Circling the White House to Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline

Circling the White House to Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline

Last weekend (October 6), I went to Washington DC to join hands with 12,000 concerned people to send President Obama a message that we care about the future of the earth and the future world our children are inheriting. People came together from all across the country and Canada and formed a circle around the White House four people deep. We were asking Obama to deny the permit for the Tar Sands XL Pipeline, over which only he has the final say on whether to approve it or not.

This pipeline will carry the dirtiest oil on the planet across the US heartland from Canadian tar sands in Alberta. This oil is not even intended to be used in the US! It will be shipped overseas to China and other places. It will not reduce energy dependence and not create jobs. Studies show it will actually do the opposite, taking away jobs while harming the environment and further delaying the necessary switch to using renewable energy technologies.

This is what I learned from the scientists, activists, native American elders and people living near the tar sands and the pipeline. Over 20 speakers and experts shared the real facts the mainstream media continue to ignore.

I learned that this is the largest scale, most destructive environmental project on the planet today. Canada is in the process of digging up an area the size of Florida or the size of England, to get at what is called tar sands oil. More earth has already been moved than in building the Great Wall of China and the 10 largest dams on earth combined! This oil is buried deep in shale deposits and can only be extracted by first completely destroying the natural habitat by clear-cutting the pristine northern boreal forests, the largest forests outside of the Amazon. Then the oil companies must inject highly toxic chemicals into the shale under high pressure to force out what is called bitumen, a thick sludge. This uses over 5 barrels of pure water for every barrel of oil. All the toxic chemicals that come up to the surface with the oil are dumped in open pits where any birds that land on it die. Any animals drinking the water die. Any native American communities downstream find their water full of cancer causing chemicals. Cancer rates have already skyrocketed, especially among children and the elderly.

This bitumen oil is much heavier than other oil, since it is full of other impurities. To send it out by pipeline requires much higher pressure. The smaller pipeline in place now was promised to leak once in 20 years. It has already burst over 13 times in little over a year since it went in! This very dirty oil acts like course sand paper that wears out the pipeline from the inside. The proposed route will go over the largest pure water aquifer in the country , the Ogallala in Nebraska. A spill here would contaminate the water used by millions and necessary for the farming breadbasket of the country! Scientists and engineers agree that it is not if a spill will occur, but when. The pipes are virtually guaranteed to leak. It is more profitable for the companies to just patch the pipeline each time a spill occurs, since they don’t have to pay for the damages caused to our drinking water. And this is only the beginning of the global attack on our drinking water supplies.

I know this is hard the hear, but don’t give up reading yet. There is a solution coming.

Oil and gas companies have removed all of the easy-to-get oil. Now they are going after “extreme” oil, gas and coal. This includes deep well off-shore drilling, mountaintop removal of coal, and fracking. We scientifically know how much harm each of these processes cause, yet these companies are allowed to pursue them without paying for the damage they are causing to our environment. It works great for them, the profits are theirs, and the cleanup costs are ours! We have seen what can happen from deep water drilling with the BP disaster in the gulf, which I learned is still leaking oil onto the gulf coasts and still killing marine life. Mountaintop removal of coal in West Virginia continues to pollute the water downstream from these sites and sickening people, yet the coal companies are not required to pay for any of the damages.

Equally bad or worse is fracking. This is very similar to the tar sands extraction process. Toxic chemicals are injected deep underground under pressure to force the natural gas to be released from shale. In the process, these chemicals stay in the ground and seep into the water table polluting our drinking water with cancer causing chemicals. Again the gas companies get to keep the profits and not pay for the damage to our health and our children’s health. They have already had major accidents and contaminations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and California. Now they are in the process of trying to expand further. They are even getting permits to drill within city limits like in Denver. It seems that nowhere is off limits to their enormous greed and arrogance for public health. The existing regulations and new ones being passed say that if they contaminate your well or water supply, you’re out of luck – it’s not their problem.

We even heard that these oil and gas companies want to build another new gas pipeline from Pennsylvania up to the Alberta tar sands in Canada. The only purpose of this is to provide energy to extract and refine the tar sands oil before sending it down the pipeline. Does this seem insane to you? The people who live in Pennsylvania will get their waters polluted with toxic chemicals for energy they will not even get to use. It will all go to Canada to enable the planet’s dirtiest oil to be piped to Texas to then be sent to China! Our environment is being destroyed faster than ever before just to make enormous profits for these companies that are already the most profitable corporations in the history of money!

If this upsets you as much as it does me and makes you angry, it should. It is out of control. The world we all live in and that our children live in is being destroyed by a small number of very powerful corporations for insatiable greed. It appears that these oil, gas and coal companies can never make enough profit or amass enough power. However, they can justify this since, as corporations, they are required to make as much as they can for their shareholders. This means legally they cannot put the environment and our health first! It also means they must fight anything that might limit profits, including fighting environmental regulations, denying scientific studies on climate change, fighting to lower their taxes, gutting health care and social security as “unnecessary expenses” that don’t generate profits for them, lobbying for oil and coal subsidies, and spreading daily disinformation through the media. From their point of view, this makes totally logical business sense when the motivation is purely to maximize profits.

This rally taught me that the tar sands pipeline is just the tip of the iceberg. But it is the planet’s biggest environmental disaster now unfolding. If permitted, it will allow wholesale destruction of Canada’s forests and water. It will pollute the US aquifers. It will greatly accelerate the climate change problems by releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And it will encourage these energy corporations worldwide to think they can continue to go after extreme oil and carelessly destroy our water, air and health.

They seem to have all the money and all the power. Even Obama has taken large donations from these companies to get re-elected. Oil company supporters are in the White House and involved in his campaign. He even appointed a chief lobbyist of TransCanada to work in the State Department, which is making recommendations on whether this project should be approved! TransCanada also got to pick their own company to do the environmental assessment that said NO environment harm will be caused by this project. Does this sound rigged? Obama’s administration initially accepted this report until it was brought to light and it is now being investigated.

Many of us voted for him in 2008 and many of us worked on his campaign. Most of the 12,000 people who came to circle the White House last week had believed his promises that he would fight for the interests of ordinary people and children, and stand up against the special interests of big oil and big coal. We are still hopeful he will do this, but so far he has not done so. During the past 3 years he has been unable or unwilling to stand against them. So it seems pretty clear now that it is up to all of us to protect the health of our children. No one else is looking out for us.

So what is the good news? What can be done about this? Anger is useful up to a point. It is certainly better than apathy or depression. But it only has limited power. The most powerful and universal weapon we all have that cannot be stopped is our personal power of caring and love, love we feel for our children, our families, our friends, and our love for nature. Parents are willing to give their lives to protect their children. They will do anything to protect their families from harm. Children love their pets and animals. This love can be used to overcome fear. If we can see what is going on in the world as personal, as threatening our loved ones directly, then we can harness this powerful love inside us. We can take action that is based on love rather than anger. This will make our actions unstoppable!

If we can harness this power of love, we can change the world. It is many hundreds of times more powerful as a motivator than fear. This has been proven in scientific studies. If we can tap into the depth of this love and be willing to add our love to the global effort of ordinary people to speak out, to demand a safe world for our children and grandchildren, to demand protection of our sacred waters and forests, to speak up and expose corruption and hidden illegal activities wherever we see them, we will not fall into fear and apathy. If we can do this because we have great love, we will tap into its enormous energy and power, and then amazing changes will happen. The impossible starts to become possible. Help comes from unexpected sources. New deep friendships and bonds are formed. We become happier inside when we take actions we believe in.

The ongoing #Occupy movement shows this process has already started and is rapidly expanding in over 900 cities around the world in over 80 countries. Ordinary people like you and me have decided to stop being passive and to speak up and seek change. Our leaders are not going to do this for us, since the majority of politicians and governments all over the world are already controlled by banking, oil, coal and other multi-national corporate special interests.

The change has to start with each of us. It can be as simple as learning more about what is really going on. Sharing this with friends and family in emails, on Facebook, at local gatherings, in churches, dinners, to whomever you can talk to about these issues that affect us all. Writing blogs, sending donations, or whatever small things each of us can do adds to this global shift and positive transformation to a more just and sustainable world.

Please pass along whatever ideas you find useful from this to your friends and others in your community. You can learn more at, and many other sites. You can go to youtube and watch videos on tar sands and fracking. I promise it will shock and alarm you to see for yourself what is going on. Become aware. Turn off your TV for a half an hour and use that time to educate yourself and your children. If you can’t do this for yourself, then do it out of your love for your children and your family and friends.

The future starts now. It’s time for all of us to wake up and take responsibility for our world. A small number of very powerful people around the world have been in charge of these decisions for far too long. We all need to express our feelings and opinions of what we want to see for our future. I personally believe it can and will be a beautiful future once we start committing to this vision. The sooner we begin to help bring about this change, the less unnecessary suffering there will be. The global transformation has already begun! Please find a way to join in and add your voice!
Here is a video of Bill McKibben discussing the Washington Rally and the pipeline

and an article in the Huffington Post

and some images

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