Since January 2021, Fox News has repeatedly invoked the canceled Keystone XL pipeline as a symbol for what it claims is President Joe Biden’s failed energy policy and the administration’s deference to a supposedly radical climate agenda.
- In the 517 days since Biden issued an executive order canceling the pipeline — from January 20, 2021, to June 20, 2022 — Fox News mentioned Keystone at least 2,036 times.
- From January 20, 2021, through February 2021, Fox mentioned the pipeline every single day on the network for a total of 596 mentions.
- Altogether, Fox mentioned the pipeline at least once on 365 of 517 days since its cancellation — despite no other newsworthy events that centered the controversial project.
An examination of when the mentions peaked illustrates how Fox used the canceled pipeline during key moments, and to varying ends, to both attack the Biden administration and agitate for increasing our dependence on fossil fuels:
- Of the total mentions, 29% occurred in January and February 2021 — the weeks immediately following Biden’s executive order canceling the pipeline — when the network mostly decried the job losses associated with the scrapped project.
- In May 2021, mentions peaked around the Colonial pipeline cyberattack with 156 mentions that month.
- In November 2021, Fox mentioned Keystone 110 times at a time when gas prices had a noticeable increase in response to decreased COVID-19 restrictions and rising demand.
- Around the outset of the war in Ukraine — February and March — Fox mentioned Keystone a total of 532 times or roughly 26% of all mentions since January 2021.
- Since April — during a period of ever increasing gas prices — Fox News has continued a steady drumbeat of invoking the canceled pipeline, mentioning Keystone over 55 times each month between April and June 20.
The Keystone XL pipeline is not the antidote to domestic high prices and global energy insecurity
Fox News hosts, anchors, and guests have touted the Keystone XL pipeline as a solution to domestic high gas prices and global energy insecurity, despite multiple fact checks to the contrary.
The Keystone XL pipeline was designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, where it would have connected to the Keystone Pipeline System. The pipeline system flows to the U.S. Gulf Coast, which has refineries equipped to process tar sands oil. At the time Biden halted the project, only 8% of the project had been built, and it “would have required years of construction and likely more legal challenges, so it couldn’t have solved today’s demand needs.” Several energy experts also noted in USA Today that Keystone XL does not impact current gas prices.
Additionally, the fuel that would have run through Keystone XL has found its way to the market via other forms of transportation, as energy journalists have pointed out.
Regardless of these facts, Fox News has repeatedly invoked the pipeline as the solution to and a cause of rising gas prices. In May 2021, the Colonial pipeline, a major fuel supply line on the East Coast, was shut down in response to a ransomware attack. Fox News used the incident and the resulting increase in gas prices to bludgeon Biden on main fronts, including claiming that the attack was proof that the Keystone pipeline is essential to U.S. energy security.
During a discussion about the ransomware attack and gas shortages on the May 11, 2021, edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), “Joe Biden turned off the Keystone pipeline, one of the first things he did. He would never admit we need more pipelines, but this probably shows that we absolutely do.” The night before, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry similarly told Fox host Sean Hannity, “Maybe we should build more pipelines instead of shutting them down.”
During all of May 2021, the Keystone pipeline was mentioned 156 times — just slightly more than when it was repeatedly invoked again — six months later.
In November 2021, when gas prices noticeably increased in response to decreased COVID-19 restrictions and rising demand, Fox mentioned Keystone 110 times. The prevalence of a similar narrative on social media resulted in a Politifact piece that concluded the “decision to cancel the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was not in operation, did not cause the recent increases in U.S. gasoline prices.”
Notably, in an exchange on the November 9, 2021, edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto between the anchor and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), Cavuto repeatedly tried to get Garamendi to agree to the idea that canceling Keystone was a mistake in light of the current hike in gas prices. Garamendi rightly pointed out that the pipeline, which would still be under construction, would have no bearing on the current situation.
Despite this one pushback, the narrative that the Keystone pipeline would have an impact on current gas prices usually went unchallenged on Fox News.
At the outset of the war in Ukraine, just a few months later, Fox News’ Keystone rhetoric reached a fever pitch. In February and March, Fox mentioned the pipeline a total of 532 times or roughly 26% of all mentions since January 2021. During this period, the canceled pipeline was pinned as a reason for rising gas prices, energy insecurity, and even Russian President Vladimir Putin getting emboldened enough to invade Ukraine.
Since March, there has been a steady drumbeat of these narratives. From April through June 20, Fox has mentioned Keystone 173 times — an average of 58 mentions each month.
Before rising gas prices, Fox falsely heralded Keystone XL as a major job creator
More than a quarter (29%) of total Keystone mentions occurred from the end of January through February 2021 — the weeks immediately following Biden’s executive order revoking a key pipeline permit — when the network mostly decried the job losses associated with the scrapped project.
From January 20 through February 28, Fox News mentioned Keystone 596 times, an average of roughly 15 times a day.
The heavy rotation of Keystone during this period mostly centered around the claim that the action would result in the loss of thousands of U.S. jobs with anchors, hosts, and guests throwing around job loss numbers from 11,000 (the oil industry claim) to 42,000. As PolitiFact noted at the time, an estimated 10,400 of these positions would have been temporary jobs “for seasonal construction work lasting four to eight-month periods.”
To underscore these claims, Fox News brought on multiple guests associated with the pipeline construction, including laid-off Keystone Pipeline worker Neal Crabtree. Crabtree eventually appeared as a Republican witness before a House oversight committee in October 2021 on the oil industry’s efforts to erode the public consensus around climate change and thwart climate action.
Keystone is not the panacea that Fox would have its viewers believe. But through repetition and intentional application, it has become a right-wing media buzzword that boils down complex energy and climate issues to a symbol — in this case, a pipeline that never would have accomplished the things Fox News assigned to it.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the key phrase “Keystone,” from January 20, 2021, through June 20, 2022. We counted each instance of the phrase as a single mention. Instances where Keystone referred to the state of Pennsylvania were removed from the data set.