Beginning August 20th, more than 1,000 people began to converge on the White House in Washington, D.C. to protest potential legislation that would authorize construction of a 1,600-mile long pipeline between Canadian tar sands pits and United States oil refineries. Protesters have been arrested and released, but the fight against the tar sands is much larger than this single act of civil disobedience. Many scientists and environmentalists say that the results of this debate could have game-changing consequences for the United States and the world at large. Anyone who is inclined to work to protect the environment and slow climate change should have a better understanding of the tar sands controversy.
What You Should Know About Tar Sands
Tar sands oil is not the same as other oil. The oil that is extracted from Canadian tar sands contains a large amount of bitumen. This chemical difference changes excavation and refinery needs as well as the makeup of emissions. Tar sands oil is, basically, even worse for the environment than “regular” oil.
Pipeline would jeopardize fragile lands and water supplies. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross the Sand Hills of Nebraska, extremely porous land that would suffer greatly from any spills, and the shallow Ogallala Aquifer, which is a major source of water for much of the Midwest. The company that would be building the pipeline has a history of spills and accidents on past tar sands projects.
The tar sands produce a fossil fuel. Although the pipeline has been promoted as a solution for America’s current dependency on foreign oil, it is merely a short-term solution to a larger problem: ongoing dependency on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a limited, non-renewable resource and this project is the result of a society scrambling to adjust to diminishing availability.
The fact that we can run out of fossil fuels is becoming more and more obvious, but current plans seem to be focused on looking harder at old solutions instead of looking for new answers. What can we do as individuals?
- Contact your representatives in Congress and voice your concerns.
- Reduce your own consumption of fossil fuels.
- Use alternative fuel sources whenever possible.
And of course, spread the word!