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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

NASA Scientist James Hansen and Darryl Hannah Arrested at Keystone Pipeline Protest

Things are heating up when it comes to the protests outside of the Whitehouse over the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion, 1,700 mile project. James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was arrested on August 29 while protesting. Hansen, who was one of the first scientists to warn about global warming, reportedly yelled into a microphone before being arrested for Obama to act "for the sake of your children and grandchildren."

Hansen was arrested with 142 other activists, including actress Daryl Hannah, who shouted "No to the Keystone Pipeline" as police handcuffed her. Over 500 protestors have been arrested since the protests started on August 20.

Hansen and 20 other leading scientists sent a letter to the Whitehouse urging Obama to stop the construction of the pipeline. The letter declared, "If the pipeline is to be built, you as president have to declare that it is ‘in the national interest.’ As scientists, speaking for ourselves and not for any of our institutions, we can say categorically that it’s not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest."
Jim Wallis, the best-selling evangelical author and minister who served on Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, supports the protesters. "Developing the tar sands in Canada and building the Keystone XL pipeline through six states in the American Midwest is the wrong direction for our country and derails progress of building a responsible energy infrastructure," Wallis said in a statement.

The potential environmental impacts

"There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor," Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) disagrees, and that's why he called for two public meetings in Nebraska next month to review the project's route, which includes major aquifers such as the Ogallala.

The pipeline would have the capacity to transport 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. Given that much oil, it's only natural that there is a risk of spills, as the State Department's environmental impact report points out. "Spills are likely to occur during operation over the lifetime of the proposed Project," the report states.

Since operation began in June 2010, 14 spills have occurred. Eleven of the spills were 100 gallons or less, but two of them were 400-500 gallons, and one was 21,000 gallons. The maximum spill volume is 2.8 million gallons.

The pipeline has the potential to impact ground water along its route, which includes the Northern High Plains Aquifer. The aquifer supplies 78 percent of the public water supply, 83 percent of irrigation water in Nebraska, and about 30 percent of water used in the U.S. for irrigation and agriculture. The report identifies the part of the aquifer below the Sand Hills region as being particularly vulnerable to the "potential impacts of the proposed Project."

There are over 200 public water supply wells, most of them in Texas, located within one mile of the proposed centerline, and 40 private water wells are within 100 feet of the centerline.

Most importantly, constructing the pipeline would encourage more rapid development of the dirtiest source of petroleum yet developed.

Perhaps now that high profile people have been arrested, President Obama and the mainstream media will pay attention to the project, and its environmental impacts. Any bets?

Photo: Flickr user, tarsandaction

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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