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Some 300 rallies held in US after State Dept green lights Keystone XL

Published time: February 04, 2014 03:07
Edited time: February 04, 2014 05:35
Protesters rally against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside The White House in Washington February 3, 2014. (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)

Protesters rally against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside The White House in Washington February 3, 2014. (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)

As many as 300 candlelight vigils in cities across the US were scheduled for Monday night, as those in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline urged President Obama to ultimately reject the project that will ship tar sands oil from western Canada to Texas.

In parks, city halls, churches and other venues, thousands of peaceful demonstrators showed their opposition to the 1,179-mile pipeline that would move high-carbon tar sands oil through the heart of the United States, from western Canada to a hub in Nebraska, where it would then connect with other existing pipelines to deliver 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas.

Opponents of Keystone XL say that, in addition to the carbon-intensive impact that results from the extraction of tar sands that will only worsen the effects of climate change, the pipeline will also put communities nearby at risk of oil spills and their subsequent fallout.

Critics have also pointed out that most of the oil that will travel through Keystone XL will go to growing economies overseas, like China, that have an increasing demand for more fossil fuels. The pipeline, detractors say, is unlikely to lower the price of gasoline in the US.

The main organizers of the Monday vigils include CREDO, the Sierra Club, the Rainforest Action Network and 350.org, among many others.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to send the message to President Obama that Keystone XL fails his climate test and he must reject it,” the groups said in a joint statement following the release of a report commissioned by the US State Department that ultimately raised few objections to the environmental impact of the pipeline.

The report said that the project won’t impact the pace of Canadian oil sands development or its contribution to climate change. It also suggested that it would be safer to transport 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude by pipeline than by rail.

Adding 830,000 bpd to the yearly transport mode volume would result in an estimated 49 additional injuries and six additional fatalities for the No Action rail scenarios compared to one additional injury and no fatalities for the proposed Project on an annual basis,” the report reads. ‘No Action’ scenarios here refer to the possibility of President Obama not approving the pipeline project.

The Association of American Railroads, though, has questioned the fairness of the comparison.

"Unfortunately, the [report] factored in casualties that are predominantly those of trespassers on railroad rights of way, unrelated to the hazardous commodities being transported, while limiting pipeline casualties to those who are killed or injured in hazardous liquid spill incidents," AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger said in a statement, cited by Reuters.

While the State Department took no position on the project and stopped short of recommending if the line should be built, it did claim the pipeline is more environmentally sound than other options.

"The approval or denial of any single project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction of the oil and the oil sands, or the refining of heavy crude on the US Gulf Coast," a State official told reporters ahead of the release.

The report marked a major step toward the completion of the US$7 billion oil pipeline. President Barack Obama is expected to make a definitive decision on approval of Keystone XL in a matter of months. The State Department’s report is expected give Obama political cover to endorse the pipeline in the face of environmental opposition.

Also on Monday, a new study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows the Athabasca oil sands region in western Canada could be emitting far more air pollution than prior assessments.

Specifically, the report cited the emission levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as being one hundred to one thousand times greater than previously believed. High levels of PAHs are not imminently dangerous, though they are quite higher than reported by the mining industry’s environmental impact assessments and Canada’s own National Pollutant Release Inventory.

Photos from the vigil held outside the White House in Washington, DC:

Environmental activists inflate a long balloon to mock a pipeline during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 3, 2014 to protest against the Keystone pipeline project. (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)

Protesters hold a giant inflated tube during a rally against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside The White House in Washington February 3, 2014. (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)

Protesters hold a giant inflated tube during a rally against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside The White House in Washington February 3, 2014. (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)

An activist dressed like a polar bear protests against the Keystone XL oil pipeline outside The White House in Washington February 3, 2014. (Reuters / Yuri Gripas)