Today, President Obama has the choice. Clean technology is at our feet. Sustainable resources are in our hands. And here we sit, digging for oil. The State Department is currently reviewing a proposal to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a pipeline that will extend 2,000 miles across America to the Gulf of Mexico. Crossing over 70 rivers and streams, the pipeline will also cross critical water sources such as the Ogallala Aquifer. The pipeline is scheduled for review by the Obama administration with a congressional deadline demanding a decision by the end of 2011.
If built, this pipeline would carry some of the world's dirtiest oil: tar sands oil. Mined in northern Alberta, tar sands oil is an unconventional oil that is locked up in a clay-like mud called bitumen. This mud lies 40 to 60 yards below the earth's surface and requires a tremendous amount of water and energy to mine, as well as many more resources to be refined for use. Tar sands development is contaminating and deforesting the Boreal forest and the homelands of Indigenous First Nations in Canada. Waste ponds for the project already leak 11 million liters of toxic water into the environment each day and are anticipated to leak 72 million liters a day in 2012.
Oil companies are busy digging, sucking, and contaminating, all in the name oil. In doing so, they are also busy raising gas prices. With the construction of Keystone XL, oil companies are increasing how much you will pay at the pump. The Keystone XL is destined for the Gulf Coast and will bypass the Great Lakes region along the way. Recently leaked documents from Canadian oil companies indicate that new pipelines are intended to address the glut of Tar Sands oil in the Great Lakes region, and open up new export markets (hence the pipelines are destined for the Gulf and Canadian coasts). This does not mean lower prices, this means more oil being sent elsewhere. Directly impacting how much you pay at the pump.
Over the past two months, American citizens have been gathering in our nation's capital to stand up and say that 'We're mad as hell and we don't want dirty oil any longer.' Celebrities and public figures such as Daryl Hannah, Tom Goldtooth and Gus Speth have taken a stand with over a thousand other citizens by being arrested in order to make the statement that tar sands oil is wrong.
What can be done? Congress has set a deadline to approve or deny the project by the end of the year. A deadline with no real purpose, other than to push the decision before it becomes an election issue. President Obama has the power to make a critical decision without the consent of Congress. Public hearings are now being held in the states slated for construction. The State Department will then issue their recommendation after receiving the feedback of impacted states. It is here that President Obama has the authority to either approve or deny the Presidential Permit needed to construct the pipeline.
Nellis is Co-Director for Honor the Earth, an organization to promote energy justice in Native America. She is a Dine’ graduate from the University of New Mexico School of Law with dual certificates in Federal Indian Law & Natural Resources.