Skidmore students join thousands in Washington, D.C. protest: Protestors express objections to Keystone XL and hydrofracking

Posted by Max Siegelbaum and Ani Lordkipanidze

On Nov. 6, 65 students traveled to Washington, D.C., to join 12,000 people protesting against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project as part of a committee the Environmental Action Club organized.

TransCanada, a Canadian oil and gas conglomerate, proposed this $7 billion project to transport Tar Sands Oil over 1,500 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. This would involve sending highly toxic materials over most of America's heartland, including the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in the country, and through the fields that supply most of the country's wheat.

Once in Washington, D.C., students stayed in St. Stephen's Church overnight, as per the original schedule, which was briefly changed to a one-day trip before the EAC reverted it back to its original format. On Sunday, organizers of the occupation addressed people against the issues of the Keystone XL Pipeline and hydrofracking, a drilling process that threatens to contaminate public drinking water.

"We want to act, to put our bodies on the line to show Obama that this was something that really impacted us," said Eliza Sherpa '14, vice president of the Environmental Action Club, "We want to show him that his constituents feel really strongly about this, and are willing to take action."

At 3 p.m. protesters encircled the White House with posters, t-shirts and costumes, including polar bear costumes from members of the Alaska Wilderness League, a group working to preserve Alaska's wilderness.

Slogans included, "Hey Obama, we don't need no pipeline drama" and " Tell me what democracy looks like?" The protests ended at 5 p.m. without any arrests.

Margot Reisner '14, president of the EAC, organized the trip along with Sherpa in order to combat a problem that at its base, she said, represents many core problems found throughout American politics today.

"[Keystone XL] touches on a lot of different issues that we have in our country from government corruption to hydrofracking to issues of transportation," Reisner said. "All these issues are coming together in one form -- the pipeline, which we really just need to stop. "

The protest was held one year before the next election to remind President Barack Obama of his agency in this issue, Sherpa and Reisner said. "The pipeline isn't something that has to go through Congress or any government body. Obama is the sole decider," Sherpa said.

TransCanada says Keystone XL has the potential to be a large future source of employment but, however, both Sherpa and Reisner disagree with its projected numbers.

"Most of the jobs will be outsourced," Reisner said. "At most, 5,000 jobs will be created."

Among the damage created from the pipeline, Reisner and Sherpa said, the process of Tar Sands Extraction is extremely water heavy, with an average of three barrels of water to a barrel of oil. This leads to a massive amount of stagnant, polluted and unusable water that is left to sit in collecting pools, where chemicals like Ammonia and Cyanide can leech into the local water supply.

They added that TransCanada's previous Keystone pipeline has a history of seven leaks in the first year of its existence. Sherpa and Reisner described the future potential oil spill as having the capability to equal the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, when approximately 4.9 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of three months.

No decisions have been made about the pipeline, and the Obama administration announced this week that it is putting off the decision until after the 2012 elections. Reisner and Sherpa said they hope President Obama will make a final decision in support of the protesters.

"A lot of the people who care about these issues and who were at these rallies really worked hard to get Obama into office because we thought he represented change and hope and all these things," Reisner said. "Now we're holding him accountable to all these promises that he made to us when we got him into office. He said all those things in his campaign and now he forgot all of that and let the tyranny of oil take away his backbone."

Sherpa and Reisner said they were pleased with the success of the event. "We brought 65 students to this rally, which is a really big thing for Skidmore," Sherpa said. "Skidmore students are active, are civically engaged and really do care about these issues of moving our world away from fossil fuels, and that's something we're willing to fight for and need to be working for on our campus, in our state and in our country."

Keystone XL protests will continue throughout the year and the EAC will continue to promote protests and rallies.

Editor's Note: An account of the protest by Katherine Cavanaugh '14 can be found in Features.

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