Keystone XL Google Earth ViewThe Keystone Mapping Project (KMP) is an internationally recognized multimedia and photography project examining land use, climate policy, and transparency through an exploration of the Keystone Pipeline — the 2,000 mile diluted bitumen pipeline that bisects the North American Continent. The controversial pipeline has become emblematic of our inability to reconcile world demand for fossil fuels with the environmental imperatives imposed upon modern civilization. This is a modern landscape described by markets, regulatory documents, legislation, bureaucracies, and public relations.

At first glimpse, the Keystone route appears as a single oil export pipeline bisecting the North American continent. Yet, the pipeline is more than a geographical dividing line. While politicians and TransCanada Corporation, the developer, bemoan America’s need for cheap domestic oil, economic analysis shows that the Keystone XL, an expansion of the original route, will not only raise domestic oil prices, but that the oil transported by the Keystone is primarily bound for export markets. Many landowners welcome TransCanada’s leases. Others are fighting the Canadian company’s use of eminent domain to gain right-of-way. Communities, while interested in the income that the pipeline will bring, find themselves concerned with threats to their air, water, and agriculture. Nationwide, environmentalists, landowners, and local governments feel voiceless against influential corporations, lax environmental laws, and regulatory disinterest. In both literal and figurative terms, the Keystone is a dividing line.

Interactive Mapping Resource

Keystone XL mapA map can become so indelibly associated with a place, so as to define it – from who can own it, to how it is perceived and used. In the case of the Keystone XL, only a simple, single-page promotional map has been made public. For many, the pipeline remains an abstraction, remote in both its physical presence and potential impacts.

Over many years, the KMP has compiled and maintained the only publicly available interactive maps of the Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines, extending from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Leveraging Google Maps and Google Earth – two ubiquitous mapping tools whose source imagery finds its origins in military reconnaissance and surveillance, these maps have become the most comprehensive resource for the location data points called for in the Department of State’s FEIS, SEIS, and FSEIS, including milepost markers, waterbody crossings, access roads, and water and gas wells. Supplemental maps include principal aquifers in the lower US 48, a projected voluntary evacuation zone should a spill occur, North American hazardous liquid spills, the Ponca Tribe’s historic Trail of Tears, “Fraccidents,” and more. To this day, the United States Department of State refuses to release the official mapping data underpinning its environmental review of the Keystone projects.

Not only do the KMP maps describe the countryside as seen from space and the path of the pipeline through it, but also impacts to individuals, communities, and the environment. From our virtual perch we see how our dependency on fossil fuels and the forces of economics, business, government, politics, and foreign policy shape how we both perceive and engage with the landscape.

Landscape Photography

Keystone Mapping Project Voluntary Evacuation ZoneBased upon these maps and the lack of transparency surrounding them, Bachand has produced two bodies of landscape photography from publicly-available, machine-generated visual records of the nation’s lands and commons. The Voluntary Evacuation Zone utilizes satellite photography to illustrate the wider impacts of this trans-continental energy project. Crossings examines the pipeline corridor through the dispassionate eye of Google Street View, the automated documentarian of our nation’s roadways.

Underlying the Keystone controversy are basic perceptions of the land and land use. What are we to make of this hidden landscape? What is the story told by computerized satellite and street cameras?

The KMP is the creation of author, photographer, and web developer Thomas Bachand.