Keystone Pipeline Protest Draws Students to Washington

70 Swarthmore students joined an estimated 35,000 people protesting the Keystone XL pipeline on the National Mall last Sunday, February 17th. Protestors called it the largest climate rally in history, and scheduled it to coincide with President’s Day. President Obama was out of Washington for the weekend.

Operating since 2010, the pipeline carries oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to various places in the Midwestern United States and to an important junction at Cushing, Oklahoma. The company that owns the pipeline, TransCanada, has plans to extend it from Cushing to the Gulf Coast in Texas and is awaiting presidential approval. The pipeline has drawn a range of opponents who cite the pipeline’s potential for leaking and the increased greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands drilling process, which emits more carbon dioxide than some more common methods of oil extraction.

Months ago, Obama delayed coming to a decision on the pipeline’s extension and has since been under pressure from environmentalists to deny it and the from Canadian government to approve it. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose office is handling the international pipeline, recently announced that a decision was not far off.

The rally on the 17th was hosted by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip Hop Caucus. 350.org founder Bill McKibben and actress Rosario Dawson were among the protesters who marched in 30 degree weather, with drums, tubas, saxophones, and slogans such as ‘Wind Mills not Oil Spills’ and ‘There is no Planet B’. Passionate Swatties contributed to the high-energy with chants  such as “Hey! Obama! We don’t want no pipeline drama!” outside the White House.

Patrick Ammerman ’14, and Laura Rigell ’16, who are the Lang Center’s Sustainability Interns, both serve on the Sustainability Committee and are leaders in Ecosphere, a loose coalition of the seven Environmental groups on campus. They promoted the event through Facebook, the RSD, and word of mouth, after being approached by President Chopp, who wanted to fund buses if there was enough interest in participating.

“Everyone has their own reason for coming, whether they want to be a part of some big historical protest or care about the people it’s displacing or the amount of oil it’s pumping out of the ground, or the global climate effects burning the oil is going to cause,” said Ammerman .

According to Eric White ’15, the construction of this pipeline would not only lead to increased production of tar sands oil but would run through hundreds of natural ecosystems, putting them at what he saw as a serious risk of pipeline leaks.

“This would cement our dependence on fossil fuels which we can no longer do if we want to enact real climate change and commit ourselves to a more sustainable future,” said White, who is a Green Advisor on his hall.

Swarthmore students of all years attended the protest, for all different reasons.

“This is a great chance to show our support or change. It’s probably going to the biggest issue of the century and its awesome to be able to inspire change,” Dominic Castro-Wehr ’16 said.

While some care about the larger global effects, the pipeline affects others more personally.

“It has a ton to do with Nebraska, the state I’m from. It actually bisects and jeopardizes the Ogallala aquifer, which is the aquifer that basically my entire family and everyone I know gets water from. It goes through the sand hills which are a really unique area as far as biodiversity and plant life and it goes right through it,” said Mackenzie Welch ‘14.

Featured image courtesy of Sasha Y. Kimel/Flickr

This article incorrectly listed Andrew Karas in the byline. The article was authored by Aneesa Andrabi.


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