Keystone XL pipeline project is approved, just days after the Keystone pipeline leaked 5,000 barrels of oil.

Keystone XL pipeline project is approved, just days after the Keystone pipeline leaked 5,000 barrels of oil.

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline is (sort of) approved, after nine years of back-and-forth

210,000 gallons of oil (5,000 barrels) leaked from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota last Thursday before TransCanada, the pipeline’s operator, noticed a pressure drop on the line and was able to isolate it. All of this in about fifteen minutes. This is already the third pipeline spill in South Dakota this year, and by far the largest. At this point, officials aren’t sure what caused it, and they don’t know yet whether any groundwater’s been contaminated, although “some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” according to Brian Walsh, a spokesman for South Dakota’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. TransCanada confirmed this in one horrifying tweet:

The spill came at a weird juncture, politically. For the last nine or so years, there’s been a whole lot of conflict over building the Keystone XL pipeline – a sister-project of the Keystone – which just this week came up for approval in the Nebraska Public Service Commission, an elected panel of one Democrat and four Republicans.

This $8 billion deal has been supported by labor forces and the Nebraska state legislature, but it’s been fought by environmentalists, who are concerned about the potential effects of contamination, especially along the proposed route, which is “within a mile of thousands of water wells.” A spill like last week’s from this new potential pipeline would potentially be catastrophic.

Nebraska’s PSC was tasked with deciding whether the Keystone XL pipeline was in the public interest, but, in a very strange twist, was not legally allowed to take into consideration the environmental risks of the project, since it was already given an environmental permit by the federal government – it had been approved by President Trump back in March after being rejected by former president Obama in 2015 on environmental grounds after years of deliberation. On Monday, the PSC approved the Keystone XL project by a 3-2 vote, though they rejected TransCanada’s projected route through the state. This redirection would force the pipeline through a path TransCanada has not yet negotiated, forcing the oil company to settle the facts with an entirely different group of landowners – at least 40 – “some of whom may not have realized their land was on a pipeline route,” according to Paul Hammel at the Omaha World-Herald.

On a related note, the Senate GOP’s new tax plan may include approval for oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Democrats and Republicans have been fighting for years over opening these northwest Alaskan plains for drilling, and last week the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee voted 13-to-10 to advance drilling in the area. With the GOP scrambling for ways to plug up the $1.4 trillion national deficit created by their proposal, this project provides a potential revenue source to the tune of $1.1 billion over 10 years. Also fueling this project, so to speak, is the decrease of oil being transported by the Alaska Pipeline over the last few decades and the need to keep it pumping as a way to maintain its own functionality.

Deck the halls with boughs of… trash?

US household waste increases 25 percent during the holidays, according to Emily Lipstein and Stephen Michael at Earther – that’s an extra ONE MILLION TONS of trash per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Here are some ideas on how to be environmentally-friendly this holiday season (and, really, always):

  • Skip the disposables by sticking to reusable plates and utensils, or if you must buy disposables at least ensure they’re compostable or recyclable.
  • If you’re not already on the compost train, there is no better time to start than the most wasteful time of the year. (If you don’t garden, or your municipality doesn’t pick up your compost, and you’re not sure what to do with a bucket of rotting scraps, check out some suggestions here.)
  • Buy whatever locally-sourced and organic food you can! It tastes better, is good for your local economy, and is better for the environment.
  • Consider eating less meat. That Thanksgiving turkey is better than pork and red meat, but eating no meat is probably best. If not on the holidays themselves, consider trading out that burger for a tasty alternative once a week – if the entire US did this, it would be equivalent to taking “30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year,” according to food writer Michael Pollan.
  • Don’t let your leftovers stink up your fridge! Encourage guests to bring Tupperware to share the excess. 

Some other interesting things you might have missed this week:

In an interview with The Washington Post’s James Hohmann, EPA chief Scott Pruitt said he wants to redefine environmentalism as “stewardship” over “prohibition” and claimed his coal and oil industry ties are strengths rather than conflicts of interest.

  • Pruitt also maintained his stance that the Paris climate agreement was “a bad business deal,” and again claimed that to support green energy over coal and oil is to pick energy “winners and losers.” Read the full profile here.


In last week’s blog, I talked a little about geoengineering and the conservative plan to use aerosols and carbon traps as an alternative to shifting away from fossil fuels. Well, NASA recently produced a visualization from satellites to track three aerosols: smoke, dust, and sea salt. It’s not only fascinating to watch, but also shows the incredible, unpredictable nature of tiny particles in the atmosphere.


Colorado farmers are taxing themselves to conserve water in their drought-ridden region, and it’s working.


Tesla revealed its newest vehicle – an electric semi-truck that boasts a 400-mile range within 30 minutes of charging.


Apparently, elephants cross party lines. Trump halted a ruling that would allow big game hunters to bring their “trophies” into the United States from Zimbabwe and Zambia because, his aides said, “the president likes elephants.” I’m personally a little curious as to what he likes about them – is he is most drawn to them because they’re a keystone species, or because they mourn like humans, or because their feet are seismically sensitive? The world may never know (unless he tweets it).


Despite a recent increase in young farmers, American agriculture continues to hemorrhage small and mid-sized farms.

Despite a recent increase in young farmers, American agriculture continues to hemorrhage small and mid-sized farms.

'Killing all across the world for that coal money'

'Killing all across the world for that coal money'