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Opposition to Keystone XL in Nebraska, United States


Despite a large oil spill from the existing Keystone pipeline in South Dakota just days before the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) announced their final decision, the Keystone XL pipeline won approval on November 20, 2017. It was, however, not all good news for TransCanada Corp., the Canadian company proposing to build the pipeline, as the PSC did not grant approval to their desired route, instead approving the ‘mainline alternative route.’[1]

There are mixed opinions about the decision, as even with the approval of the alternative route, TransCanada and those in support of the Keystone XL pipeline are well aware that the fight against the project is not over [1]. Some opposition groups, including the Bold Nebraska Alliance, see the approval of the alternative pipeline as a partial victory, as a number of Nebraskan landowners, farmers and ranchers are now no longer in the path of the proposed route, and opposition groups have renewed their commitment to continue fighting the project [2]. Furthermore, environmentalists are already calling for more environmental impact assessments, and there is a potential for new challenges against the pipeline from landowners that now find themselves in the path of the newly approved alternative route, which would further delay construction [3].


This pipeline system aims to transport oil sands bitumen from Canada and the northern United States primarily to refineries in the Gulf Coast of Texas. The pipeline will affect indigenous peoples and their sacred lands, specifically the waters and land they depend on for their survival. It also affects farmers and ranchers.  President Obama rejected it but Congress kept pushing it with various new legislation.

Ever since the pipeline was proposed by TransCanada, it has faced strong opposition from environmental justice groups in both Canada and the United States of America. Although the project has support in the Nebraskan State Legislature, legal challenges and lobbying by opposition groups had stopped the pipeline from entering the state. In 2011, a coalition of landowners and environmentalists called the Bold Nebraska Alliance, successfully lobbied to give the right to the PSC to regulate pipelines in the state of Nebraska [4]. Prior to the actions of the Bold Alliance, Nebraska had no regulations or state agency to govern pipelines [3]. However, in a set back for the Bold Alliance, a TransCanada backed legislation was created a year later to give the Governor, Dave Heinemann, the right to approve pipelines [4]. The Bold Alliance then filed a lawsuit which went to the State Supreme Court, and in a decision in 2015, seven justices sided with Bold, with three absenting from voting. Unfortunately, to overturn the statute granting the right of alternative approval to the governor, the Bold Alliance needed a 5-2 majority, so the decision was more of a moral victory than anything else [4]. 

Sources of Conflict:

There are several sources of conflict highlighted by opposition groups to the Keystone XL. First among them is the threat to property rights, as the proposed routes for the pipeline run through the land of private landowners, farmers and ranchers [2]. Environmentalists are also concerned about the pipeline’s threat to water; as the proposed routes for Keystone XL cross one of the largest aquifers in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer, whose water is drawn upon by the states of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas [3]. The proposed routes also run through the vulnerable and environmentally sensitive area of the Nebraskan Sandhills [4], and threatens the habitat of several species including the endangered whooping crane [5]

Tribal Attorneys have also argued that TransCanada had failed to properly consult with Tribes about the project, and did not survey the Trail of Tears, or other sacred sites in the path of Keystone XL for important cultural sites or artefacts [5]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Opposition to Keystone XL in Nebraska, United States
Country:United States of America
State or province:Nebraska
Location of conflict:Lincoln
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline. Covering a total distance of 1,897km from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, USA, the pipeline has the potential to carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day [6]. Keystone XL would mostly carry Canadian crude extracted from the oil fields in northern Alberta, in order to more easily bring Canadian oil to the refineries along the Gulf Coast; however, it will also carry some, albeit a comparably smaller amount, of oil extracted in the United States [6].

The pipeline would cross parts of Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and would connect to the Keystone pipeline which is already operational and runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Illinois [3].

The Estimated Affected Population is difficult to determine as there is not a list of the amount of farms, ranches, communities or tribes in its path. The estimate given here (1710 persons) is a conservative one that is based on the 90 farmers/ranchers who have refused to sell their land to TransCanada; and of the registered members of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska, who reside in the fifteen-county Ponca Service Delivery Area. However, the affected population can be much higher as there are roughly 4'100 enrolled members in the Ponca Tribe worldwide [7], and the new alternative route places other landowners in the state in the path of the pipeline.

Project area:189,600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project7,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,710
Start of the conflict:10/11/2011
Company names or state enterprises:TransCanada Corp. from Canada
Relevant government actors:Federal Government of the United States of America
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Nebraska Public Service Commission
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Sierra Club (
Bold Alliance - Bold Nebraska ( (
Audubon Nebraska (
Guardians of the Good Life (
Nebraska Farmers Union (
Nebraska Green Party (
Nebraska League of Conservation Voters (
Nebraska Wildlife Federation (
Landowners of Nebraska
The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
Yankton Sioux Tribe

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Ranchers, landowners
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Fostering a culture of peace
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Approval of Alternative Route
Developing Alternatives As A Form Of Resistance
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Solar XL Project is a campaign to build solar panels in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline as a form of resistance, and to show the contrast between clean renewable energy and dirty energy [8]. For more information on this project see the youtube video produced by in the Sources and Materials Section.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:It is hard to say whether or not environmental justice has been served. The alternative route might divert the pipeline from those who were originally in its path; however, new landowners now find themselves in its path. Also, the alternative route still crosses the sensitive environmental area of the Nebraska Sandhills, and the vital Ogallala aquifer. Those who have managed to divert the pipeline away from their land might consider this a victory; however, it is difficult to call this a victory for the environmental justice movement until this pipeline is dead once and for all.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Haavardsrud, Paul. 2017. “Keystone XL clears final hurdle only to see more hurdles”. Canadian Broadcasting Company.

[2] Hefflinger, Mark. 2017. “Keystone XL Partially Denied; Landowners Vow to Keep Fighting.” Bold Nebraska

[3] CBC. 2017. “Nebraska Oks ‘alternative route’ for Keystone XL pipeline” Canadian Broadcasting Company.

[4] Elbein, Saul. 2017. “The Keystone XL Pipeline Fight is Not Over Yet” Rolling Stone Magazine.

[5] Hefflinger, Mark. 2017. “Landowners, Bold Alliance and Sierra Club Argue Keystone XL Not in the Public Interest in Closing Briefs to Public Service Commission.” Bold Nebraska.

[6] BBC. 2017. "Keystone XL pipeline: Why is it so disputed?." British Broadcasting Company

[7] Ponca Tribe. 2017. "Ponca Tribe Culture and History."

[9] No one wants the Keystone XL pipeline, but Nebraska just approved it anyway. The existing Keystone pipeline spilled over 200,000 gallons of oil last week. Natasha Geiling. Nov 20, 2017

Bold Nebraska webpage. Information about their fight against Keystone XL

Omaha-World Herald on Keystone XL alternative route approval

Hammel, Paul .2017. "Nebraska PSC grants landowners' request, sets hearing over next steps on Keystone XL pipeline." Omaha-World Herald.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[8] Solar XL - A Wave of Renewable Energy Resistance

Published by

Other comments:In November 2017, "An independent, five-person panel voted to approve an alternative route for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline ... But the decision to approve an alternative route for the pipeline, rather than TransCanada’s preferred route, could open up a new set of issues for the Canadian energy company, which may need to reapply for permits with the Bureau of Land Management and Army Corps of Engineers, as well as potentially obtain a new review from the State Department".[9]

Meta information

Contributor:James Joshua Young - [email protected] - Lund University
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3161



Solar XL

Bold Nebraska's Solar Farm in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline

Give Keystone XL The Boot March

Give Keystone XL The Boot March in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aug 6, 2017.

No KXL Heartland Nebraska

Crop Art