As Construction Of Keystone XL Is Paused, Tribes Brace For What's Next A federal judge in Montana blocked further work on the Keystone XL oil pipeline this week. Construction was scheduled to start in January 2019 and TransCanada says it's still committed to the project.
NPR logo

As Construction Of Keystone XL Is Paused, Tribes Brace For What's Next

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/664419936/666492932" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
As Construction Of Keystone XL Is Paused, Tribes Brace For What's Next

As Construction Of Keystone XL Is Paused, Tribes Brace For What's Next

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/664419936/666492932" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The latest chapter in the controversial Keystone oil pipeline played out late this week. A federal judge in Montana temporarily blocked the project and asked for an additional environmental review. Indigenous activists are cheering the judge's decision, but both sides predict that it isn't over. Yellowstone Public Radio's Nate Hegyi reports.

NATE HEGYI, BYLINE: The Keystone XL pipeline was slated to begin construction in 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I approved it. It's ready to start.

HEGYI: President Donald Trump revived it after the Obama administration killed it in 2015, citing environmental and economic concerns. The pipeline would carry oil more than 1,000 miles from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. And this week, a federal court in Montana blocked it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Well, it was a political decision made by a judge. I think it's a disgrace.

HEGYI: Trump blasted the reversal before he flew to France. Indigenous activist Angeline Cheek lives on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. For her, this is a small win.

ANGELINE CHEEK: But also true, our fight is never over.

HEGYI: The court ruled the State Department and Keystone's developer, TransCanada, will need to take a second look at the project's environmental and economic impacts before it moves forward. Cheeks says she's wary of the temporary nature of the judge's decision. It doesn't outright end the pipeline's construction. Instead, it presses pause.

CHEEK: The key words are until further notice.

HEGYI: The pipeline would cross the Missouri River in Montana. It's an important source of water for the Fort Peck Reservation. TransCanada says the pipeline would be buried more than 50 feet below the river. The company has state-of-the-art monitoring systems that can register pressure drops and can shut down the pipeline within minutes. Katie Thunderchild lives on the Fort Peck reservation. She isn't sold.

KATIE THUNDERCHILD: You know, what if it does leak? You know, we can't predict that. You know, they do break.

HEGYI: And she says a leak would get into their drinking water.

THUNDERCHILD: We drink that water, then we get sick, and then it just goes on down the line.

HEGYI: Thunderchild says she's also worried about the kind of people pipeline construction would bring. Keystone's developers are planning temporary housing for a surge of out-of-town workers.

THUNDERCHILD: What is their background? Did they commit a crime? Does it involve children? Does it - you know, guns and all the other stuff and drugs.

HEGYI: She's afraid because of what happened during the nearby Bakken oil boom. A lot of men came to this isolated pocket of America to find work in the oil fields. During that time, there were higher rates of sexual assault and violence in eastern Montana, and at least one murder was pinned to the boom when two men who had come to the area looking for work killed a teacher. TransCanada says they drug test all of their workers, that they live in work camps with security cameras and that they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to guns. But Thunderchild has two young daughters, and the pipeline project scares her. She watches one of them play in the grass. She says the pipeline carries too much risk for her people, their water and their future. Her children think about that when they drink water on the reservation, she says.

THUNDERCHILD: Children know. They know what's right and what's wrong.

HEGYI: Before this ruling, Thunderchild's community and others in eastern Montana were bracing for a potential Standing Rock-style protest. Now that possibility, like the pipeline, is on pause - at least for now. In a statement, TransCanada says it remains committed to building Keystone XL. For NPR News, I'm Nate Heygi in Missoula, Mont.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.