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Voices Against Tar Sands: What Americans closest to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline are saying

Anthony Swift

Posted May 15, 2012 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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In the national debate surrounding tar sands expansion and projects like TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the powerful voices of Americans on the front lines are often lost in the noise. And it’s easy to see why - the public is under a constant barrage of devious advertising that includes oil industry commercials presenting scripted comments by paid performers as the authentic views of fellow citizens; faked twitter accounts created by lobbyists that portray the lives of fictitious Americans passionate for tar sands; and industry supported lobbying groups that are characterized as nonprofit grassroots organizations. However, if you go to the front lines of tar sands expansion and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, you’ll hear something entirely different – the authentic stories and powerful voices of those most affected by these projects. These are ranchers, farmers, landowners, businessman, housewives and civic leaders who cross the political spectrum but are unified by a shared understanding that tar sands projects like Keystone XL are not in the best interest of their communities and their country. My colleague Rocky Kistner went out and captured some of these voices in a series of interviews. These citizens and their stories are now being gathered and presented in NRDC’s new site, Voice Against Tar Sands, presenting the unscripted views of people on the front lines of tar sands expansion.

The debate surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline proposal has become so politically polarized and distorted in the media that it’s all too easy to forget what it’s about. Keystone XL isn’t just any oil pipeline – it’s a tar sands pipeline that will carry a substance called diluted bitumen, or raw tar sands, across America’s rivers and through its aquifers on its way to international markets.  Extracting raw tar sands in Canada destroys forests and pollutes water on orders of magnitudes greater than conventional oil production. Its production and use emits significantly more toxins and carbon than conventional crude. Moreover, it presents potential risks to pipelines than safety standards haven’t kept up with and when spilled, it is far more difficult to clean.

Texan landowners, many of whom have no problems with conventional oil pipelines, have found the more they learned about Keystone XL and tar sands, the less they like it. Eleanor Fairchild, whose husband was the chief geologist for Hunt oil, didn’t oppose the Keystone XL pipeline until she learned more about the tar sands that it would carry and experienced the bully tactics of TransCanada. Mike Hathorn, a Texas welder and landowner who is comfortable with the oil pipelines already on his land, is concerned about the safety of Keystone XL and the raw tar sands it will carry.  

Some people, like Susan Connolly and Debra Miller, have seen firsthand what happens when a tar sands pipeline spills. Living in Battle Creek, Michigan, these residents were at ground zero when Enbridge spilled about a million gallons of raw tar sands into the Kalamazoo river watershed. Early on, spill responders found that tar sands behaved differently than conventional crude, dramatically increasing the challenges of cleanup. Susan Connolly and her children felt the first hand effects of tar sands exposure – nausea, rashes, headaches and lethargy. Debra Miller’s business was closed for eight months and watched the spill’s long term impacts to her community. After nearly two years, the cleanup for the Kalamazoo spill continues at a cost of $725 million dollars – making it the most expensive oil pipeline spill in U.S. history.  

It’s no wonder that ranchers like Randy Thompson balked when TransCanada told him they were going to build a pipeline through his land, which happens to overlay one of the richest sources of fresh groundwater in the United States.

Meanwhile, those living in communities near the Texas Gulf Coast refineries that will process the tar sands crude from Keystone XL worry about increased emissions.

These are the voices of people who have come to understand that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and tar sands expansion do not fit in the healthy future they want for their communities and their children.  These voices represent many of the people who were arrested in front of the White House to protest Keystone XL, and later came by the thousands to encircle the White House in opposition to Keystone XL. To understand Keystone XL and the public opposition it has created, you have to hear what the people closest to it are saying. And now you can.

Please go to Voices Against Tar Sands to learn more.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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