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Federal Judge Blocks Construction On Keystone XL Pipeline

Pipes for Keystone XL Pipeline.
shannonpatrick17 (CC-BY-2.0)
Pipes for Keystone XL Pipeline.

A federal judge in Great Falls Thursday night blocked the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline until the U.S. government further studies its impact on the environment and climate.

The controversial pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf Coast. The 36-inch-wide Keystone XL would pass through six eastern Montana counties and near the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris’ ruling stops a presidential permit issued by the Trump administration last year allowing the pipeline to cross the U.S-Canada border.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by indigenous and environmental groups suing to block the pipeline.

Dallas Goldtooth is with the Indigenous Environmental Network that brought the lawsuit against pipeline along with North Coast Rivers Alliance and Northern Plains Resource Council.

“This is a significant win for not just for native peoples but also for the thousands upon thousands of non-native ranchers, landowners all along the route that have been saying for years, we do not want your dirty tar sands pipeline.”

Judge Morris writes in his order that the U.S. State Department did not take a hard enough look at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, potential cultural areas along the pipeline route and the best available data on potential oil spills.

As a result, Morris says the federal government and TransCanada must stop construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline until a supplemental environmental assessment is completed.

The U.S. State Department is still reviewing the order and declined to comment.

President Trump told reporters as he boarded a plane Friday that he’s disappointed in the ruling.

“Well it was a political decision made by a judge. I think it’s a disgrace.”

Opponents of the pipeline cheered the ruling as a possible final blow to the Keystone project, but the oil and gas industry isn’t seeing it that way.

“Reports where people are reporting the demise of this project, that has all been greatly exaggerated," says Alan Olson, the executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association. "And Keystone is committed to continuing on.” 

TransCanada is a member of MPA. Olsen says he spoke with members of the company Friday and he was told TransCanada is still reviewing the court order and has not decided how it will proceed.

“We look at it as stumbling block. We don’t expect this to end the project.”

Until Thursday's ruling halted further work on the $8 billion Keystone project, the laying of pipe in Montana was scheduled for early next year.

The pipeline has the backing of Montana’s top political figures.

Both Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte expressed disappointment in Judge Morris’ ruling. They say the pipeline will lead to more jobs in the state.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Jon Tester says Tester advocates for building the Keystone pipeline to the highest safety standards.

Governor Steve Bullock has said in the past he supports the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the economic development it will bring to Montana.

Dena Hoff owns an irrigated farm a few miles downstream of the pipeline’s proposed crossing of the Yellowstone River, near Glendive. She says she’s experienced an oil pipeline leak before and fears it happening again.

In 2015 a spill into the Yellowstone River contaminated the water supply in Glendive.

Hoff says the Keystone XL pipeline should be a global concern.

“It isn’t just me. It isn't just my group in Dawson County. All over the world people understand the implications of tar sands development on climate change. And it’s got to stop.”

Hoff doesn’t think Thursday’s court order is the final battle over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Associated Press reports the additional environmental review of the pipeline could take up to a year to complete.

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