Protests against Keystone XL pipeline spread across North America

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In scores of public protests planned Saturday across America, demonstrators plan to ‘Draw the Line’ against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline intended to funnel Canada’s carbon-heavy oil sands across the United States to huge refineries on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts.

In Nebraska, a barn bedecked with solar panels will be built in the path of the planned pipeline. It’s intended to symbolize the contrast between renewal energy and ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.
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In Washington protests are planned in Lincoln Park, in New York blue-painted demonstrators will form a new ‘high-water’ line in Lower Manhattan to show potential sea level rise caused by global warming and in Seattle climate-change activists will rally to stop the proposed new export terminal for coal.

Organizers claim there will be more than 200 “actions” in cities and towns across the United States and Canada, all of them intended to draw attention to the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal and oil.

The protests – intended to mark the five years since TransCanada first sought approval for the 1,900 km, $5.3-billion project to provide a market outlet for Alberta’s vast oil sands currently selling at a steep discount to world prices – are part of a broad ongoing effort to thwart Keystone XL.

The pipeline has become an icon for climate-change activists who contend it represents an old and ill-suited approach to energy needs and regard stopping Keystone XL as a crucial step in thwarting further development of Canada’s oil sands by making it uneconomic to get the heavy, thick, bitumen to market.

So Keystone XL has morphed from a fairly routine pipeline into a high-stakes issue at the centre of a policy battle . In recent months, grim images of Alberta’s thick oil oozing from a pipeline break in a small Arkansas town have raised the image stakes in the battle even as the pipeline’s proponents insist that economic facts and American public opinion still support construction.

Before winning his second term, President Barack Obama delayed the decision on the politically fraught issue and it now seems to have slipped again, perhaps until next year.

Meanwhile expensive efforts by both sides continue more than five years after TransCanada Corp. first applied for a permit and nearly eight years since the Keystone pipeline to funnel oil sands to tidewater was first envisioned.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, and the National Resources Defense Council have been joined by clusters of local landowners in several states. Lawsuits have been filed, celebrities – such as Robert Redford – have lined up against Keystone and billionaire activist Tom Steyer has vowed to spend heavily on campaigns against the oil sands.

“Tar sands oil is exactly the type of dirty oil we can no longer afford,” Mr. Redford said in a widely-watched YouTube video this week. “It may be great for oil companies, but it is killing our planet.”

By contrast, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, in a barely-noticed speech in New York City , touted Canada’s record on cutting emissions from coal-fired plants as better than the United States. Mr. Oliver and a succession of provincial premiers have repeatedly tried to promote Keystone XL as a job-creating, secure source of oil for America.

Public opinion polls still show a clear majority of Americans back building Keystone XL but as high-profile protests continue that support may shift.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama, who has staked part of his presidential legacy on leaving the planet a cleaner place, has set a high bar for approving Keystone XL In a speech in June he said.

“As for the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf, ….. our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”