Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone XL is a 1,897 km long crude oil pipeline project. It is owned by Calgary-based TC Energy. The pipeline is named XL for “export limited.” First proposed in July 2008, it is the fourth phase of TC Energy’s existing Keystone Pipeline system. Keystone XL has federal approval on both sides of the Canada-US border, but a Montana judge has ordered a more thorough environmental assessment before construction can begin.

TC Energy's Keystone XL pipeline (proposed)


The Keystone Pipeline currently ships up to 591,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It carries this oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Texas.

Keystone XL would cross the Canada-US border en route from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. It would increase the capacity of the system to 830,000 barrels of oil per day. Proponents say it would also add US$3.4 billion to the United States’ GDP. They also cite economic benefits to Canada from salaries, wages and property taxes. Alberta, in particular, stands to benefit.


Environmental groups, ranchers, and Indigenous communities in Alberta, Montana and Nebraska have opposed the project. Many fear the additional crude oil shipped by the pipeline could pollute lands and rivers. In the context of the Keystone XL debate, climatologist James Hansen said in 2012 that if Canada’s oil reserves were fully tapped, the resulting carbon emissions would mean “game over for the climate.” (See also Climate Change.)

Current Status

Because Keystone crosses the Canada-US border, the XL project needs US State Department approval. President Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL’s permit in 2015. In March 2017, President Donald Trump issued a permit approving the project. TC Energy began seeking the various other permits and approvals needed to begin construction. In November 2018, however, a federal judge in Montana stopped the project. The judge ordered the State Department to complete a more thorough environmental assessment before work can continue.

Key Terms: Keystone XL Pipeline

Crude oil (or petroleum)

Unrefined hydrocarbon oil that is extracted from the earth to process for various human uses.

Gross domestic product

The total value of goods and services produced in a country during a specific time period. The figure is often used as a measure of a nation’s economic health.

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