On Friday, the State Department released its final environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline. Like tar sands actionthe two preliminary statements before it – which the Environmental Protection Agency deemed inadequate – the State Department has determined that the pipeline would produce “limited adverse” effects.

Disagreement with this finding is precisely why 2,000 people – me among them – have pledged to risk arrest at the White House by participating in non-violent civil disobedience. The timing of the two-week long tar sands protest targeting the Obama administration was no coincidence but was specifically intended to coincide with the State Departments report. Contrary to the report’s main conclusion, the proposed 1,661-mile pipeline could have extremely adverse effects on the climate, drinking water and public health.

The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would run from Canada through the Ogallala Aquifer in Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, where refineries would make oil available for export.

The Ogallala Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for millions of Americans and provides 30 percent of the nation’s irrigation groundwater. A spill would clearly be devastating.

During the past 20 years, there have been more than 140 pipeline spills per year, and there have already been at least 12 spills in the original Keystone’s first year of operation. In fact a recent study by University of Nebraska professor John S. Stansbury shows that TransCanada has vastly underestimated dangers posed by the pipeline. The study reveals that the Keystone XL pipeline could have up to 91 spills over 50 years, compared to TransCanada’s claims that there would be only 11.

Moreover, the pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world. Tar sands oil contains three to four times as much carbon, five times as much lead, six times as much nitrogen and 11 times as much sulfur as is found in conventional crude oil. The extraction and processing tar sands oil is very energy intensive. In fact, one estimate projects that 3 gallons of gas will be needed to produce 4 or 5 gallons of gas from tar sands.

Exploitation of the tar sands has prompted climatologists James Hansen to declare “game over” on our ability to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. Meanwhile, those living near the refineries that process the tar sands will be directly impacted by the dangerous pollutants released into the air during the refining process.

All of these reasons motivated me to make the decision to go to the White House this week, participate in the sit-in and be arrested. But beyond that, the tar sands action has offered an opportunity to experience the kind of solidarity that you can’t mimic sitting at a computer in the center of the political world. The discomfort of being cuffed, patted down or riding in a paddy wagon pales in comparison to the comfort of feeling part of a cause bigger than you.

While certainly the primary goal, the tar sands action is more than just a tactic aimed at putting pressure on the Obama administration – it’s about building a movement. The night before the protest, I participated in a four-hour training with all the folks I’d be risking arrest with. Among the people I met were a group of grandmothers from Montana, a teacher from Connecticut and those like myself who work on climate and energy policy every day and were ready to try a new approach. Of the 59 of us that were arrested on Aug. 23, only a handful had every participated in civil disobedience before – including me. What I found out was civil disobedience often means a lot of waiting – waiting to be arrested, waiting in the paddy wagon to be taken to the station and waiting at the station to be processed. During that time, relationships are being built and commitment is being deepened, and those relations are central to the success of a movement.

The State Department’s report indicates that maybe the fix is in for the Keystone XL pipeline.  Word on the street is TransCanada is already touting victory and getting their ducks in a row by lining up contractors, negotiating rights of way and arranging the supply of pipe and valves. But the climate movement will come out the other end of the battle stronger and even more determined to win the climate war.



  • Judy

    Another issue is the aquifer and the fresh water which could be part of the Keystone pipe deal. The famers get to keep “their own land” but I bet Keystone gets the mineral and water rights (in fine print of course).

    My sister’s family are water filtration so it is a big concern of ours.

    T. Perkins wanted to drill for gas below the same aquifer.

    I bet two things. They both say it won’t harm the aquifer when it is a good possibility. Another is that they want that fresh water for sale around the world. Fresh water could be more than oil in the over over populated world today.

    We have to protect our fresh water supplies from corporate greed and pollution. There is no other choice but to say NO!! If the President and Congress has a lick of sense they would do it without question.

    Our resources and land are being pillaged for corporate profits. India and China want our oil, coal, timber, fresh water, etc. Our mountains leveled, our rivers polluted, our land stripped of timber..even our parks up for grabs. We are third world then they it seems.

  • Mary Francis

    Thanks for joining us, Allison. I’ve been asked why I didn’t smile for the cameras and the answer is simple – this is a serious problem, not a fun activity. Here is the write up from my home paper: http://normantranscript.com/x397272974/Resident-takes-place-in-history/

  • Oil companies and Frackin’ Liars !!!!!!!

  • great comments and keep up he fight. I hope to join your teleconference tomorrow to see how I/we can help spread the message. the corporations own congress and we need to fight to get our government back.

  • John

    I love business, clean business, not dirty business. Making a profit is awesome; ignoring the environmental costs and being just plane reckless GREEDY are NOT!

    We live in a hydrogen universe; so let’s deal the energy sources cards again and let clean energy take the pot. Go hydrogen, solar, geothermal, wind and water.

  • We’re having similar issues in the Lake Superior Region, with our local and state governments working with corporations to push through new metals mining permits. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the northern portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the province of Ontario are under threat from an onslaught of ill-advised projects.

    In Michigan, Rio Tinto has obtained permits for a mine on the Yellow Dog Plains, in spite of numerous instances of non-compliance with the laws regulating such activities. Government employees are now on Rio Tinto’s payroll. Our state attorney general, Bill Schuette, was asked to investigate allegations of fraud, but has declined to do so–not surprising, perhaps, when one considers the fact that Governor Snyder’s Strategy Chief and Chief of Staff have close ties to Rio Tinto.

    Region-wide, corporations are attempting to weaken the laws that protect our environment, including our fresh water. Just say, “No!” to exploitation of our resources and the devastation of our natural world!

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