A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp.'s planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota, Nov. 14, 2014. Andrew Cullen/Reuters

The State department issued a Presidential permit to the Keystone XL Pipeline that President Barack Obama strongly opposed while in office, Friday morning. That decision could have severe impacts to the environment, scientists say.

A press release from the Department of State said that the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., considered “a range of factors” in making his decision, including cultural, environmental and economic factors.

Secretary Shannon signed the permit two months to the day after President Donald Trump issued a memorandum which allowed the TransCanada Corporation looking to build the pipeline to resubmit an application. The memorandum required that the Secretary make his decision within 60 days.

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President Obama’s strong opposition to the pipeline partially stemmed from the fact that the pipeline directly contradicted his Clean Power Plan to bring more renewable low carbon emission power into the country.

The proposed pipeline is designed to connect Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the U.S. in Texas and Louisiana by way of Steele City, Nebraska. There is already pipeline in place connecting Canada to Gulf through a more roundabout route. The new pipeline would allow for more crude oil from Canada to be transported south.

What is the Keystone Pipeline? Why are people concerned about it?

When the pipeline was first proposed many environmentally conscious Americans had their concerns. The pipeline poses an environmental threat from the time it’s extracted to when it’s used. In 2015 when the Pipeline was headed to Congress for a vote, more than 90 scientists and economists sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama and the Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the pipeline. “We strongly urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline as a project that will contribute to climate change at a time when we should be doing all we can to put clean energy alternatives in place,” read the letter signed by experts from Harvard University, Stanford University, McGill University and other top institutes through the U.S. and Canada.

Where will the proposed pipeline go?

It will cut down from Alberta, Canada, across the border and through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before joining with the finished pipeline in Steele, Nebraska.

Transcanada keystone xl map
A map of the proposed pipeline (blue) and the pipeline that's already in place (red). TransCanada


The type of crude oil the pipeline will be carrying is tar sand oil, a mix of unrefined oil and well, Earth, so sand and dirt. In 2015, President Obama summed it up while speaking at a Town Hall event a Benedict College, he explained that the extraction method for the crude oil is “ an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil, and obviously there are all these risks in piping a lot of oil though Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country.”


Not only is pollution from extraction a concern. But pipelines leak all the time, including the already existing parts of the Keystone Pipeline. Just a year ago a leak in the pipeline resulted in almost 17,000 gallons of crude oil leaking out. One of many leaks the company has faced since construction. And it’s not just Keystone that faces leaks, the company Magellan Midstream Partners had a leak in one of its pipelines in January that resulted in more than 135,000 gallons of Diesel fuel leaking into farmland in Iowa. In Alaska, an underwater pipeline has been leaking natural gas, possibly since December, releasing anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 cubic feet of gas on a daily basis into the habitat of endangered whales. These leaks permanently pollute the land and water they come in contact with and can be very difficult to clean up having a severe impact on the ecosystems in the surrounding areas.


The production and use of more oil means more CO2 and other greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere contributing further to the rapidly warming and changing climate. This is the opposite of what President Obama proposed with his Clean Power Plan aimed at creating less of a dependence on dirty fossil fuels and a stronger market for renewables.


The pipeline is expected to bring jobs to the U.S. A State Department report from 2014 estimates that the construction of the pipeline would bring in 3,900 direct construction jobs if the pipeline was constructed in a year, or 1,950 jobs per year if the job was done over two years. But those jobs would end once construction did. The two year construction would support 42,000 jobs all together indirect, direct and induced. But again, many of those jobs would only last as long as construction.