Along the Keystone XL Pipeline, Hoping for a Miracle
Since the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was introduced in 2008, it has become one of the most controversial energy projects in North America, stirring conflict across the political spectrum and among the communities in this small corner of Montana. I traveled back to the region this fall, with the looming elections in mind, in order to understand how communities living along the proposed route view the project now. I focused on the individuals and communities who stand to lose the most if the US continues to prioritize fossil fuels.
The pipeline, expected to be operational in 2023, would transmit 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, crossing through the U.S. Midwest. Environmentalists believe that should the pipeline succeed, it will set the stage for America’s energy future and its continued investment in fossil fuels. “The reality of the footprint is so much beyond what the pipeline itself is just doing. [There are] spills and leaks and those kinds of risks, but folks living there are already experiencing increased truck traffic and risks of COVID,” said Cathy Collentine of the environmental organization Sierra Club.
While, in November 2015, former President Barack Obama had killed the $8 billion project, arguing that it would cause emissions linked to climate change and would do little to drive the American economy, two months after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reintroducing the project. Since then, TransCanada --which has made several attempts to push forward--has faced intense opposition from environmentalists, tribes, and politicians - failing to adequately assess impacts on waterways, wildlife, and the people it will impact.
The fight over the pipeline comes in the midst of extreme weather patterns throughout the state, Montana’s temperatures have increased more than the rest of the nation and some farmers are losing crops at increased rates. Mr. Sikorski, a plaintiff with the Northern Plains Resource Council and farmer in Baker, said, "the thing that I worry about most is the impact [the pipeline] will have on global warming and how it will affect extreme weather events,” he said.” Sikorski fears that “extreme weather events could put us out of business in just a few decades...basically it comes down to food or oil," he said.
In a few weeks, Americans will decide whether they want to invest in oil or food.