Last Friday, the State Department released a report which stated that the Keystone XL pipeline, if constructed, would not have a major impact on CO2 emissions. The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed thousand-mile oil pipeline extension that would transport over 500,000 gallons of oil per day from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department report adds to the political pressure in favor of Keystone XL and could motivate President Obama to approve the construction of the pipeline before the end of the year.
The extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands is already an environmental disaster, and it is only worsening with further development. Tar sand oil is some of the dirtiest on the planet. It is low-grade, high in sulfur, and requires extensive refining to be usable. Emissions from the extraction and consumption of this oil are significantly higher than emissions from other types of oil. The pipeline itself also presents issues. It would cross over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest water supplies on the planet. Any spills, depending on local geology and the proximity of wells, could potentially contaminate a source of freshwater that supports billions of dollars in agriculture and provides drinking water for two million people.
The State Department report does not dispute any of the problems with fossil fuel emissions or development of the tar sands. Instead, it makes the case that development of the tar sands will continue regardless of whether or not the pipeline is constructed. Some environmentalists have disputed this, citing problems with the objectivity of the report: a number of the contractors involved with the pipeline were also heavily involved in producing the report. Whether or not the State Department’s conclusion is accurate, however, there are still many other reasons why the Keystone XL pipeline is an extremely bad idea.
First, even if blocking the pipeline fails to have any effect on the development of the tar sands, economic issues remain. Farmers who own lands on or near the proposed pipeline route have well-founded concerns about the possibility for damaging leaks and spills. The long-term negative economic impact of such spills would far outweigh any economic benefits in areas along the pipeline; even the State Department report predicts that the construction of Keystone XL would directly create no more than 4,000 jobs, the vast majority of them temporary and not local; only 50 would remain after the end of construction, the report says.
Second, the pipeline would cross over 100 miles of Native American reservations and pass close to many settlements, infringing on territory and creating ecological threats to the indigenous populations. Many of the Canadian tar sands from which the oil is being extracted also lie on indigenous lands. One Native American leader referred to the pipeline and projects like it as a form of “environmental genocide.”
Third, Keystone XL has become a rallying point for the environmental movement. Since 2011, thousands of people have participated in acts of protest or civil disobedience in opposition to the pipeline. Hundreds of thousands have signed petitions. Opponents of Keystone XL argue for the symbolic value of rejecting the pipeline, saying that stopping it would set a precedent for government and would help to bring climate change to the forefront of national politics.
In both the Northfield community and at Carleton, we are taking action on this issue. This Monday in Bridge Square in Northfield, fifty Northfield residents (myself and six other Carls included), stood with signs in opposition to the pipeline and wrote to our elected officials. We joined hundreds of communities across the nation performing similar actions.
And this is just the beginning. One month from now, on the weekend of March 1st-2nd, over five hundred students will be gathering in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. to peacefully protest Keystone XL and to show President Obama that students care about this issue.
Minnesota students intend to join the movement. We are currently fundraising for transportation to take 50 students from Minnesota to Washington to be a part of this action. This is our movement, our moment, and our opportunity to start healing this severely wounded planet. We invite you to join us this March in Washington, D.C.
If you would like to learn more about this event, there will be an information session on Monday, February 10th at 8pm in Sayles 251. You can also contact Sam Neubauer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mollie Wetherall (email@example.com) for more information.
Please consider donating to this movement to help make this opportunity for civic engagement available to more students. You can do so at the following link: http://www.mn350.org/make-a-donation/. If you make a donation, be sure to include the words “KXL Dissent” in the special instructions so that your donation can reach students.