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Keystone XL Construction Begins, Despite COVID-19 Concerns


Wednesday, April 15, 2020   

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is going forward, cutting a path through northeast Montana, but climate action groups and tribes say along with environmental concerns, the pipeline poses a health threat with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Steve Bullock is allowing work to go ahead because infrastructure workers are considered essential. Under pipeline owner TC Energy's plans to bring hundreds of workers across the border, said Summer Nelson, director of the Sierra Club Montana chapter, there's a clear threat of spreading the virus.

"Health care is essential, getting food to people is essential," she said, "but constructing a tar-sands pipeline that isn't even fully approved or certain to ever be completed is absolutely not essential."

Groups opposed to the pipeline are awaiting decisions on multiple lawsuits that could block the project. TC Energy's efforts to bring Alberta tar sands to global markets got a boost in March with $1 billion from the province, and pipeline supporters have said it will bring jobs to the region.

The pipeline would carry up to 830 million barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Nelson said emissions from the carbon-intensive tar sands would be equal to 51 coal-fired power plants.

Indigenous people have a number of health concerns, as well. Angeline Cheek, a member of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, said tar sand sinks when it hits water, making it hard to clean up. She added that her home especially is vulnerable to the coronavirus threat.

"With the KXL coming through, it puts the indigenous communities at risk," she said. "All we have on the reservation are three ventilators."

Cheek said Fork Peck elders are planning a prayer and protest, using social-distancing guidelines, near the pipeline construction site this week. She said folks should be more considerate about their treatment of the environment, especially with the threat from climate change.

"We don't have control over the environment or what happens to the world," she said, "and to us, that means that we're only guests here, and that we need to be more respectful and mindful of the decisions that we make."

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Montana contributes to our fund for reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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