Earth to Obama: Stop the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline

By Stephen Luther, Young CA Greens leader

Published in the Times-Standard newspaper on September 28, 2011.

Many Obama supporters, notably the millions of young people who gave such vitality to his 2008 campaign, thought they had elected a president who would take the climate change issue seriously and make the tough choices necessary to reduce our national carbon footprint. Instead, the Obama administration is poised to approve the construction of the Keystone XL project, a plan to build a 1,700 mile pipeline transporting tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. The fate of this project is a turning point in the question of whether North America will transition smoothly into a post-fossil fuel world and avert irreparable harm to the ecological community. This is a big deal, and Obama has the power to stop it.

The Keystone XL would pump about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the United States. The proposed route, as shown in an interactive map on the journal Mother Jones' website, snakes through six states (Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas), crossing the Missouri River and Yellowstone River in addition to 70 creeks and streams. The $7 billion project, claims the company TransCanada, would create thousands of construction jobs. The Transport Workers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union oppose the pipeline, according to their Aug. 19 press release, asserting that “green jobs” can be created by focusing national priorities on “energy conservation, upgrading the grid, maintaining and expanding public transportation” -- jobs, incidentally, that don't contribute to rising sea levels.

Friends of the Earth has documented the numerous environmental and safety risks that have not been adequately addressed by the State Department's critically flawed Environmental Impact Statement. The E.P.A. criticized draft reports as “inadequate” and “insufficient” in considering the likely risks to water safety and community health. The pipeline threatens the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground reservoir that provides fresh drinking water to millions of people and irrigation for crops grown in the heartland. It is not a matter of “if” the pipe will leak, but how often. The Keystone I pipeline, for example, has leaked a dozen times in only a year of production. Although the properties of bitumen (raw tar sands) make it highly corrosive, TransCanada plans to use steel from the same manufacturer that has supplied structurally deficient materials for other pipelines. Tar sands production also harms communities exposed to waste water, resulting in higher rates of cancer for First Nations people in


The gravest threat to ecological stability stems from the project's contribution to global carbon emissions. The tar sands are the second largest pool of carbon deposits in the world, behind Saudi Arabia's oil fields. Tar sands oil extraction is also at least 20 percent more carbon-intensive than the extraction process of normal crude. A devastating 740,000 acres of boreal forest, according to a New York Times editorial, could be cut to gain access to the tar sands. Releasing this sequestered carbon through the combustion of fossil fuels would, in the words of climate scientist James Hansen, essentially be “game over” for the earth's climate.

In an attempt to highlight the seriousness of the issue, 1,252 people from all 50 states, including high-profile figures such as actress Daryl Hannah, author of” Shock Doctrine Naomi Oreski,” and NASA climatologist James Hansen, were arrested outside of the White House over the course of a two-week protest organized by the group Tar Sands Action ( Their message to Obama: Be the environmental leader we helped elect, and make the right decision.

Undoubtedly, some will claim the necessity of domestic oil production to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, thereby boosting “energy security.” Yet oil from the tar sands will never reach the fuel tanks of American cars because it is intended for export as heavy diesel fuel. More importantly, true energy independence will only come about as a result of investing in renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and geothermal.

For those who found hope in Obama's promises to be the “climate change” president who would promote clean alternative energy and work to achieve a livable for us and our children, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a betrayal. The fight against TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline is one of national significance with local consequences and global repercussions. We need to collectively call on President Obama to exercise his executive powers and stop this pipeline. Yes, Obama, we can be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil. Lead the way.