Four days after over 10,000 people surrounded the White House on November 6th to protest TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas, President Obama announced a delay in his decision to either give the go-ahead or nix the project, until 2013. This was a victory for the planet, and demonstrated that people DO have some power over government and corporations. Two of our board members were among those 10,000.
President Obama had previously ordered the Department of State (DOS) to do a study of the project. Its first Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was rated as “inadequate” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The second was not a great improvement, pretty much ignoring the huge detrimental impact this will have on our environment.
Significant concern over the routing of the pipeline through the Sand Hills of Nebraska where the critical Ogallala Aquifer that supplies water to eight states is very close to the surface, prompted President Obama to call for selecting another route. This would be a compromise that would not discourage tar sands development.
This pipeline would facilitate the extraction of heavy bitumen oil from tar sands in the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada, breeding ground for about three billion birds. It is the world’s largest intact forest, and soaks up carbon with twice the efficiency of tropical rainforests, making this region ecologically priceless. With climate change becoming more and more visible in the form of very expensive and tragic major weather catastrophes, destroying such a carbon sink on the scale that is unfolding in Alberta is pure idiocy, driven only by short term greed by some fossil fuel companies. James Hansen, the government’s leading climate scientist calls the tar sands project “… game over for the planet.” Extracting tar sands oil creates about three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil production. The process uses massive amounts of water, natural gas (to create steam to heat the oil), and chemicals added to the bitumen in order for it to move through pipelines. It is leaving toxic pools of waste in the once pristine forest, and contaminating waterways and land.
On the surface, this protest is depicted as just another in a long series of environmentalists pitted against business-as-usual, but, this protest seems to be marking a huge shift: our whole society is beginning to see that something is broken about the way we think of life on this planet. Local activist and Audubon member Virginia Kennedy, who was one of those arrested in the first wave of civil disobedience against the XL Pipeline in Washington DC in August, described it is a massive critique of the system, led partly by the indigenous community which has historically held a long view of planet stewardship. They act for the welfare of seven generations into the future.
In October, Friends of the Earth, using the Freedom of Information Act, uncovered glaring conflict of interest: a cozy relationship between State Department officials and TransCanada lobbyists. Several key aides to Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama went to work for industry lobbyists after the 2008 elections. The DOS public hearings on the pipeline were run by Cardno Entrix, a “professional environmental consulting company” that lists TransCanada as a major client. Cardno Entrix specializes in permitting and compliance. This company also drafted the EIS, and manages the DOS’s Keystone XL website. When Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon sent testimony, it went to a cardno.com email address.
Read more on this conflict of interest at: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/66856.html#ixzz1dPlE0e7z
Read about some behind-the-scenes strategy between DOS and Trans-Canada to avoid controversy on a higher pressure pipeline at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/science/earth/04pipeline.html#
For excellent articles on the tar sands, please re-visit your Audubon magazines:
March-April, 2010; “Crude Awakening” by Barry Yeoman.
July-August, 2011: “Tarred and Feathered” by Ted Williams.
If you can’t find your back issues, here are websites for the articles:
Your Board of Directors has written a letter to National Audubon President David Yarnold to ask what action they have taken on this issue beyond reporting it in the magazine and in Audubon advisories. We are waiting for their reply.
— Katharine Dodge, Education Chair