Six years ago today, when TransCanada first tendered its application to complete a $5.4 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border, the Keystone XL was a “no-brainer”—at least that’s what President George W. Bush called it. The Keystone XL was intended to be the final stent of a multi-part network through the American heartland, connecting Alberta crude to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
But this master plan for energy development failed to foresee the domestic shale oil and gas boom. After Barack Obama was sworn in as president, the Keystone XL ran into trouble, and not merely because the party of “Drill, Baby, Drill” had been voted out. In June 2011, after former NASA climate scientist James Hansen condemned the pipeline, contending that carbon pollution from the tar sands would be “game over” for human civilization, activists surrounded the White House in the first of several actions in a sustained #NoKXL campaign. In the areas where the Keystone XL would actually be built, a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists rose up in protest to protect the aquifers of the Great Plains. The project’s politics got scrambled: Lifelong Republicans in Texas and Nebraska have been the most vocal and effective opponents of the pipeline, while on the Democratic side, former aides to Hillary Clinton have helped TransCanada lobby the government.