Whether ultimately approved or not, the Keystone XL Pipeline offers a telling window into the contemporary politics of hydrocarbons in North America. Although oil pipelines have been around for nearly a century, they have long been neglected in scholarship and public debate. Today, that is beginning to change. Whether as a vehicle of development or as a harbinger of climate change, oil pipelines are increasingly understood not as inert things but as consequential authors in our troubled present. Using the technical planning for and spirited protests around the Keystone XL as primary source material, we will reflect more generally on the question of what kind of politics is possible around energy networks. A few themes will guide our inquiries: the aspirations and anxieties that gather around such projects; the inner workings of the regulatory process; the status of public voices; the relations between disclosed data and buried material; how energy networks build certain material and ethical linkages and sever others; and how fossil fuels interact with (or elude) traditional forms of criticism and change. At a number of points we will link the Keystone XL Pipeline to much bigger debates in social research today, including questions about the social dimensions of infrastructure as well as questions about the technical limits of democratic practice. Comparisons will be made with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, BTC Pipeline, and the Chad Cameroon Pipeline.