Oil Sands Photo Essay

Nebraska regulators on Monday approved Keystone XL, a 1,180-mile-long (1,900-kilometer) extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp.

But the 3-2 vote in favor of expanding the pipeline followed a leak of 210,000 gallons of oil just days before. That oil gushed from a section of Keystone in South Dakota before TransCanada cut off the flow.

Plans for Keystone XL call for the pipeline to begin in Alberta's oil sands, sometimes called tar sands, and end at holding tanks in Patoka, Illinois, as well as points in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.

Former President Barack Obama canceled the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2015 with an executive order that said it would neither help lower gas prices nor create that many jobs. He also cited the pipeline's long-term contribution to climate change — possibly more than 22 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, according to Scientific American.

"If we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground," Obama said.

But President Donald Trump overturned Obama's cancellation with a new presidential permit.

The XL segment already is partially built, and may ultimately cost entrepreneurs more than $10 billion. Upon completion, it would move larger volumes of oil in less time by shortening the route and burying larger-diameter pipes.

Proponents of the pipeline say it will lessen dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs. But environmental groups and many Americans — especially Native Americans — remain furious about the project. Beyond the risk of spills like the one this week, the project's steep environmental costs also include the potential industrialization of 54,000 square miles of Alberta wilderness.

"The scale and severity of what's happening in Alberta will make your spine tingle," Robert Johnson, a former Business Insider correspondent, wrote after flying over the Canadian oil sands in May 2012.

Keep scrolling to see an updated version of Johnson's photo essay, which shows the effects of Canadian oil mining — a process in which oil-laden sand is dug from the ground, the fuel separated out, and the land converted back into use for wild plants and animals. Today that process makes up about 50% of the Keystone XL pipeline's oil, while less-visible "in situ" pumping generates the rest.

This story was originally published on March 24, 2017. It has been updated with new information.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to revive and expedite two multibillion-dollar underground pipelines that would snake oil through US states to centers of the petroleum industry.

One is the contentious $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which would shuttle petroleum more than 1,100 miles, from North Dakota's Bakkan oil fields to holding tanks in Patoka, Illinois.

The other is the Keystone XL pipeline — a new segment of the existing Keystone Pipeline system, which begins in the Alberta, Canada, oil sands, also called tar sands (use of either term is controversial), and ends in Patoka as well as points in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico. The XL segment, which could cost its builders as much as $10 billion, is partially built and would move larger volumes of oil in less time by shortening the route and burying larger-diameter pipes.

Proponents of the pipeline say it will lessen dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs and growing domestic industry. But many Americans, and primarily Native Americans, are furious about Trump's latest executive order.

Barack Obama killed the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2015, saying it wouldn't have helped lower gas prices or create that many jobs. He also said the long-term contribution to climate change — possibly more than 22 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, according to Scientific American — wasn't worth the loss of America's global leadership on fighting emissions that exacerbate global warming.

"If we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground," Obama said.

Trump's televised revival of Keystone XL didn't mention its steep environmental costs, including the 54,000 square miles (140,000 square kilometers) of pristine Alberta wilderness that may be industrialized to feed it.

"We're not saying the project is good or bad. We're just saying the scale and severity of what's happening in Alberta will make your spine tingle," Robert Johnson, a former Business Insider correspondent, wrote after flying over the Canadian oil sands in May 2012.

Keep scrolling to see an updated version of Johnson's photo essay, which shows Canadian oil mining — a process in which tar-laden sand is dug from the ground and the oil is separated through a lengthy and messy process.

This story has been updated to include details about in situ extraction, which is different from the mining method and makes up about half of Canada oil sands production.

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