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William Boardman
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012
Police arrested four people for refusing to move from in front of TransCanada’s lobbyist’s front door.

Does Tar Sands Oil Mean “Game Over For the Climate”?

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In Washington, DC, the day before the 2012 election, an Occupy action by dozens of protestors blocked the entrance to the law firm McKenna Long and Aldridge, a major law firm with the oldest government contract practice in the United States.  The firm also represents the Canadian corporation TransCanada, which is seeking U.S. government permission to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. 

Organizers  called this demonstration a “Tar Sands Solidarity Action,” in support of  the Tar Sands Blockade of the Keystone XL pipeline now under construction in East Texas.   Police arrested four people for refusing to move from in front of TransCanada’s lobbyist’s front door.  Increased non-violent direct action seems to be a harbinger of mounting pressure by environmentalists across the country to persuade President Obama to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline altogether for the sake of the health of the planet

The President is also under pressure from Canadian officials and the oil industry to give the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline project a green light, for the sake of the health of the global economy.  Industry supporters continue to claim the project  “will create 20,000 shovel-ready jobs,” even though TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling admitted a year ago that the number is false, about three times too high.   

That same day before the election, the environmental side of the argument got scientific reinforcement when a Canadian newspaper reported that government scientists had confirmed 2010 research showing that tar sands contamination was increasing in the region’s precipitation and snowpack.  The article went on to describe how Environment Canada, the Canadian environmental protection agency, had worked to suppress theinformation and prevent scientists from discussing it with reporters or even at scientific gatherings.    

Canada Suppresses Scientific Information

In 2011, Environment Canada tried to suppress its own report on widespread river pollution, by stamping it secret.  After an access to information lawsuit that took six months, the report was released, showing the Canadian government’s own projections of the devastating impact of tar sands development on river systems, natural habitats, and the release of greenhouse gases.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lobbying group said it didn’t see any “new” information in the report. 

The President is expected to announce his decision about the Keystone pipeline in early 2013, prompting environmental groups to mount new mass actions now.  On Sunday, November 18 in Washington, is organizing a march around the White House and rally at Freedom Plaza.  That same weekend in East Texas, Tar Sands Blockade is training volunteers for a non-violent action on Monday, November 19, along the pipeline route.  Solidarity demonstrations are planned across the country for the week of November 14-20. 

The day before the presidential election also marked the beginning of the seventh week of the Tar Sands Blockade’s tree-sitting in trees TransCanada wants to cut down, a form of non-violent resistance in the path of pipeline construction.

The blockade, which started with eight tree-sitters at one location on September 24, has slowly expanded to numerous tree-sitters in a variety of locations. 

While the tree-sitters and their supporters on the ground have slowed pipeline construction somewhat, the TransCanada crews have continued working up to and beyond the blockades, with occasional violent, direct confrontation.   The company has hired an unknown number of private security officers, in addition to the county sheriff’s officers already on the scene, and it uses helicopter surveillance. 

Presidential Candidate Arrested Supporting Blockade 

On October 31, a TransCanada employee who showed no identification, arrested a presidential candidate, Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein, after she had delivered a knapsack full of supplies to the tree-sitters.   Thevideo of this event shows a construction worker with a swastika clearly showing on the front of his hardhat. reported on November 8 on “an actual neo-Nazi among the ranks of construction workers” and showed a picture of a man with a swastika showing clearly on the back of his hardhat. 

Candidate Stein explained her position in a three-minute video and in a written statement issued before her arrest with six other people, Dr. Stein wrote: 

I’m here to connect the dots between superstorm Sandy and the record heat, drought, and fire we've seen this year – and this Tar Sands pipeline, which will make all of these problems much worse. And I’m here to connect the dots between climate devastation and pipeline politicians – both Obama and Romney – who are competing, as we saw in the debates, for the role of Puppet In Chief for the fossil fuel industry. Both deserve that title. Obama’s record of “drill baby drill” has gone beyond the harm done by George Bush. Mitt Romney promises more of the same.

Stein had never been arrested in her life before she became a presidential candidate.  This misdemeanor arrest for trespassing was her second in a month.  Her first arrest was for disorderly conduct, when she tried to enter the building for the second presidential debate at Hofstra College in New York.   Her arrest was the 32nd arrest\ related to the Tar Sands Blockade. 

Police Go After Tree Sitters with Cherry Pickers

October 31 was the day the Tar Sands Blockade first arrived in Nacogdoches County in East Texas, near the town of Sacul, complete with local TV coverage.  The contingent of about a dozen people included two New England women, identified only as Lauren and Pika, who established a new tree-sitting position.  

County sheriff’s officers used cherry pickers in an effort to bring the women down.  They succeeded with Lauren.  But Pika, who is an experienced climber from Vermont, climbed higher in her tree, beyond the reach of the cherry picker.  Police then cut down her platform and climb line, leaving her with only the rope she had on her person.   While still in the tree, about 70 feet up, she wrote: 

I’m sitting in this pine tree under flood lights and the watchful eyes of cops,

 just thinking about all the implications of this pipeline

and that the destruction I see 70 feet below me is just one tiny part.

I feel grief, but I also feel strong!

I don’t have any food or water. I couldn’t get it high enough quickly enough,

so the cops cut it down. 

It’s starting to get a little chilly.

Thanks so much for all the amazing support!!

At about 2 a.m., Pika came down and was arrested.  She and Lauren were each charged with Fourth Degree (State) Felony Criminal Mischief and Class B Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass minus the Class A Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest charge.   Bond was set at $25,500.   They were identified as Lauren Zygmont, 24, of Concord, N.H., and Hannah Morgan, 24, of Hartland, Vermont.  When they were released, police kept Pika’s shoes. 

Earth First News reports that, on an earlier occasion, police used similar tactics on another climber, Tre Arrow, “causing his near-fatal 40-foot fall.” 

In Austin, Texas, a disorganized call for Tar Sands Blockade solidarity march on November 5 produced a turnout of half a dozen people or so, even though many more had responded on Facebook that they’d be there.   Support rallies the preceding three weeks had drawn TV cameras and some newspaper coverage.   

On November 9, a Vermont Solidarity Event put on by Rising Tide Vermont and 350 Vermont held a dessert fundraiser that raised $400 for Tar Sands Blockade.  

Thanks to commenter Larronm

Thanks to commenter Larronm for many clarifications. But I have one demurral. The Canadian government can glibly threaten to build a pipeline to the Pacific, southwest over the mountains to Vancouver, but actually doing so would not be a trivial undertaking. It would be far more challenging physically than would the present proposed Keystone route across the plains. And the prospect of a Pacific pipeline is being strongly resisted in British Columbia.

What would be even better is

What would be even better is for the US government--that's us!--to take control of all oil production and distribution in the US for "national security" and keep all of the oil here in the USA, sold at a break even price, and not sold on the national market. The prices could remain the same and tax on the oil could go up substantially--keeping prices the same--and generating billions in revenue for the USA.

This effort, while of good

This effort, while of good intentions, is terribly misguided. The major environmental impact of tar sands development is not the pipeline. The Canadian government has stated that if the US refuses to allow it's construction between northern Alberta and Cushing, OK, they will build a pipeline westward to Vancouver for shipping crude to the orient. So blocking the pipeline is an effort in futility. The real problem is the extraction of the tar sands. This process involves removing the topsoil and then digging out the tar with the use of monster clam shovels, hauling the material off in huge trucks, then heating it to drain off the tar for shipping via pipeline. They are dispoiling millions of acres of pristine forest lands in an area which is the worlds second largest carbon sink. To add insult to injury, this material is not really oil, it is tar. To convert it to usable crude is a process unto itself. Most of this product, if shipped south to the gulf will wind up being shipped overseas anyway as US refineries can't handle it and there is so much "light sweet crude" being recovered from the Bakken Shale and other shale deposits that there is no need for the tar from Canada. A recent study shows that the US will become energy independant by 2035 even without Alberta's tar sands. On the other hand, the pipeline from Cushing to the gulf coast is absolutly needed. The glut of crude oil flowing into Cushing is overwhelming the storage capacity and there is not sufficient pipeline capacity to handle it. To the point where they are shipping some crude by barge on the Mississippi River. Finally, the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline would be beneficial if it were built to transport crude oil from Williston, ND where there is a lack of pipeline capacity.

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