Congratulations to the people of TransCanada, Inc., whose long fight to connect the tar-sands-oil-pumping Keystone pipeline to the Gulf Coast of America finally reached fruition on Wednesday. Even without Keystone XL being approved.

The company announced that oil is now flowing through its Gulf Coast pipeline, a 487-mile stretch of pipe running from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Nederland, Texas. It's the orange dotted segment on that map, but dotted/under construction no longer.

After four years of intense scientific and regulatory scrutiny and more than 15,000 pages of environmental reviews, we are proud to announce that the Gulf Coast Project, the safest pipeline ever built on U.S. soil, has begun delivering crude oil from Cushing, Okla., to state-of-the-art refineries in Texas.

If you follow that map backwards, you see that the oil in Cushing arrives there via the (green) Cushing Extension pipeline, which runs from Steele City, Nebraska, south. Then, the (brown) Keystone Pipeline, original version, which runs from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City.

The reason TransCanada has been pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline is largely that the existing Keystone pipeline, completed in June 2010, runs 2,147 miles and carries 590,000 barrels of oil a day. The very controversial Keystone XL pipeline would almost double the overall capacity — and take a much shorter route. It's been held up as the Obama administration reviews whether or not the expansion will meet environmental standards.

As The Hill reports, environmental groups are not happy about the new pipeline churning into action. The head of the Sierra Club: "Today’s announcement is a painful example of President Obama’s all of the above energy plan at work: polluted air and water, carbon pollution, and the ever present threat of poisoned drinking water for millions of Texas and Oklahoma families."

Building the southern stretch of pipeline — which, unlike XL, didn't need State Department sign-off, since it didn't cross any international borders — was itself highly controversial. A number of activists and landowners protested its construction every step of the way, drawing renewed attention to the particularly toxic form of oil that TransCanada wants to ship form Alberta. Diluted bitumen (or dilbit) is extracted from tar sands using a carbon-intensive process that some studies indicate makes that form of oil even worse for the environment than conventional crude.

As of Wednesday, TransCanada's product is on its way to the Gulf Coast.