Protests Over Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Enter Third Day in DC

The Tar Sands of Alberta represents one of the most environmentally devastating forms of oil extraction ever devised.

In a third consecutive day of sit-in protests in front of the White House, 65 demonstrators were taken into custody on Monday morning following two days of arrests stemming from organized grassroots resistance against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a nearly 2000 mile line from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada south to Texas.

The constitutionally protected civil disobedience began on Saturday with 70 arrests. Included among those arrests were some high-profile leaders and activists, including the Reverend Jim Antal, president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. Antal said climate change was “at the front of his mind” when he joined his fellow protestors on Saturday. Calling the pipeline a symbol of the “moral issue of our time,” Antal called on president Obama to deny the required permit allowing the Keystone XL project to proceed.

“This is a watershed moment for President Obama,” Antal said before his arrest. “He has the opportunity to be the person who future generations will look back at and say, ‘Here’s somebody who stopped being a politician and started being an advocate for humanity.'”

Tar sands – oil at a crossroads

As oil production of the worlds mega-fields continues to decline, meeting the increasing demand for oil requires recovery of low-grade oil from sources like shale and tar sands, both requiring expensive and environmentally devastating extraction techniques. Without a plan for dealing with Peak Oil, and with no real  long-term plan for developing alternate sources of energy, the choice becomes to either extract all possible sources of oil at all costs as quickly as possible, or to limit the destruction caused by full-scale, all-out exploitation of every last recoverable drop of oil and begin building a new energy economy.

If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline project, and there is enormous pressure for him to do so, it will roughly double the amount of “some of the most costly and toxic oil on Earth” flowing into the country and commit the United States to long-term dependence on “dirty oil.”

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline claim the project will bring in 700,000 daily barrels of oil, providing jobs and relieving dependency on Middle Eastern “conflict” oil. The Canadian government claims it has found ways to reduce the environment damage from tar sands oil production, but that claim is not reflected in a new report released by Canada’s environmental ministry.

Heather Heather Milton-Lighting, an activist with the Canadian group First Nations, countered the argument saying, “You might end up with a job doing tar sands development. But in the end of the day, you may have cancer and be dead.”

As the reality of declining sources of “cheap and easy” oil sets in, president Obama faces a key decision in his presidency that will resonate for decades to come.

Peaceful arrests in Washington mark grassroots resistance to the proposed tar sands pipelineProtests to continue

The daily protests are set to continue until September 3rd, with demonstrators coming to Washington from across the US and Canada to participate in “protest training sessions” before going to Lafayette park to exercise their right to civil disobedience (and face likely arrest).

Bill McKibben, environmental writer, activist, and founder the climate advocacy group, was among those arrested in Saturday’s protest. For McKibben, the issue of the pipeline goes beyond the fact that carbon emissions from tar sands oil production are worse than coal plants and other forms of fossil fuel. With Congress effectively reduced to little more than partisan posturing killing any prospects of climate legislation anytime soon, the Keystone XL project represents the most immediate and clear-cut case for president Obama to “take a stand on global warming.”

 “People want the guy from 2008 back,” said McKibben about Obama. “The decision on the pipeline is now what the environmental movement is focused on.”

Spending an unexpected two-night stay in jail,  McKibben said “the only thing we need is more company. We don’t need your sympathy, we need your company.”

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Image credits: Huffington Post, Fresno Bee
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Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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