An estimated 10,000 protestors surrounded the White House on Sunday, November 6, bearing signs reading “NOXL” and a giant inflated pipeline, to again protest the Keystone XL pipeline project and demand that President Obama reject the environmentally disastrous proposal. The proposed pipeline, operated by Canadian oil company TransCanada, would travel from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, crossing six states and carrying 700,000 barrels of bitumen (tar sands oil) a day through ecologically sensitive land. At particular risk for contamination from any leaks is the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska which supplies 80% of the state’s water for drinking and irrigation.
The protest was organized in part by leading environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and featured actor Mark Ruffalo, Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on banning landmines and Canadian actress Margot Kidder, who had been arrested at an earlier pipeline protest this past summer. “You can’t occupy the White House, but you can surround it,” McKibben said at a news conference last week.
The Keystone XL pipeline has become a volatile political issue for President Obama who has vowed that he will make a final decision soon on whether to allow the $7 billion project to move forward. It has, thus far been plagued with controversy concerning an inadequate environmental assessment and an overly cozy relationship between TransCanada lobbyists and the State Department. Suggesting that environmental concerns will weigh heavily on his decision, the President said in an interview on an Omaha TV station: “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 our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health.”
The Nebraskan legislature, meanwhile, is holding a special session to determine whether they can force TransCanada to reroute the pipeline, similar to its existing pipeline in the eastern part of the state which does not impact the sensitive Sandhills region. Nebraskans opposing the pipeline include everyone from conservative farmers and ranchers to environmentalists.