onwards to more westward points in Texas.

Included in the proponent’s plan is the construction of a pipeline connection (spur) that will allow oil from Montana’s and North Dakota’s Bakken formation to also be transported via the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.


This is the first in a series of  articles I will post on the subject. The series itself will focus on three main items:

  • The Keystone XL Pipeline Project as viewed in the context of the larger Keystone Pipeline System;
  • Defining “national interest” and other so-called “interests” emanating from the now shelved but definitely “undead” Keystone XL Pipeline Project; and
  • The methodology by which these “interests” are determined in a free and democratic society such as what we have in North America, specifically the US and Canada.

Keystone XL Pipeline Project and the Keystone Pipeline System

In the light of recent news that TransCanada is pushing ahead with the construction of the “southern leg” of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project I received a number of questions from among my circle of friends and acquaintances seeking a clarification. How is this action possible when the application for the project itself had been earlier disapproved or rejected with President Obama’s declaration of its being “not in the national interest” of the US?
One basic point to establish is that the proposed (and disapproved) Keystone XL Pipeline Project is (or would be) a part of the larger Keystone Pipeline System.

The approved and pending (or proposed) components of the Keystone Pipeline System are given in the following table largely taken from Wikipedia:

A graphic representation of the pipeline system is depicted in Figure 1, a map of the Keystone Pipeline System.

Figure 1 – Keystone Pipeline System

Source: TransCanada Pipelines

From the preceding table and figure, as well as from recent news items posted in the internet and print media , we may do a recap as follows:

  • Of the four components of the Keystone Pipeline System two had been approved, constructed and have been commissioned: Keystone Phase 1 (Hardisty Alberta through Baker Montana to Wood River and Patoka, Illinois); and Keystone Phase 2 (Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma).
  • The two other components form part of the disapproved Keystone XL Pipeline Project (a.k.a Gulf Coast Expansion Project) – Keystone Phase 3 (Cushing, OK to Port Arthur and Houston, TX) and Keystone Phase 4  (Hardisty, AB through Baker, MT to Steele City, NE).
  • Of the four components of the Keystone Pipeline System two portions require (or had required) US presidential approval (via the exercise of a function delegated by the President to the US State Department) because these pipelines cross the US-Canadian border: Keystone Phase 1 (approved, constructed and commissioned) and Keystone Phase 4 (disapproved and subject to reapplication).
  • The project proponent  has chosen to go ahead with Keystone Phase 3 (the “southern leg” of the disapproved Keystone XL Pipeline project).  This particular component does not involve crossing US-Canadian border and, therefore, does not require Presidential/US State Department approval. TransCanada refers to this option as “decoupling” the component from the larger Keystone XL Pipeline Project.
  • Approval of US-only components of the Keystone Pipeline System (namely, Keystone Phase 2 and Keystone Phase 3) rests on the duly authorized departments of the States concerned (Nebraska and Oklahoma,  Phase 2; Oklahoma and Texas, Phase 3).
  • It is worth noting: Keystone Phase 1 (crossing US-Canadian border) was found by the US President/State Department to be in the US’s national interest while Keystone XL Pipeline Project as a whole (a key portion crossing US-Canadian border) was adjudged to be NOT in its national interest .
  •  TransCanada recently announced its plan to reapply for approval of Keystone XL Pipeline Project which, after decoupling Phase 3, will really pertain to Phase 4.

At next post on the subject I will attempt a comparative analysis of how the US and Canada proceed with their own ways of determining “national interest” (US) or “public interest” (Canada).

There, I will seek to create an appreciation of the workings of a free and democratic society as applied to the process of deciding whether such a project as the Keystone XL Pipeline serves the greatest interest or not. It will be instructive to review, for instance, the reasons why Keystone Phase 1 was approved by the US (i.e., was determined to be in its national interest) while Keystone XL Pipeline, specifically in relation to Keystone Phase 4,  was disapproved (i.e., was determined to be not in its national interest).

Time and space permitting  part two of the series will expand the notion of “interests”  as they relate to different jurisdictions and stake holders in both Canada and the US.

About b., peternolasco

Customer Education Specialist with geoLOGIC Systems Ltd.; keen student and practitioner of corporate adult learning and learning communities in the context of organizational change and development.
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2 Responses to Keystone XL Pipeline Project: A Three-Way Collision of Interests — American vs. Canadian vs. Albertan

  1. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I
    stumbleupon every day. It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and practice something from their web sites.

    • Appreciate your comment, Don. The sequel has been long overdue but I hope to post in a week or so. Amazing to see the workings of public debate, and scrutiny of major projects in a free and open setting. And believe you me, having experienced decision-making by diktats in my country of origin many decades ago, and seeing/experiencing still the ill-effects of imposed decisions by despotic leadership, I still prefer the “snail-paced” process here in North America. Keep in touch. Am following Trans Mountain site: so much opportunities indeed for mutual learning.

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