Days after U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled construction plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline - meant to carry oil from Canada’s Alberta province to Nebraska - posts on social media alleged this move was due to Warren Buffett’s extensive political donations to Biden’s campaign. They claim that railways owned by Buffett now stand to benefit from transporting the oil that the Keystone XL Pipeline would have carried. Buffett, however, did not donate to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and oil from Canada that would have travelled via the Keystone XL Pipeline is likely going to use existing and other new pipeline infrastructures to enter the United States.
Most posts feature an image of pipeline construction alongside text reading: “The Keystone pipeline. Cancelled by Biden on first day. Warren Buffett owns the railroad that is now transporting all that oil. Warren Buffett donated 58 million to Biden campaign. Warren Buffett would lose billions in transport fees if the pipeline is completed. See how politics works? It’s not an environmental issue, it is a money issue…”
By “Keystone pipeline”, the posts are referring to the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project cancelled by Biden on his first day in office on Jan. 21, 2021, dealing a death blow to a long-gestating project that would have carried 830,000 barrels per day of heavy oil-sands crude from Alberta to Nebraska.
Environmental activists and indigenous communities hailed the cancellation, and traders and analysts said U.S.-Canada pipelines will have more than enough capacity to handle increasing volumes of crude out of Canada, the primary foreign supplier of oil to the United States ( here ).
A map of the Keystone XL’s route alongside the existing Keystone Pipeline System, operating since 2010, can be seen here .
DID BUFFETT DONATE TO BIDEN?
The first claim in these posts is that Warren Buffett, the American business tycoon and billionaire, donated $58 million to Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. According to public records from OpenSecrets and a spokeswoman for Buffett, this claim is false.
Debbie Bosanek, assistant to Warren Buffett, told Reuters via email that “Mr. Buffett gave no money to the Biden presidency campaign in 2020. He files all filing requirements for political contributions and made no contribution to any PAC.”
Business Insider ( here ) also reported on Buffett not donating to Biden during this election after having donated to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in past elections.
OpenSecrets.org by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit and nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C. focusing on government transparency and tracking money in politics, lists Warren Buffett’s political contributions here . While Buffett donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC, the committee working to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives) and to former astronaut and junior senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ), no other political recipients are listed for this election cycle of 2019-2020 (this was also reported by Yahoo! here ).
Buffett is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate that acquired Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp (BNSF) in 2009, which was at the time the billionaire investor’s biggest-ever acquisition ( here ). The BNSF is one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America, with “a rail network of 32,500 route miles in 28 states and three Canadian provinces" ( here ). Its trains carry energy (such as oil and coal), agricultural and consumer products.
Railroads such as BNSF owned by Buffett ( here ), however, are not the principle way oil is transported from Canada to the United States.
MOST U.S. OIL IMPORTS FROM CANADA USE PIPELINES, NOT RAILWAYS
Maps of the Keystone Pipeline System and Keystone XL Pipeline show its route: they Keystone XL would have created a “shortcut” in transporting oil from Alberta to Nebraska, while the existing Keystone Pipeline System connects the Canadian source to multiple U.S. states ( here ).
Canada is the primary supplier of foreign oil to the United States. In 2019, for example, the United States imported 3.7 million barrels per day from Canada ( here ), about 1.35 billion barrels for the year. During this year, 110.2 million barrels of crude oil were transported from Canada to the United States by rail ( here ), meaning only about 8% of the year’s imports from Canada traveled by rail.
Dave Smallen, director of public affairs at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, sent Reuters estimates for 2020 calculating that of the oil coming from Canada to the United States, 74.4% used pipelines compared to 3% using rail.
In short, rail infrastructures cannot compete with existing pipelines to transport oil at the rate the United States does. A historic look (1982-2018) at the transportation prevalence of pipelines, marine vessels, rail and truck for oil transport is visible here .
Reuters reported in 2013 - when the Keystone XL was being debated - that some industry officials, energy analysts and recent data raised questions about whether the industry really is eager to adopt crude-by-rail, primarily pointing to the economic cost of using rail over pipelines ( here ).
“It’s expensive to transport crude by rail, especially over long distances,” Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Reuters via email. Because of this, “operators prefer to use pipelines and use rail only as a backup.”
HOW WILL THE KEYSTONES XL PIPELINE OIL TRAVEL?
The posts say Buffett’s railroad “is now transporting all that oil” following the Keystone XL Pipeline’s cancellation. This is false, as most of the oil that would have made use of the Keystone XL will likely travel through existing and new pipelines.
The U.S. is also still poised to import record amounts of Canadian oil in the coming years, and several of the lines carrying that crude are in the midst of expansions (more detail on these in a Reuters report here ).
Cahill told Reuters that after the cancellation, “other pipelines will come online and crude exports by rail will continue to be a last resort.”
The North American Upstream team at energy consultants Wood Mackenzie sent Reuters findings from the company’s North American Crude Market Service report which agreed with this prediction. It notes that “the impacts of a [Keystone XL] cancelation are muted over the medium-term in large extent due to two other pipeline projects just around the corner (Enbridge Line 3 Replacement (L3R) and the TransMountain Expansion project (TMX).” These pipelines “will likely take rail volumes down to any contractual minimums until 2030.”
As per Reuters reports and industry experts, the Keystone XL Pipeline’s cancellation does not appear to mean a lucrative jump in business for crude-by-rail that might benefit Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF railway.
Berkshire Hathaway did not respond to Reuters request for comment on possible gains from Keystone XL’s cancellation.
False. Warren Buffett did not donate $58 million to Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. Most of the oil that would have been transported by the now-cancelled Keystone XL Pipeline will likely use existing and new pipeline infrastructure, not railways.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .
Correction Feb. 3, 2021: Removing reference to Energy Information Administration / Department of Energy in paragraph 15, the data is from BTS. Correcting Wood Mackenzie team name in paragraph 22.
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