Keystone Pipeline

Fossil Fuels

Requiem for a Pipeline: Keystone XL Transformed the Environmental Movement and Shifted the Debate over Energy and Climate

Its beginnings coincided with a booming oil market, but the pipeline also made a perfect target for activists demanding an end to fossil fuels.

By Marianne LavelleJune 20, 2021 Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Credit: Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Credit: Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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It was meant to be an express line from North America’s largest proven oil reserve to its biggest refining center and to deepen the bond between Canada and the United States as petroleum partners.

And it would have stood—or rather, lain—four feet underground, as a 1,700-mile steel monument to humanity’s triumph over the forces that at the time seemed to threaten the future of an oil-driven economy. Conventional oil reservoirs might be running out and alarms might be sounding over the damage that carbon dioxide pollution was doing to the atmosphere, but the Keystone XL pipeline would show America’s determination to carve out ever new oil corridors.

At least, that’s how it looked in 2008, when TransCanada and its partners announced plans to forge a $7 billion link between Alberta’s tar sands and the Texas Gulf Coast. By the time the company now known as TC Energy announced earlier this month that it was giving up the effort to build the pipeline, it was clear that oil could not so easily conquer the realities of the 21st century.

The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the U.S. environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. Instead of trying to get people to care about the future impact of a gas—carbon dioxide—that they couldn’t smell or see, environmentalists began focusing on the connection between climate change and the here-and-now effects of fossil fuel dependence: the takeover of land; the risk to air and water; and the injustice to those in the path of the fossil fuel industry’s plans. President Barack Obama’s presidency was a barometer of this change. Early on, his administration seemed poised to approve Keystone XL. Near the end of his second term, Obama became the first world leader to block a major U.S. oil infrastructure project over climate change.

But as Keystone XL’s brief revival under President Donald Trump demonstrated, the battle over oil’s future is far from over. Climate activists are pushing for President Joe Biden to stop Line 3, another Canadian tar sands pipeline now under construction in Minnesota. But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the United States can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use, as Biden has pledged to do, phasing out dependence on oil and  its imprint on the American landscape. 

‘Drill, Baby, Drill’

TransCanada announced its plan to build the Keystone XL in July 2008. In the oil and gas industry’s view it seemed impeccable timing, coinciding with a surging oil market. The price of crude soared past $140 a barrel that month; no one knew at the time that the record price was a peak the market would never hit again. It seemed like the world was entering an era of sustained high oil prices that would pump nothing but profit out of the energy-intensive production of thick, sticky bitumen from the sandy soil of remote Alberta. 

Politically, a proposal to double the amount of Canadian oil coming into the United States also seemed well-timed. Even though both candidates for the 2008 presidential election said they favored action on climate change, there was no talk of it on the campaign trail or in debates. A bill to cut U.S. carbon emissions died in the Senate that summer, with neither Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama showing up to vote. People were worried about high gasoline prices. The chant that shook the rafters at the Republican convention was “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

But the timing of TransCanada’s project also made the pipeline a perfect target for a ferocious backlash against both the fossil fuel industry and government inaction on climate change.

After Obama won the election and Democrats gained control of Congress, there was at first little sign that Keystone XL was in trouble, certainly not over its climate impact. International climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to yield an agreement. And with Obama’s House-passed climate bill foundering in the Senate, the president sought to win support from moderate Democrats by making concessions on oil. In early April 2010, he announced a plan to reverse a long-standing ban on offshore drilling on the Atlantic coast. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s department then released a draft environmental impact statement that seemed to clear the way for Keystone XL, concluding that its environmental impact would be “limited.”

President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Five days later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. And over the next 87 days, more than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening ecosystems and the fishing and coastal economies, in what is regarded as the worst accidental marine oil spill in the history of the oil and gas industry. An orange sheen on the water, tar balls washing up on beaches and oiled pelicans provided vivid evidence that despite its claims to safety, the oil industry made mistakes and took shortcuts. And its plans for controlling a catastrophe were inadequate. 

While the Deepwater Horizon well was still gushing, another historic U.S. oil disaster began to unfold that got less attention, but had even more relevance to Keystone XL. More than 1 million gallons of diluted Canadian bitumen spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River from a ruptured pipeline in Marshall, Michigan. The heavy oil didn’t float, as conventional oil would; it sank to the river bottom, fouling 36 miles of the river and forcing 150 families permanently from their homes. The pipeline company, Enbridge, never informed federal officials of the complexity of handling heavy oil. It became the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of more than $1 billion.

The Kalamazoo spill was a turning point for ranchers and other landowners in the path of the Keystone XL, as Sue Kelso of Oklahoma told Inside Climate News in 2012. “I live in fear that this pipeline will go through and ruin all the water,” she said at the time. Kelso took TransCanada to court to fight its effort to obtain a pipeline easement on her family farm using eminent domain. Scores of ranchers and other landowners followed suit. 

The fear and anger of landowners on the Keystone XL corridor was mounting at the precise moment that climate activists were confronting the strength of the forces lined up against them in Washington, D.C. Obama failed to push the Democratic-controlled Congress to act on climate, and the window of opportunity shut when Republicans regained control over the House in the 2010 midterms. “The environmental movement was in a dismal place following years of failed inside-the-beltway strategy,” Bob Wilson, a Syracuse University geographer who studies the environmental movement, recalled several years ago.

Climate activists needed a new game plan, and they looked to the indigenous tribes and conservative ranching communities of the Great Plains who were fighting Keystone XL.

Building a Sense of Trust

No one did more to build common cause between local communities and environmental groups than Jane Kleeb, a professional organizer who had moved to Nebraska to raise a family. She founded a group, Bold Nebraska, that did more than lobby, litigate and protest. It planned creative events to connect citizens from diverse cultural and political backgrounds—a renewable energy barn-raising, a large crop art project and a Harvest of Hope concert, held on a family farm and featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Defying the historic tension between ranchers and Native American tribes in northern Nebraska, Bold Nebraska helped forge a Cowboy Indian Alliance (CIA) to fight a common foe—Keystone XL.

“We had this responsibility and sense of trust with one another, so that the tactics of divide and conquer that they normally would use never worked on this fight,” said Kleeb. “We helped change the face of what an environmentalist or climate activist looks like. You had people who were directly impacted by the pain, or potential consequences of these projects coming forward, being the ones to speak out, rather than kind of highly educated, you know, more coastal environmentalists.”

Environmentalists changed their methods, too. This August will mark the 10th anniversary of the first of a series of sit-ins against Keystone XL at the White House, organized by environmental author-turned-activist Bill McKibben and the organization he co-founded, 350.org. More than 1,250 people were arrested, including McKibben, climate scientist James Hansen and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, who ended the group’s 120-year prohibition against acts of civil disobedience.

Protesters sit in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters sit in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

“This particular project—Keystone XL pipeline—is so horrendous, it’s so wrong, and it’s being proposed at such an important time that we don’t want to leave any tool on the table,” Brune said at the time. 

Little by little, the Obama administration changed course. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency calculated that the energy required to process tar sands oil and transport it through Keystone XL would generate 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if it were carrying conventional crude. In November 2015, on the eve of Paris climate talks where Obama hoped to seal his legacy with a landmark global deal to cut carbon emissions, he rejected the Keystone XL as counter to the role of the United States as a global climate leader.

“Once the grass-roots movement on the Keystone pipeline mobilized, it changed what it meant to the president,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times. “It went from a routine infrastructure project to the symbol of an era.”

Beyond the Keystone XL

The Keystone XL battle spawned other pipeline showdowns, altering the U.S. political landscape, with results that are still unfolding. Young activists visited the protest site in North Dakota where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe faced off against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Among them was a former Bernie Sanders campaigner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was inspired by the experience to run for office herself under the banner of environmental justice and climate action.

Dakota Access was completed, one of the few accomplishments of Trump’s drive to accelerate oil and gas infrastructure. But a judge ruled that Trump illegally sidestepped environmental review of the project, which is now in the Biden administration’s hands. In the face of unrelenting local opposition and low energy prices, Williams Company, an energy firm, canceled a planned natural gas pipeline in New York State, and Dominion Energy withdrew its plan for a pipeline cutting across the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

As for Keystone XL, it was stalled by litigation throughout the Trump administration, and the economics also went south. With oil prices half of what they were in 2008, and banks and investors pulling out of Canadian tar sands projects, TC Energy was relying on the Alberta government for financing and loan guarantees. The pipeline was only 8 percent built when Biden canceled its border-crossing permit on his first day in office.

But even as pipelines were blocked, frackers were tapping new stores of oil in the shale rock beneath West Texas, North Dakota and New Mexico. Over the 13-year battle over Keystone XL, the United States regained its spot as the leading oil producer, in a world that is on track to consume a record 101 million barrels of crude per day by next year. 

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Beyond the Keystone XL, Biden has sought to avoid getting pulled into pipeline battles. Instead, he has pursued what one analyst described as a “demand-side” policy: seeking to lay the groundwork for a clean energy future that would dry up demand for oil. To meet Biden’s Paris climate agreement pledge of cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030, an estimated half of new cars sold would by then have to be electric.

But Biden’s climate plan, including the funding of an electric vehicle charging network and other infrastructure essential for a clean energy future, is facing roadblocks in an evenly and deeply divided Congress. And while that inside-the-beltway fight continues, hundreds of climate activists are chaining themselves to construction equipment in Minnesota, seeking to stop Enbridge from replacing an aging Canadian tar sands pipeline. They are calling on Biden to withdraw Enbridge’s permits for Line 3, just as he did for Keystone XL, without waiting for policy that one day, in theory, will eliminate the need for oil pipelines.

“Biden has to make an aggressive step in saying if we’re going to hit these climate change goals that we’ve set out, that means we cannot continue to build fossil fuel projects,” said Kleeb.

But, she said, she worries about division. With her voice breaking, she recalled a confrontation at a bar in Minnesota between her group of climate and tribal activists and a huddle of local residents. Her group began to leave the bar, but Kleeb turned around and went back. “Knowing what I just spent a decade doing in Nebraska, I can’t leave with them thinking that we’re these out-of-touch liberal elites, and not know why we’re fighting this pipeline,” she said. The evening ended with laughter and high-fives, she said, after some discussion of eminent domain, and foreign tar sands oil crossing their state to head for export markets.

Kleeb said she feels that not enough time has been spent building bridges between the activist and rural communities. And she thinks that’s a lesson for Biden and the larger drive for a clean energy transition, which would require the build-out of renewable energy in red states.

“A lot of people are very skeptical of corporations pushing wind and solar because they haven’t been treated well, and they haven’t really been engaged in the conversations around climate,” Kleeb said. “So there’s a lot of work to do.”

Marianne Lavelle

Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Marianne Lavelle is a reporter for Inside Climate News. She has covered environment, science, law, and business in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades. She has won the Polk Award, the Investigative Editors and Reporters Award, and numerous other honors. Lavelle spent four years as online energy news editor and writer at National Geographic. She spearheaded a project on climate lobbying for the nonprofit journalism organization, the Center for Public Integrity. She also has worked at U.S. News and World Report magazine and The National Law Journal. While there, she led the award-winning 1992 investigation, “Unequal Protection,” on the disparity in environmental law enforcement against polluters in minority and white communities. Lavelle received her master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is a graduate of Villanova University.

Lakota Law

I have two pieces of wonderful news to share with you! As of yesterday, TC Energy at last canceled all remaining plans for the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL). The Zombie Pipeline is finally completely dead! At the same time, I was able to negotiate a deal with the South Dakota state’s attorney and avoid jail time for my KXL protest last year. 

Watch: On “Cut to the Chase,” Lakota Law’s Chase Iron Eyes discusses the end of KXL and my big court win.

It was a good day not just for me, personally, but for all water protectors. This shows that — even as many states around the country continue to pass laws criminalizing protest — the people still have power. Our activism can make a real difference. As my fellow Cheyenne River protester, Oscar High Elk, said yesterday, “Respect our existence, or expect our resistance.”

Of course, as you know, our resistance still has much left to accomplish. I’m grateful that KXL’s immediate threats to our land and water are gone, along with the dangers its mancamps presented to Indigenous women and girls in Lakota Country. But Dakota Access still operates — without a legal permit — and Line 3 presents the same peril to the homelands of our Anishinaabe sisters and brothers in Minnesota.

Now, it’s time to #StopLine3 and continue our #NoDAPL fight. The cards are always stacked against us, but we have shown time and time again our resilience, the power of our movement, and our ability to triumph against the greatest odds.  

Just this week, hundreds gathered at a pump station near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, led by my sisters in arms, for the largest Line 3 protest yet. Reports tell us that a Department of Homeland Security helicopter harassed them, kicking up dust and gravel in an attempt to deter my relatives. It didn’t work. More than 100 were arrested, and we aren’t done yet. Like Lakota Law’s team, I’m considering ways I can best support this movement going forward. Because — take it from me — we can win!

Wopila — I’m very grateful for your solidarity with our resistance.
Jasilyn Charger 
via the Lakota People’s Law Project

Done! Finished!

Since I began this blog, this is the best news I have heard!

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/keystone-is-xl-is-dead

Indian Country Today

The Keystone XL pipeline project is officially terminated, the sponsor company announced Wednesday.

Calgary-based TC Energy is pulling the plug on the project after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

The company said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit from” the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

“Through the process, we developed meaningful Indigenous equity opportunities and a first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle,” said François Poirier, TC Energy’s president and chief executive officer in a statement.

The pipeline has been front and center of the fight against climate change, especially in Indigenous communities. Native people have been speaking out, organizing, and in opposition of the project for several years.

“OMG! It’s official,” Dallas Goldtooth, Mdewakanton Dakota and Diné, wrote on Twitter regarding Keystone XL’s termination. “We took on a multi-billion dollar corporation and we won!!” 

Goldtooth is part of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The network said it has been organizing for more than 10 years against the pipeline.

“We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory!” wrote the network in a statement. “From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated. This is not the end – but merely the beginning of further victories.”

The network noted that water protector Oscar High Elk still faces charges for standing against Keystone. 

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration.

It would have moved up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Biden canceled it in January over long standing concerns that burning oil sands crude would make climate change worse.

(Ongoing Enbridge series: A pipeline runs through it)

In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, a protester plays a drum and sings while joined by other Native American protesters opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the South Dakota Capitol in Pierre. Major construction projects moving forward along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico amid the coronavirus pandemic are raising fears workers could spread infections within nearby communities, including several Native American tribes. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, a protester plays a drum and sings while joined by others opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the South Dakota Capitol. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves, File)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move, although officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed disappointment in recent weeks that Trudeau didn’t push Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.

Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line from environmentalists and Native American tribes along its route.

Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit their partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government’s investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

The province had hoped the pipeline would spur increased development in the oil sands and bring tens of billions of dollars in royalties over decades.

Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs. Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.

Tester said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed in the project’s demise, but made no mention of Biden.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, was more direct: “President Biden killed the Keystone XL Pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs.”

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy’s announcement.

This is a developing story.

ICT logo bridge

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

…oil flowing

Lakota Law

In case you missed it, a recent decision in the legal saga of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) will keep the oil flowing while an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is done over the next nine months — and the courts have essentially stepped away from responsibility to shut operations down. Sadly, in his latest opinion, D.C. Judge James Boasberg has basically stated that his hands are tied by a higher court ruling.

Watch: Lakota Law chief counsel Danny Sheehan joined me to discuss the developments on Cut to the Chase.

As a reminder to you about what got us here, Boasberg (an Obama appointee) ruled last July to vacate federal permits for Dakota Access. He reasoned then that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a full EIS, as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes. Then, in August, an appeals court affirmed Boasberg’s decision to invalidate the permit, while simultaneously overturning his decision to empty the pipeline. DAPL has been operating unpermitted ever since — a completely unheard-of scenario, and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 
 
Boasberg has since been essentially asking the Corps to make a political decision on whether it’s acceptable for this pipeline to operate without a valid permit on federal land. So far, the Corps (an executive branch agency now under president Biden’s leadership) has shown no desire to do the right thing. Rather than issuing an order to halt operations until proper environmental review is complete, Biden and the Corps are ducking responsibility.
 
Our legal analysis is that there’s still a potential path forward in the courts. At this stage, the tribes could go directly after the Army Corps under the Administrative Procedures Act. This could lead to a court-order forcing Biden and the Corps to make a decision on whether to continue allowing DAPL’s operation in violation of NEPA. 
 
Lakota Law, its supporters, and a host of like-minded organizations and allies continue to ask Biden to step up and shut DAPL down. We’ll continue to closely examine all the legal and political angles, assessing potential leverage points to push the Corps. Stay tuned.

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for standing with Standing Rock!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director & Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Over 100 Arrested

https://www.democracynow.org/2021/6/8/headlines/over_100_water_protectors_arrested_in_minnesota_as_mass_civil_disobedience_targets_line_3_pipeline

In northern Minnesota, over 100 water protectors were arrested Monday in the largest act of civil disobedience to date aimed at halting the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. If completed, Line 3 would carry more than 750,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil a day through Indigenous land and fragile ecosystems, endangering lakes, rivers and wild rice beds. The day of action began when over 1,000 water protectors blockaded a pipeline pump station north of the town of Park Rapids. Many of the activists locked themselves together or to heavy machinery, including bulldozers and diggers.

Kerry Labrador: “I’m a mother of three children. I trooped out here from Boston. I’m a Mi’kmaq woman. And I’m here because they need backup. They need voices. There’s strength in numbers. You know? All these kids out here — I’m going to say it over and over and over again: All the kids out here deserve the future that we, as parents, promised our kids. And if this is how I have to fulfill that promise, then this is how I’m going to fulfill that promise, and not just for my kids, but for every kid sitting out here in this world.”

Protesters are calling on President Biden to shut down the pipeline.

Image Credit: Sadie Luetmer

A Pipeline Denied

Mountain Valley Pipeline Water Permit Denied

By Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch.

| Resist!

https://popularresistance.org/mountain-valley-pipeline-water-permit-denied/

Division of Water Resources cites doubts about MVP Mainline project, says construction in NC could cause “unnecessary water quality impacts.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Another natural gas pipeline in North Carolina has been derailed, at least temporarily, as the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has denied a water quality permit for the MVP Southgate project that would route through Rockingham and Alamance counties.

In a letter released this afternoon, Division of Water Resources Director Danny Smith wrote, “Due to uncertainty surrounding the completion of the MVP Mainline project,” it has determined that “work on the Southgate extension could lead to unnecessary water quality impacts and disturbance of the environment in North Carolina.”

Owned by Pittsburgh-based EQM Midstream Partners, MVP Southgate is an extension of the main MVP natural gas pipeline, which starts at a fracked gas operation in northern West Virginia and ends in Chatham, Va.

MVP Southgate would run from Chatham, Va., and enter North Carolina near Eden, in Rockingham County. From there, it would route nearly 50 miles southeast, cutting through Alamance County and ending in Graham. Construction costs are roughly $470 million.

In total, the southern portion would cross 207 streams, three ponds and  temporarily affect 17,726 linear feet of streams, 6,538 square feet of open waters, and 14 acres of wetlands; another 0.02 of an acre of wetlands would be permanently damaged. Nearly 14 acres of riparian buffers would also be affected. MVP Southgate would cross the Dan River, home to endangered and threatened species, and Stony Creek Reservoir, the main drinking water supply for the City of Burlington.

The division also denied a Jordan Lake Riparian Buffer Authorization. Such an authorization would be required because the route is within the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed, which includes the Haw River.

MVP Southgate is an extension of the controversial main Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which runs for 303 miles from a fracked gas operation in northern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The mainline has racked up hundreds of environmental violations and prompted state and federal regulators to issue dozens of stop-work orders. Construction on the main line is currently halted, per a FERC stop-work order. That project’s costs have ballooned to $6.2 billion.

“Division staff have determined the Southgate project’s sole utility and purpose is tied to and wholly relies on the completion of the entire Mainline project,” today’s letter reads. “The uncertainty of the MVP Mainline Project’s completion presents a critical risk to the achievability of the fundamental purpose of MVP Southgate,” it continued.

Most of the environmental harm would occur during construction, the division wrote, adding that it “finds it is inappropriate to unnecessarily risk impacting high-quality waters and drinking water supplies of North Carolinians.”

Examples of this harm can be seen in the wake of construction of the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which destroyed miles of private farmland and forests in several North Carolina counties, Policy Watch reported on July 30. It’s yet unclear how those environmental harms will be remedied.

An EQT spokesperson could not be reached this afternoon for comment about the decision and whether the company would appeal.

Crystal Cavalier, a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, is an indigenous activist. MVP Southgate would run through indigenous family lands, she said. There were also questions of whether Indian burial mounds were located near waterways; several were found along the route of the main line.

“This is huge,” Cavalier said. “I’m so excited that North Carolina is taking a stand for indigenous people. Because once you dig up this land, you can’t renew it.”

Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton has co-organized opposition to the MVP Southgate project for more than two years. “We’re so thrilled to hear that DEQ has made the right decision to deny this unnecessary pipeline,” Sutton told Policy Watch. “This pipeline would have destroyed streams and critical habitat throughout the Haw River watershed. This is a win for all of North Carolinians and a step forward in our state’s commitment to limiting our dependence on fossil fuels.”

This is the second time DEQ has denied what’s known as a “401 permit” under the terms of the Clean Water ActLast year the agency rejected the project application because, after repeatedly asking for information for more than six months, DEQ had not received from MVP Southgate a full accounting of stream crossings and other impacts on waterways. Without the additional information, DEQ couldn’t evaluate the application before a federal deadline,

In previous comments to federal regulators, DEQ doubted the necessity of the project. The western and central Piedmont already has access to existing natural gas pipelines; Dominion Energy would be MVP Southgate’s primary customer.

In addition to hundreds of public comments opposing the project, 40 state lawmakers also petitioned DEQ to disapprove it.

DEQ’s decision counters those issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC approved the project in February and issued it a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in June. However, even FERC, which rarely reins in natural gas projects, issued the certificate on the condition that the main Mountain Valley Project obtain all necessary permits.

In a separate statement, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said, “Today’s decision to deny the MVP Southgate certification protects North Carolina’s water quality, our natural resources and our communities. DEQ has questioned the need for the MVP Southgate project since our initial comments to FERC. This has always been an unnecessary project that poses unnecessary risks to our environment and given the uncertain future of the MVP Mainline, North Carolinians should not be exposed to the risk of another incomplete pipeline project.

“North Carolina’s clean energy future is not dependent on adding more natural gas infrastructure,” Regan continued. “Projects like this slow down the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases under North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan and our efforts to address climate change under Executive Order 80. We should invest in clean, renewable energy sources and the economic benefits of energy innovation.”

This recent setback for MVP Southgate, coupled with the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last month, have occurred despite actions by the Trump administration to roll back environmental regulations to ease the way for natural gas projects.

On June 1, President Trump signed an executive order to fast-track energy projects like natural gas pipelines, undoing key components of longstanding environmental law. States can no longer consider any factors except water quality in acting on a 401 permit. For example, if DEQ found that the MVP Southgate project would draw down aquifers or reservoirs serving as a drinking water supply — such as Stony Creek Reservoir — that’s a water quantity issue, and could not be considered.

Nor can states cite climate change as a reason to deny a 401 permit.

Natural gas pipelines leak methane, a greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change. The EPA is expected to issue a new rule on methane later this week that weakens environmental protections. Although the exact text of the rule has not been publicly released, The New York Times reported that the EPA will eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies must install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage sites.

Despite the Trump administration’s deregulation, in some cases, court rulings have foiled the EPA. On April 15, the federal District Court for Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permit; although that permit related to the Keystone XL pipeline, the court’s decision had implications for pipeline projects throughout the U.S., including the ACP and the MVP mainline and Southgate pipelines.

In cancelling the ACP, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy cited the court ruling as one reason it was no longer economically or logistically feasible to continue the project.

DAPL News

In case you haven’t yet heard, yesterday an appellate court dropped a big decision in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit to stop the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Unfortunately, the court’s ruling did not support immediately shutting down oil flow as we hoped. However, the court also failed to reverse the lower court’s decision to vacate DAPL’s permit to pass under Lake Oahe, Standing Rock’s primary source of drinking water. DAPL’s continued operation is now officially as illegal as it is dangerous.

Lakota Law
Press play to watch my video breakdown of the court’s decision.

You likely recall that, a month ago, D.C. Circuit Court Judge James Boasberg set a 30-day deadline for Energy Transfer to stop pumping oil through DAPL. Yesterday’s appellate court decision is complex, but it essentially delays that deadline while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decides whether to stop the oil given the absence of a permit. The Corps can demand Energy Transfer comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, shut down the oil, and perform a full Environmental Impact Study.

If that doesn’t happen, we’ll see more arguments before Judge Boasberg. Bottom line, this fight now looks likely to stretch into 2021, when a new administration could revoke DAPL’s permits for good. I urge you to watch my video breakdown, stay tuned for more updates, and keep a positive outlook.

The struggle continues, but hope is on the horizon. We remain optimistic, and we must keep fighting with all our collective strength. We won’t stop until this pipeline is emptied and dug out of our sacred ground. I look forward to the day we can gather together at Standing Rock again — this time to celebrate the end of DAPL, once and for all.
Wopila tanka — my eternal appreciation for standing with Standing Rock!

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

DAPL’s deficient leak detection system

It appears that we’re in for a long, hot summer. People are rising up. Colonizer statues and racist mascots are coming down. And finally, winds of change are making their way to the D.C. courts. As you know, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) shut down by Aug. 5, pending environmental review.

Unfortunately, a D.C. court of appeals has granted DAPL operators short term, temporary relief on that order, extending the deadline for the pipeline to be emptied. The verdict, though, maintains the authority to halt operations at any time. In the interim, we’re releasing footage from our Chase Iron Eyes trial archive to illustrate what makes DAPL so dangerous in the first place and why we must keep pushing for it to be shut down for good. You can take a look at our new video about DAPL’s deficient leak detection system, and we hope you will watch and share it with your networks.

Lakota LawEnergy expert Steve Martin of the Chippewa Nation and attorney Peter Capossela explain the constant risks posed by Dakota Access.

Getting down to brass tacks, DAPL’s leak detection system is criminally inadequate. Actually, at the most critical area of stress for the existing pipeline, there isn’t even a detection apparatus in place. So, if and when DAPL springs a leak, oil could seep into the groundwater and rise to the surface before pipeline officials or local residents have any idea something is wrong.

A leak of this type could take place over the course of months, contaminating the water used to grow food and raise children on the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

As Indigenous energy executive Steve Martin points out in our video, it’s outrageous that water — the source of all life — isn’t regarded as more sacred. Why do we allow these dangerous pipelines to jeopardize our children’s future? Why is the money made from a barrel of oil more important than my community’s right to clean water and safe food? Not to mention the impacts on climate.

If you’d like to explore the issue further, we’ve also written an in-depth blog on the topic of DAPL’s leak detection system.

We’re in the midst of a great shift. While it didn’t begin with NoDAPL, I know from living at Oceti Sakowin camp for eight months — through police raids, surveillance, and blizzards — that embers from our sacred fires continue to find their way into the current moment. Let’s keep Trump and his oil cronies on the run. Hold the faith. Even bigger change is coming.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for standing with us to protect our water, our land, and our families!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

DAPL parent company vows to defy court order

DAPL parent company vows to defy court order
Thu, Jul 9, 2020 3:20 pm
Madonna Thunder Hawk, Lakota Law (info@lakotalaw.org)To:you Details

Inconceivable! Energy Transfer Partners (ETP)—the parent company to the Dakota Access Pipeline—just announced that they will ignore Judge James Boasberg’s order to shut down oil flow through the pipeline by August 5th. An ETP spokesperson said in a statement yesterday: “We are not shutting down the line. We believe Judge Boasberg has exceeded his authority and does not have jurisdiction to shut down the pipeline.” Outrageous!

Will you stand with us against Big Oil’s lawlessness by making a donation today?

Perhaps they’re taking their inspiration from the father of the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson. In response to the 1832 Supreme Court decision that established tribal sovereignty in the U.S. — Worcester vs. Georgia — President Jackson declared: “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”

But this is not 1832. And no matter how much Trump may want to do his best Andrew Jackson impersonation, we will not let him. We will not let this corporation, this pipeline, or this President trample on our sovereignty. It’s time to keep Indigenous voices as strong as possible in our collective defense of Mother Earth.

Standing Rock Protest Video

In 2016-17, more than ten thousand people of conscience traveled to Standing Rock to exercise grassroots power over commercial disregard for basic rights. We will stand again like this if we have to. And the Lakota Law legal team will explore options for submitting more amicus briefs to support Standing Rock and EarthJustice in court. One way or another, we won’t permit ETP to unilaterally disregard judicial decisions designed to protect Native health and sovereignty on treaty land. We will go toe to toe with Big Oil, and this time we will have the Constitution — not just Natural Law — clearly behind us.

Wopila — I thank you for your solidarity!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. You can ensure that our response to  this imminent threat from Energy Transfer Partners and the Trump administration is strong. Please give today so we can do the legal work and grassroots organizing needed to help our movement win!

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.