Author and activist Bill McKibben, a Johnsburg resident and Middlebury college professor addresses the crowd at a civil disobedience protest. The event is scheduled to end Sept. 3, a total of two weeks protesting outside the White House.
WASHINGTON — Longtime Johnsburg resident and Middlebury college professor Bill McKibben's civil disobedience display outside President Barack Obama's yard is winding down to its Sept. 3 end.
McKibben and others are protesting a planned oil pipeline project, called the Keystone XL, that will run 1,384 miles through the western U.S. and 327 miles in Canada, connecting Alberta to Texas. Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it requires presidential approval. That led the protest to the White House, in close viewing distance of Obama.
McKibben and others are breaking the law in the tourist-heavy area by occupying an area where visitors are required to keep moving. When they don't stay in motion and refuse to move when asked, the protesters are manacled and put into a paddywagon, said McKibben. They're released a few hours later.
The first weekend, Aug. 20 and 21, McKibben and others were detained in D.C. Metro Police's central cell block. McKibben spent two nights in jail before his court date. The judge, appalled at his treatment, dropped all charges.
On Sept. 1, the protest's website, tarsandsaction.org, counted 834 people arrested in the demonstration with two days remaining.
Following Irene's devastation in Vermont, state residents traveled to Washington to protest the pipeline's approval, said McKibben. The tar sands deposit in Canada is the second-largest deposit of oil on the planet, and burning its resources will heavily damage the climate by accelerating global warming, said McKibben.
The pipeline is also projected to have a more direct impact when it's built and moving oil.
Some of the planned 1,711-mile pipeline will pass over a Nebraska aquifer that will be only 10 feet below the oil-sluicing conduit.
“That's just not commonsensical; it's not what a reasonable person would do,” McKibben said.
The U.S. Department of State released its Final Environmental Impact Statement Aug. 26. According to the report's executive summary, “In spite of the safety measures … spills are likely to occur during operation over the lifetime of the project.”
Another part of the pipeline, simply called Keystone, opened in 2010 and has had 14 leaks since. Seven of the leaks were less than 10 gallons, four more were 100 gallons or less, two were between 400 and 500 gallons and the biggest spilled more than 21,000 gallons.
“It depends on whether you think spills are bad or not,” said McKibben. “If you live there, they're obviously bad. If you're a businessman who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away, what the hell do you care?”
Keystone has estimated spills for the XL pipeline at 0.22 per year, while the DoS has estimated a much higher rate of spills, at around 1.78 to 2.51 annually.
The maximum spill estimated could come in at 2.8 million gallons, according to Keystone estimates. In comparison, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill was estimated at between 67 and 195 million gallons.
The DoS report emphasized that demand on Gulf of Mexico refining will increase soon, and the great capacity of the XL pipeline, as much as 830,000 barrels of oil daily, or 216.6 million gallons is needed to keep up production.
McKibben said that it's true that if we want to keep on burning oil in SUVs, then yes, we'll need to increase capacity. But he doesn't agree that a consumptive America is the right future.