222 Arrested at White House Sit-ins Against Tar Sands Pipeline

WASHINGTON, DC, August 23, 2011 (ENS) – UPDATE: 60 more protesters were arrested in front of the White House Tuesday morning, including actors Margot Kidder and Tantoo Cardinal.

“Yes we can,” about 65 protesters chanted Monday morning as they began a third day of sit-ins in front of the White House, calling for President Barack Obama to reject a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada.

Before noon, another 52 people were arrested by the U.S. Park Police, in addition to 65 protesters arrested Saturday and 45 people arrested on Sunday.

Protest organizer Bill McKibben is arrested in front of the White House, August 20, 2011 (Photo courtesy Tar Sands Action)

They view this permit decision as a test of the President’s environmental principles and his will to “live up to the promises that so inspired us in his 2008 campaign,” in the words of protest organizer, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, who was arrested at the White House on Saturday.

But President Obama did not see the demonstrations as he is on Martha’s Vineyard with his family for their annual summer vacation.

The protestors warn the pipeline would send hundreds of thousands of barrels a day of the world’s dirtiest oil to U.S. refineries and promote further development of the Alberta tar sands.

Lori Fischer, the co-director for Nebraska Environmental Action Coalition and a member of Nebraska Farmers Union, was arrested this morning. She said, “This is a crucial issue for Nebraskans to speak up loudly about. Our land, water, and the future of our children are at stake. I feel our leaders need to take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I am going to Washington remind them.”

Calgary-based TransCanada Keystone Pipeline proposes to construct and operate a pipeline to transport crude oil extracted from tar sands from an oil supply hub near Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to destinations in the south central United States, including a new tank farm in Cushing, Oklahoma and refineries near Port Arthur and Moore Junction, Texas.

Because the proposed pipeline would cross the United States-Canada border, a Presidential Permit issued by the U.S. Department of State is required for the project to proceed. This makes the pipeline subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires disclosure of potential environmental impacts and the consideration of possible alternatives.

Map of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project (Map courtesy U.S. State Department)

TransCanada’s proposed US$7 billion pipeline would cross the international border between Saskatchewan, Canada, and the United States near Morgan, Montana.

The protests come as the U.S. State Department is about to release its final environmental assessment of the pipeline, which initially would have a transport capacity of 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil.

That report is expected before the end of August, and Obama will then have 90 days to decide whether granting the permit is in the U.S. national interest. By law, Congress is not involved, so Obama need not consult the climate change skeptics in the House of Representatives, who have already approved a bill to force a decision by November 1.

During September, the State Department will host public meetings in each of the six states through which the proposed pipeline would pass.

Meetings are planned for the state capitals of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, with an additional meeting in the Sand Hills region in Nebraska and along the Gulf Coast near Port Arthur, Texas. These will be followed by a final public meeting in Washington, DC.

Deposits of thick, tarry bitumin underlie about 140,000 square kilometers of northeastern Alberta, an area about the size of the state of Florida.

Producing synthetic crude from tar sands requires natural gas to heat water for steam to separate the oil from the sand. Tar sands operations currently use about .6 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. By 2012, that level is expected to rise to two billion cubic feet a day, more than all the gas available from the Mackenzie Gas Project to the north.

The process water is discharged into growing toxic tailings ponds already the size of the city of Vancouver.

Suncor’s Millenium Oil Sands Mine east of the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada (Photo by David Dodge courtesy The Pembina Institute)

The whole process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per finished barrel of oil as the production of conventional crude oil.

As extraction proceeds, about 500 square kilometers of the forest that once covered the tar sands would be destroyed by the mines, roads, pipelines and supporting facilities.

In a 2008 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Boreal Songbirds Initiative and the Pembina Institute estimated that this forest destruction will reduce songbird populations by 166 million birds over the next 30 to 50 years.

“President Obama can stop this climate-killing disaster with the stroke of a pen,” said McKibben. From jail through the Tar Sands Action legal support team, he said, “We don’t need sympathy, we need company. It’s clear to us that police were hoping to deter this action, and it’s equally clear to us the opposite will be the result.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody over the next two weeks,” McKibben said. “It has been a little hot here in central cell block, but not as hot as it will be if we don’t stop this project.”

McKibben said he expects that the 45 protestors who remain in jail from Saturday’s demonstration will be released Monday afternoon.

Among those arrested Saturday was Gus Speth, former dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Speth sent a statement from jail through his wife.

Gus Speth, right front, protests the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House, August 20, 2011 (Photo courtesy Tar Sands Action)

“We the prisoners being held in the Central Cell Block of the D.C. Jail need company and encourage the continuation of the protests against the tar sands pipeline. Help us stop this disastrous proposal! I’ve held numerous positions and public office in Washington but my current position feels like one of the most important.”

Now a professor at Vermont Law School, from 1993 to 1999, Speth served as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. He served as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration, and he is a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and founder of the World Resources Institute.

The sit-in at the White House will continue tomorrow morning with 50 more Americans and Canadians risking arrest. Over 2,000 people have registered to take part in the sit-in, which will continue every day until September 3.

Among those planning on being arrested tomorrow are film-star Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in four Superman movies, and actress Tantoo Cardinal, a Cree actress who appeared in Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall and Smoke Signals. Cardinal, who was born in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, the capitol of the tar sands, was made made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009.

On the other side, the National Association of Manufacturers supports the pipeline. Senior Vice President for Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse said, “Completion of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada will provide manufacturers with a stable North American energy source that will help prevent supply disruptions and create an estimated 130,000 new jobs in the process.”

Reita Ennis, a grandmother from Brookline, Massachusetts, is arrested in front of The White House, August 21, 2011 (Photo courtesy Tar Sands Action)

“Approval of the pipeline has languished in the bureaucratic red tape of studies and permitting delays for far too long,” said Newhouse. “Further delaying the pipeline will deny manufacturers and consumers alike access to an affordable and reliable source of oil. Now is the time to encourage economic growth and job creation, and the Keystone XL pipeline has the potential to do both.”

Two unions said Friday that they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, a position that pits them against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest unions.

The Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union told the “Washington Post” that the $7 billion pipeline could pollute groundwater and cause health problems near the Texas refineries.

The newspaper quoted Larry Hanley, president of the ATU, as saying, “We think there are lots of ways to produce lots of jobs, and you don’t have to foul the environment. We think there are issues that trump the simple question of jobs.”

Hanley also said he believes the 20,000 jobs projected by TransCanada, including 13,000 construction jobs, are inflated. Hanley declined to comment on the Teamsters’ endorsement of the project, saying it was a “difference of opinion.”

James Kimball, chief economist for the Teamsters, said the project would create up to 1,500 Teamsters jobs at a time of high unemployment.

But the risks may have been underestimated. University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor John Stansbury reported this year that TransCanada has underestimated both the frequency of spills on the pipeline and the severity of the worst-case scenario spills.

NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen said in a paper published this summer that tar sands development could mean “essentially game over” for the climate.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.