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Sending a Message to Obama: Pipeline for Tar Sands Oil Is Not in America's Interest

Frances Beinecke

Posted August 24, 2011

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It is the fifth day of the sit-ins at the White House urging President Obama to deny a permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Today several environmental leaders and I sent a letter to the President saying that even if our groups do not engage in civil disobedience, we wholeheartedly share the protestors’ position that the proposed tar sands oil Keystone XL Pipeline will take America in the wrong direction.

As an organization dedicated to drafting and enforcing the law, NRDC does not take part in civil disobedience. But I have followed the pipeline sit-ins with great interest.

NRDC has opposed this pipeline and tar sands development from the beginning, and I am pleased that concern about this unsafe energy source has caught fire across America and ignited this civil protest in Washington.Tar Sands Action Sit-In

Environmental activist Bill McKibben organized the two-week long event, and he’s been joined by farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and landowners who live along the proposed pipeline route. They have traveled from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana because they feel so strongly that the pipeline will endanger their communities. Religious leaders and other concerned citizens from around the country have also come to tell President Obama that the pipeline is bad for America.

From all accounts, the protestors have conducted themselves with calm dignity. As many as 220 have been arrested so far, including Gus Speth, a co-founder of NRDC, the former director of President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, and the former dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.

Before his arrest, Speth told a reporter from Dow Jones that the pipeline would prolong America’s continued reliance on fossil fuels. “If we hook up the Alberta tar sands to America’s insatiable lust of gasoline, I worry you can just kiss the planet good-bye.”

I have known Speth and McKibben for years, and I have tremendous respect for them. They have both demonstrated leadership within our movement, and they do so again with this event. I applaud them for acting on their conscience.

They know that this pipeline will take America down a dangerous path. Not only does tar sands oil produce three times as much global warming pollution as regular crude, but it is also highly corrosive. Carrying this dirty fuel across six states and the Ogallala Aquifer—the source for fresh water for the American Heartland—is inviting disaster.

Last summer, a pipeline carrying tar sands oil exploded in Michigan, contaminating the Kalamazoo River with heavy bitumen that sank to the bottom of the river where it has failed to biodegrade. The EPA says cleaning up the Kalamazoo could take years.

The American people do not risk more disasters when cleaner solutions exist. Last month, for instance, President Obama announced new fuel efficiency standards that will reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels a day by 2030 and cut automobile carbon emissions in half. They will also save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump.

Tar sands oil cannot match any of those achievements. Instead, it locks America into more carbon pollution and increased risk of oil spills. This does not fit in the clean energy future President Obama is trying to build. We hope the President listens to the many people who have risked arrest in order to send him a message: the Keystone XL pipeline is not in America’s national interest.


Photo credit: Shadia Fayne Wood

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John JamesAug 24 2011 09:52 PM

If the us government does not approve this pipeline there are plans to build one to west Canada so the oil can be exported to china instead. The tar sands will be mined either way, the only difference is if the us or china get the oil. Canada has a lot riding on the tar sands and will mine them either way. These environmentalists are uninformed and are only hurting USA. Even it the USA banned oil tomorrow pollution would not be reduced, it would just move to countries with out restrictions. The only way to reduce pollution is with a global restriction of which will not happen. These people are just wasting their time and are very uneducated or uninformed.

Josh MogermanAug 25 2011 10:34 AM


Actually, the Canadian pipeline you refer to, Northern Gateway, is even more deeply mired in controversy than the Keystone XL proposal here in the US. And as NRDC's Elizabeth Shope covered in her blog, there are no promises that the oil coming through to the Gulf coast will stay in the U.S. In fact, there is a pretty compelling case that this pipeline makes the movement of tar sands oil products to China MORE likely through the Gulf's robust oil transportation network. I suggest reading her post:

The pipeline has been promoted as an important energy security option and it is looking more and more like that is simply smoke and mirrors.

Brian atkinsonAug 25 2011 01:19 PM

That article was.very informative. i recommend it highly if anyone is worried about the prospect of canada shipping this oil west.

Incidentally, i am suspicious (just an intuition) that this john james fellow may be acting in.some.official public relation capacity for transcanada. Always hard to say though.

Jo Ann StaubAug 25 2011 09:10 PM

Who knows what to believe or act upon, but I instinctively oppose a pipeline thru our landscape. I'm sure there will be collateral wildlife destruction and safety issues.
Let's just hope that Northern Gateway somehow self destructs and it won't be an issue. It sounds to me like China is soon to become a wasteland. What a shame!

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