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Keystone XL Pipeline for Tar Sands a Bad Idea
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by Jim Sconyers | 2011

Tar sands — even the name is nasty, as is its namesake.

The western Canadian tar sands are the latest, and largest, “play” in world energy exploitation. In short, vast amounts of fossil fuel, second only to the Saudi oil pools, are bound up in thick, viscous gooey sand. It is “cooked” in place to enable it to be piped out. Then it is proposed that the goo will be piped across the American heartland to refineries in Texas, from where it would be exported.

The icon of the tar sands is known as the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline would cross many of America’s most outstanding rivers — the Yellowstone, for example — and aquifers such as the Ogallala, an unparalleled source of irrigation and drinking water. The risks from tar sand spills are obvious and ominous.

The dirty tar sands, along with the energy intensive processes required to extract and refine them, mean that this material will generate much more greenhouse gas than ordinary oil. But that’s only part of the problem.



Bill McKibben, climate crusader, and James Hansen, leading NASA climate scientist, put it this way.

McKibben: “The Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen- hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.”

Climatologist Jim Hansen, on having any chance of getting back to a stable climate: “The principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” He added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

In other words, bringing the tar sands online perpetuates America’s addiction to oil and undermines the clean energy alternatives that would bring genuine energy security and forestall or reverse looming climate devastation.

Tar sands activism culminated this summer in the largest environmental civil disobedience in decades. More than 1200 people (including many Sierra Club leaders and members, acting as individuals since the Club embraces “all legal means”) were arrested in weeks of sit-ins at the White House. They were sending President Obama the message: do not approve this pipeline. A new massive protest is scheduled for Sunday, November 6, with citizens peacefully and lawfully surrounding the White House with the same message. More information can be found at  www.tarsandsaction.org .  No arrests are expected in this action.

President Obama makes the decision on the pipeline. Congress has no role. The State Department has managed to add more than a whiff of scandal to the mix, with improper favoritism and conflict of interest in giving its approval, required because of the international nature of the proposed project.

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