At one point, the crowd linked hands to surround the White House, keeping up pressure on President Barack Obama as his administration decides whether to approve the massive Keystone XL project.
Demonstrators chanted “yes we can, stop the pipeline,” while other protesters carried a plastic tube simulating the pipeline that would run 1,700 miles through six states. The protest drew support from actor Mark Ruffalo, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner John Adams and NASA scientist James Hansen, each of whom spoke to the crowd.
The proposed pipeline by developer TransCanada Corp. would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. Opponents say it would bring “dirty oil” that requires huge amounts of energy to extract and could cause an ecological disaster in case of a spill. They are calling on Obama to block the $7 billion project, which is currently being reviewed by the State Department.
Obama missed most of the protest while he played golf at Fort Belvoir in Virginia during the afternoon.
Dan Quigley, a freshman at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, traveled by bus with about 40 students to attend the protest. The 19-year-old said the pipeline could have an adverse effect on greenhouse gases and pose a hazard to water supplies.
“It’s putting a lot of time and effort into something that’s pulling us into a wrong direction,” he said. “If we are going to do anything this large scale it has to be something that’s proactive for helping the environment.”
TransCanada spokesman James Millar said the pipeline would help reduce American dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela while creating thousands of new construction and manufacturing jobs.
“Killing Keystone just leads to more of the same — hundreds of oil tankers shipping millions of barrels of higher priced oil across our oceans to American shores,” Millar said in a statement.
Bill McKibben, founder of the climate safety grassroots movement 350.org, said demonstrators hoped Obama would live up to the image that helped him win election in 2008.
“He’s completely capable of doing the right thing,” McKibben said.
The Obama administration is considering a move that could delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline by requiring sponsors to reduce the project’s environmental risks before it can be approved, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.
The step might put off a decision until after the 2012 election and be a way for the White House to at least temporarily avoid antagonizing either the unions that support the pipeline or the environmental activists who oppose it as President Obama gears up for his campaign.
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL, which would run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, needs a permit from the State Department because it crosses a national border. The administration has said the State Department probably would decide on the so-called presidential permit by the end of the year.
Until recently, the pipeline seemed to be heading for a green light. Its union supporters tout the jobs it would create. And administration officials say the oil that would flow south from Canada’s oil sands — viscous petroleum trapped in clay and soil — would improve energy security.
But the plan has become a major issue for environmental groups, which object to running a giant pipeline above an aquifer that holds water used by large parts of the Plains states. They also say producing crude from oil sands would generate huge amounts of the gases believed to cause global warming. Environmental activists have threatened to withhold campaign donations and stop volunteering for Obama’s reelection effort.
Requiring that a new route be found to avoid the most sensitive areas, or that further steps be taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions, could help the administration out of a jam. Assessing the environmental effects of a new route, for instance, could take months.
In other news, TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, admitted that it lied about the number of jobs it will create, even temporary ones:
Proponents of the Keystone XL–an oil pipeline that would cut a swath across dozens of rivers, streams, and America’s largest source of fresh water–claim that the number of domestic jobs created by the project offset its immense environmental risks.
But in a recent report by the Washington Post, the company behind the Keystone XL admitted that it intentionally inflated estimates of the number of American jobs the pipeline would create.
The 20,000 jobs involved in pipeline construction? A fabrication supported by misleading mathematics. The 250,000 indirect jobs? A number based on one oil-industry funded study that counted jobs for “dancers, choreographers and speech therapists,” according to the Post.
TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.
“Thank heavens some reporter actually questioned this jobs number, instead of just repeating it,” said Bill McKibben, who is leading a major protest against Keystone XL this Sunday at the White House. “The only study not paid for by the pipeline company makes clear that there are no net jobs from this pipeline because it will kill as many as it will create.”
President Obama told a Nebraska TV station Tuesday that he would make the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by balancing the potential job benefits against health and environmental concerns. “I think folks in Nebraska, like all across the country, aren’t going to say to themselves, ‘we’ll take a few thousand jobs’ if it means that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health or if … rich land that is so important to agriculture in Nebraska ends up being adversely affected,” he said.