Bloomberg News

Thousands Circle White House to Protest TransCanada Pipeline

November 09, 2011

(Updates with White House comment in 12th paragraph.)

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- An Academy Award nominee, a Nobel laureate and thousands of protesters encircled the White House, urging President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada Corp.’s planned oil pipeline across the U.S.

“Yes, we can!” demonstration organizer Bill McKibben shouted today, referring to Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan. “Yes, we can stop the pipeline!” McKibben is the founder of, an organization dedicated to minimizing climate change.

Mark Ruffalo, who vied for a best supporting actor Oscar, and Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, also were part of the crowd in Washington that numbered as many as 12,000 people, according to the Sierra Club, one of the environmental groups coordinating the action.

The $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude from Alberta across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to Gulf Coast refineries. Pipeline opponents say extracting crude from Canada’s oil sands emits three times more carbon than conventional oil production, contributing to global warming that Obama pledged to fight.

The opponents also say a spill from the pipeline could pollute the Ogallala aquifer, which stretches underground from South Dakota to Texas and provides fresh water to 1.5 million people.

“If the pipeline has any kind of leakage, it would leak into our farmlands and into that water,” said Jessica Sobocinski, a 20-year-old student who rode 12 hours on a bus from Bloomington, Indiana, to join the protest. “And even if they were to make this really nice pipeline that wouldn’t leak, we shouldn’t be dependent on these limited resources -- we already know that oil is going to run out.”

BP Oil Spill

Sobocinski was wearing an orange vest that read “Stop the Pipeline.”

While the crowd was made up mainly of young people and environmental groups, it also included landowners from the states the pipeline would cross, and Gulf Coast residents wearing T-shirts referring to BP Plc’s offshore oil spill last year.

Obama may not act to stop the pipeline, some said.

“I don’t think, given this economy, he will turn it down, I think he will approve it,” said Jim Lemon, 57. Lemon, who voted for Obama in 2008, said he plans to support him next year anyway.

Obama returned to the White House late in the afternoon after being away golfing most of the day.

White House Comment

The president “recognizes that there are a number of critical issues involved in this decision, including climate change and impacts on public health and natural resources,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said today in an e- mailed statement. “These issues, along with American energy security and economic factors, will be considered in the State Department’s ongoing assessment.”

The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline proposal because it crosses the U.S. border. The agency has said it expects to decide this year. Obama indicated on Nov. 1 that he will have the final say.

“The State Department is in charge of analyzing this because it’s a pipeline coming in from Canada,” Obama said in an interview with Omaha, Nebraska, television station KETV. “They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months.”

TransCanada has said the Keystone XL pipeline will help cut U.S. dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East, and create more than 20,000 U.S. jobs through 2012.

‘Professional Activists’

Shawn Howard, a spokesman for Calgary-based TransCanada, said in a Nov. 4 e-mail that the protesters’ rhetoric “shows the desperation” of “professional activists.”

The protest is part of “an anti-oil campaign that is using our pipeline as the target,” Howard said in an interview earlier that day.

The Nebraska legislature is meeting in special session in Lincoln, the capital, to consider legislation aimed at forcing TransCanada to reroute the pipeline away from the Ogallala aquifer to protect against a spill that could threaten the water supply.

The White House was a target for anti-pipeline protesters in August. Sit-ins outside on the sidewalk led to arrests of 1,252 people, according to the Tar Sands Action website. Among them were James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and actress Daryl Hannah.

Department Challenged

Groups including Friends of the Earth and the New York- based Natural Resources Defense Council called last month for an investigation of what they described as State Department bias toward TransCanada during an environmental review. The State Department said Aug. 26 that the pipeline poses “no significant impacts to most resources,” provided the company complies with U.S. law and follows recommended safeguards.

The State Department has said its review process is transparent and fair to all sides. TransCanada has said it didn’t influence the department’s work.

In an Oct. 28 letter to the department’s inspector general, they said that a former State Department energy-affairs envoy offered “pre-determination coaching” that amounted to “invaluable access and support for TransCanada” and that a former campaign official for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run used “political connections to gain inordinate access.” Clinton is now Secretary of State.

--With assistance from Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York and Kate Andersen Brower in Washington. Editors: Andrea Snyder, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Katarzyna Klimasinska in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at

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