My heart sank last night as I watched an ad for Canadian Tar Sands Oil on TV. It sank because the ad spoke only of the appealing aspects of that source of oil — the fact that it comes from a neighboring friendly country. The words “tar sands” or “pipeline” never crossed the lips of the handsome, well-dressed man who was pictured reassuring us that the supply of oil was plentiful.
My heart sank because is it so much easier to believe that we can just go on doing what we have been doing — drilling and using oil, gas and water as if the supply is endless and using it has no consequences.
For the last few days I have been spending lots of time doing the press work for those brave Mainers who have traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the civil disobedience at the White House. This peaceful uprising is a two-week long collective effort (2,100 people have committed to come) to express our fervent wish that the Keystone XL pipeline not be built.
The demonstrations are taking place at the White House because it is up to President Obama alone whether or not the permit will be granted to TransCanada, the company seeking to build the 700-mile pipeline across the United States.
Their request is to pump unrefined oil from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. If they do not get this permit, they are essentially landlocked and cannot get the tar sand oil to a refinery or a port. Thus, the tar sand would stay in the ground at least for a while.
Before I state some of the reasons why I oppose the extracting of this oil, let me say this. It is clear that our climate is changing. Let’s set aside the argument about why it is changing. The fact of it means that we as a people are going to need to change our ways of living.
A wise response to this challenge will be multidimensional. It will include conservation of all sorts, but especially of natural resources such as water, oil and gas. It would include developing ways of adapting to the predicted changes, like the floating houses the Dutch are building. It will include reducing the amount of greenhouse gases we are emitting.
And it would include investing in sustainable sources of energy of all kinds. The polarization between those who advocate for the environment and those who deny climate change and advocate for full utilization of every resource not helpful. It is only delaying a sane, balanced and inclusive response to what is facing us in our collective future.
That said, there are many reasons why the development of Canadian tar sands seems unwise to me. Here are a few:
• Extracting oil from tar sands is dirty, uses huge amounts of energy and water and leaves behind toxic ponds which are killing wildlife and seeping into the groundwater.
• “Producing oil from tar sands emits 2-3 times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. It also diminishes one of the best carbon reduction tools on the planet, Canada’s Boreal Forest” which is the size of Florida, said James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
• The existing pipeline, built last year, has already leaked 12 times, contaminating groundwater.
• The proposed pipeline will cross the largest aquifer in the world and the potential for contamination threatens the water supply of many United States residents. It has Nebraska farmers scared.
• On June 23, 2010, fifty members of Congress spoke out against the Keystone XL because it is not, in their estimation, in the national interest.
Let’s not do this. Please join me and others to persuade our president to turn down TransCanada’s request, and to lead us in a multidimensional creative response to the climate change challenge we all face, one that will create jobs and help our economy thrive.
For information about the demonstrations in Washington, go to www.tarsandsaction.org.
Jean Matlack lives in Rockport.