BREAKING: Keystone XL Pipeline is Dead For Now After Override Vote Fails

March 4th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

UPDATE: 3/4/15 - 4:08 p.m. EST: The Senate has failed to override the president's veto of authorization of further work on the Keystone pipeline.

Keystone is dead (for now).

Ultimately, the Senate Republicans failed to get enough Democrats to vote against the president. They did get eight Democrats to vote for Keystone, but needed 13. Who were the eight Democrats who voted to override the veto and approve Keystone?

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)
  • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.)
  • Sen. Mark Warner (Va.)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.)
  • Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.)
  • Sen. Tom Carper (Del.)
  • Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.)

According to The Hill, Republicans will try to attach Keystone to a transportation bill that will come up later this year.

“This is coming back in the form an infrastructure bill, a road bill that we are all voting for,” said Sen. Manchin, according to The Hill.

UPDATE: 2/24/15 - 3:35 p.m. EST: Following much speculation after the legislation came to his desk early Tuesday, President Barack Obama has officially vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. 

From the Associated Press:

The move sends the politically charged issue back to Congress, where Republicans have yet to show they can muster the two-thirds majority in both chambers needed to override Obama's veto. Sen. John Hoeven, the bill's chief GOP sponsor, said Republicans are about four votes short in the Senate and need about 11 more in the House.

UPDATE: 1/29/15 - 4:55 p.m. EST: After weeks of deliberations, the Senate has passed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill––regardless of a veto threat from the White House. 

Republican Senate leaders will now work in tandem with the House to prepare a cohesive bill for President Obama, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated the President's commitment to a veto at a press conference Thursday afternoon. 

Nonetheless, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was pleased with the 62-36 vote (including nine Democrats), telling reporters Thursday that the vote was a positive step towards creating jobs and energy independence. 

At the end of last session, Congress made headlines when they voted against the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a big victory for environmentalists and opponents of further oil developments. But now we have a new Congress where Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved a version of the Keystone bill, but the White House seems to be holding fast to their earlier commitment to veto. 

Republicans could attempt to override a Presidential veto, but at press time, they only have 65 votes; they need 67. President Obama is expected to act on the bill after Feb. 2nd, after federal agencies have submitted comments. 

(To get caught up on what else is happening with this new Congress, check out our explainer.)

Can you explain the Keystone Pipeline again?

At this point, you’ve probably heard of the Keystone XL Pipeline—the final piece of the mostly completed Keystone pipeline project, which would run crude oil from Alberta, Canada, south through the middle of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the completed pipeline would be only 1,700 miles long, a veritable drop in the bucket of the 2.6 million miles of existing oil and gas pipelines snaking beneath the U.S., it’s been at the center of a fierce, years-long debate.

But before you get caught up in the debate, here are some sober facts to keep in mind. 

Given the charged nature of the debate, it might come as a surprise to learn that around 40 percent of the project has already been completed. It’s broken up into two segments, with a 298-mile pipe stretching from Steele City, Neb., to Cushing, Okla., and another 485-mile segment between Cushing and Nederland, Tex. If approved, the final segment would stretch from Alberta to Steele City. The completed pipeline would be able to move, at capacity, 830,000 barrels of crude oil every day.

The crude oil is delivered to facilities where it is then refined into things such as gasoline and other fuels. The production industry is currently booming in the middle of the country, and the pipeline would take on some of this crude for transport.

Why don’t environmentalists like it?

Something of a sticking point for environmentalists is the source in which the oil is found, and the process by which it is extracted. To get a moveable product from Canada’s tar sands, producers must heat the sands in order to separate out the crude oil. This process, in part, contributes to the estimated 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions that oil sands production yields relative to traditional oil drilling. 

The State Department released an environmental review earlier this year concluding that Keystone wouldn’t contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions—the oil will be produced with or without the pipeline. Environmental groups still would rather have the oil left in the ground. But the decision is nonetheless significant thanks to, among other things, the recent U.S.-China climate agreements to curb emissions over the next 20 years. 

Will Keystone lower gas prices?

On the other end, some have argued that increased access to North American oil sources will help stabilize and lower domestic gas prices. (That is, we'll have less price fluctuation at the pump as a result of instability in the Middle East, for example). 

But this is disputed. President Obama said that we risk providing a funnel for oil sent “through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.” There’s even indication that the completed pipeline could actually increase local gas prices.

Will Keystone create jobs?

Proponents of the pipeline, who include Republicans (generally), construction workers, unions, and energy companies, also say that it could create thousands of valuable, well-paying jobs. And some of the numbers back these claims up. The State Department has estimated that during the construction phase, about 42,000 direct and indirect jobs could generate around $2 billion in earnings. Unfortunately, though, that job number drops to about 50 (or less) following construction. (Oil companies like the pipeline, in part, because it requires so little to operate successfully.)