Three days after the US State Department issued a 1000-page report that appeared to green light the Keystone XL pipeline project, hundreds of demonstrations against the pipeline and the extraction of Alberta’s tar sands popped up across the USA. One of them was in Concord, New Hampshire, where forty people stood vigil in front of the State House for an hour Monday evening.
The demonstration was called by 350NH.
The State Department, whose opinion matters because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, reported that the controversial pipeline wouldn’t harm the climate because the tar sands would find their way to refineries, and massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, with or without it.
The Keystone XL project would carry 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Alberta, Canada across the middle of the USA to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Climate activists point to the danger of toxic spills along the route, but more significantly to the climatic effects of releasing that much carbon to the atmosphere.
Climate activists are focusing their pressure on the White House, where a decision will ultimately get made.
While Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline might be the most controversial route for tar sands oil, one alternate route would carry the material across northern New Hampshire in an existing pipeline that runs from Montreal to South Portland, Maine. The pipeline currently carries conventional oil from Maine to Quebec. But its corporate owner has proposed changing its purpose to transport tar sands-derived bitumen in the opposite direction, a route that traverses New Hampshire’s Coos County.
Carol Foss, Conservation Director for the NH Audubon Society, discussed the pipeline earlier this evening on “State House Watch,” a weekly radio show I co-host on WNHN-FM in Concord. There are 4 bills under consideration in the NH legislature right now, she said, which would increase state oversight of the pipeline in the event its owners choose to use it for tar sands transport.
Pipeline ruptures in Michigan and Arkansas have shown that fears of toxic spills are realistic. The fact that one possible pipeline route crosses Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine gives a “local handle” on anti-tar sands organizing. But organizers should not neglect attention to Alberta, where the tar sands are located, and where extraction is already going on at a rapid pace.
Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation highlighted that message during presentations in Concord and Durham last week. Their communities, already contaminated by the effluent from surface and sub-surface mines, face the most immediate threats. Lameman said her tribe has filed a legal claim alleging more than 17,000 infringements of treaty rights. “If these pipelines go through,” she said, “your governments will assist in the raping of the land of my ancestors.”
Forty people is not a lot. But the fact that so many turned out on short notice to stand in Concord’s cold is an indication that understanding of the tar sands threat has reached a lot of local homes. And other demonstrations took place today in Portsmouth, Manchester, and Jefferson, a North Country town along the route of the Montreal-Portland pipeline.
This battle is far from over.