Last night I joined over 10,000 of my fellow Americans across the country to say hell no to Keystone, again. Seattle held one of 283 vigils, that took place in 49 states Monday evening, to rally against this project. Its frustrating to have to send the same message over and over again on a topic which seems like an obviously horrendous idea- seriously bad news for our climate, for our energy security, for our land and water, and for all of US, as in us, and the U.S. But, the pockets involved are deep, and the PR campaigns are strong. At least the numbers of folks coming out to express their opinion is heartening, to know that many thousands of people were willing to come out, in very cold temperatures in many places, to raise their voices in unison against this proposal.
The reason for the vigils on Monday? Because last Friday, the State Department came out with the final piece of their Environmental Impact Statement on Keystone. There isn’t anything astoundingly new to this EIS which I started writing about in April of last year (Action 48). As Ive written about numerous times since the initial public comment period (Actions 79,85, 102 among others), Keystone XL is a project that proposes to install thousands of miles of pipeline right through the heart of America so that Canadian Tar Sands can find their way into international markets. It is a proposal that offers very little to the American or Canadian people, other than:
- the condemnation of private property along the pipeline route;
- the risk- some say near certainty- of oil spills associated with pipeline leaks we know will come: the EIS clearly recognizes this probability as they include substantive sections on spill risk assessment and response requirements;
- environmental poisons: tailings ponds full of the toxic byproducts of tarsands extraction, including metals, acids and hydrocarbons which already cover 50 square miles, and are growing at the rate of 80 olympic-sized swimming pool equivalents per day;
- adding to greenhouse gas emissions at a predicted rate of somewhere between 1.5 and 27 million metric tons of CO2e annually; about the annual equivalent of emissions of between a quarter of a million to 6 million cars;
- destruction of boreal forests: since January 2013, 715 square kilometers of boreal forest have been disturbed for tarsands mining; the surface-mineable area is six times the size of New York City; and
- water depletion: about 4 gallons of water are used for every one gallon of oil produced from tar sands oil. The Alberta government as of 2009 had granted oil companies 21 billion cubic feet of water from the Athabasca River system, an amount that is about 6 times what a city of a million people needs for a year, for tar sands processing.
If the State Department can pit the four thousand or so 1- or 2- year jobs that will be provided by pipeline construction and the 50 operational jobs that offer any type of long-term employment associated with this project against all of the above, and find a win for North American interests, then their math is very, very poor. Nor should we be easily swayed by the argument that “the tar sands are coming at us, one way or another,” and if we reject the pipeline, it will just be exported by rail instead. Of course, companies will look for alternative methods to move these oils to market. However, blocking pipeline development will inevitably slow this race to the bottom, and a gain in delaying pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere can only help to buy us a bit more time in our race towards boreal forest destruction, water depletion, and climate change impacts. And as the NRDC has said: ” In fact, we know that rail is not a feasible alternative to replace the capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In short, Goldman Sachs finds that without Keystone XL, lower tar sands prices and higher transport costs will result in the cancelation or deferment of tar sands expansion projects. ”
So for all those reasons, I spent a couple hours freezing my tootsies on a Seattle street corner, listening to an inspiring group of speakers including the powerfully articulate and passionate Tsleil-Waututh first nation chief Reuben George, the always amazing, inspiring kids from Plant for the Planet Academy, and organizers from 350.org. By ourselves, we cannot hope to make a dent in the behemoth of corporate interests that are working to shove this pipeline through our country; but together, we can hopefully help our leaders see that the choice on this project is really quite clear: clean and abundant water, or tar sands development. Reducing carbon emissions, or tar sands development. Protecting fragile boreal forest ecosystems, or tar sands development. An energy plan that looks to American interests and sustainable power, or tar sands development. You cannot have both.