For over 60 years, TransCanada has been a leader in North American energy infrastructure. They have completed projects in natural gas, power stations and crude oil. One of their major projects was the Keystone Pipeline which transports crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to United States’ refineries. The project began in 2005 and is now a total of 4,247 km in length. It transports about one quarter of Canada’s crude oil exports and routes through Alberta, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas. Phases 1, 2 and 3 began operation in 2010, 2011 and 2014 respectively. In 2008, TransCanada submitted the proposal for Phase 4, an $8 billion pipeline planned to stretch 1,900 km from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. This extension of the pipeline project, called Keystone XL, would carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily with a diameter of 36 inches.
To the surprise of TransCanada, this pipeline extension caused great controversy. With public scrutiny unmatched by other pipelines and many stakeholders pushing their agenda, the final verdict was delayed until 2015. This difficult decision had rested with John Kerry, the Secretary of State. In November 2015 he made an official recommendation to President Obama against Keystone XL.
The main teaching objective of this case study is to provide the opportunity for students to analyze the impact of an international project that incorporates environmental, social, political and economic factors. The rich context of the Keystone XL Pipeline will naturally elicit debate and require decision-making skills in order to analyze an ethical problem and reach a conclusion. The case reader can also explore the role of the engineer and their responsibility to the environment versus economic factors.