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Nov 042011

From Green Right Now Reports

Keystone XL pipeline protesters plan to encircle the White House at 2 p.m. on Sunday, in a second show of solidarity against the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline.

The line will include representatives from at least a dozen environmental groups. Celebrities supporting the protest include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah and others.

The pipeline is queued up to carry heavy bitumen oil from tar sands pits in Canada to refineries near Houston, if it receives approval from the White House. President Obama said this week that he will make the decision on whether to allow the project, after taking into consideration all the health and economic impacts.

The number of jobs the pipeline would generate has been the subject of debate, with pipeline owner TransCanada saying it could bring 20,000 construction jobs. News organizations, however, have reported much lower numbers, citing TransCanada’s own plans submitted to the U.S. State Department. A Cornell University study, which reviewed the permit paper as well as other documents showing who TransCanada was contracting with to make pipeline parts, concluded that direct construction jobs in the U.S. would number less than 5,000.

Keystone protest at White House in September 2011 (Photo: chesapeakeclimate.)

Environmentalists oppose the pipeline on the grounds that it will carry a type of oil that’s especially destructive. Tar sands oil is extracted by strip mining in pits,  destroying forests and producing carbon emissions. Its production alone, before any emissions from the refined end product are tallied, produces two to three times the carbon emissions of conventional oil, according to those opposing the project.

Another point of contention has been the pipeline’s projected path across the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s single largest  underground reservoir of drinking and irrigation water. The protesters say that a leak from the pipeline could contaminate millions of gallons of water in the aquifer, which bubbles up close to the surface in a swath of Nebraska known as the Sand Hills, a delicate ecological region of natural sand dunes. Eighty-five percent of the state’s residents depend upon the aquifer for drinking and farming water.

Environmental groups also rallied at the White House during a two-week sit in at the end of the summer.

Opponents of Keystone

Many major environmental groups oppose the tar sands project, including:

  • TarSandsAction.org – The group taking the lead in the protests is run by a volunteers with support from noted environmentalist Bill McKibben. TarSandsAction maintains that a rupture in the proposed pipeline could cause “a BP-style oil spill in America’s heartland” — a charge denied by TransCanada and preliminary State Department reports that estimate the pipeline would leak 11 times in 50 years. At least one environmental engineer, John Stansbury of the University of Nebraska, says it could be more like 90 times in 50 years. Stansbury says a catastrophic spill could pollute 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater.
  • Friends of the Earth — FOE has been instrumental in uncovering ties between pipeline operator TransCanada and the U.S. State Department, which raise questions about how impartial the department was in assessing the potential hazards of the pipeline.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council — The NRDC calls the pipeline “2,000 miles of destruction” because it would strip songbirds of Canadian habitat and threaten rivers and communities all along its path to Texas. The tar sands oil, the NRDC notes, “is dirtier and more corrosive than conventional oil, and current regulations will not prevent leaks and spills all along the pipeline.”
  • Rainforest Action Network opposes the Keystone pipeline because it is “the worst type of oil for the climate, producing three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil because of the energy required to extract and process tar sands oil. Tar sands consist of heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay and bitumen. Extraction entails burning natural gas to generate enough heat and steam to melt the oil out of the sand. As many as five barrels of water are needed to produce a single barrel of oil.
  • Center for Biological Diversity –  This group has joined Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth in a lawsuit against the Keystone XL pipeline, challenging claims that oil spills from the pipeline would be unlikely to hurt whooping cranes and other endangered species that depend on the rivers and other habitats crossed by the pipeline.
  • Bold Nebraska - This group has led the effort to stop the pipeline, and won a victory when the Governor recently called a special session of the legislature to re-consider the pipeline’s routing over the aquifer. Some who question the safety of the pipeline favor re-routing, if not stopping, the pipeline.

(Promo photo by chesapeakeclimate.)