Activists take up Bouchard's call to protest tarsands

Rose Berger, a Catholic who is associate editor at Sojourners magazine, bows to her colleagues before being arrested during an Aug. 30 protest in front of the White House against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.


Rose Berger, a Catholic who is associate editor at Sojourners magazine, bows to her colleagues before being arrested during an Aug. 30 protest in front of the White House against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

September 12, 2011

Maryknoll Father Jim Noonan hopes the five or so hours he spent in jail recently will be noticed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

A staff associate in the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, Noonan, 77, was among 65 people arrested Aug. 20 during protests calling attention to the environmental dangers he believes are posed by a proposed 2,700-km pipeline to carry Canadian crude oil to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.

More than 1,200 people, including actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder, were arrested in two weeks of protest that ended Sept. 3.

"I wanted to do anything I possibly could to be a voice," Noonan told Catholic News Service three days after his arrest for participating in the first sit-in.

"I wanted to ask the president please do not authorize this pipeline because your children and your grandchildren will rue the day that this was authorized."

Noonan's angst is aimed at preventing Obama from signing a permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL Project by TransCanada Corp., from Montana to Texas.

The pipeline expansion, opponents believe, would open the door to a rapid growth of tarsands mining in northern Alberta, endangering a fragile ecosystem and escalating the release of greenhouse gases.


The $7-billion project has raised sensitivities in both the U.S. and Canada. The debates revolve around the benefits of economic development and jobs in a deep recession and the long-term impact on climate change.

The issue has pitted labour union against labour union and community group against community group. Elected officials are eyeing potential new tax revenues to continue basic government services.

Aboriginal people in Canada fear the loss of their way of life should the mining expand rapidly or a disaster rob them of access to water and food.


About 50 religious leaders, including Franciscan Fathers Erick Lopez and Jacek Orzechowski, both parochial vicars at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., joined the protest Aug. 29. Lopez said he wanted to stress to Obama that the pipeline bodes ill for the world.

Actress Daryl Hanna was among those arrested in protests in Washington against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Aug. 30.


Actress Daryl Hanna was among those arrested in protests in Washington against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Aug. 30.

"Life itself is in danger right now if we don't do something about climate change," the Cuban-born Lopez told CNS.

In a 2009 pastoral letter, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Tar Sands, Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul, Alta., questioned the morality of exploiting the oilsands because of the danger posed to native people and the environment.

Bouchard doubted that oil mining made necessary by the pursuit of profit and to satisfy a consumerist lifestyle in the U.S. was worth the risk of enhancing climate change.

"The letter is addressed not so much to the (petroleum) workers as to the CEOs in the companies," Bouchard told CNS recently.

"God has given us creation and we have a responsibility to that," he said.

At the centre of the debate is the complex process used to extract viscous oil called bitumen from formations of sand, clay and water in the oilsands.


The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers acknowledges that the process consumes more energy and water than conventional drilling methods, can require clear cutting of forests and leads to the necessity of storing toxic byproducts in manmade ponds.

But CAPP maintains that opponents' fears are overblown.

Obama faces conflicting views on the project within his own administration.

The U.S. State Department cleared the way for construction in a report released Aug. 26 that found the project poses no serious threat to the environment and will enhance national security.

President George W. Bush gave the State Department authority for the assessment in 2004 because the pipeline crosses an international border.

A series of hearings on the report was planned in the affected states - Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas Oklahoma and Texas - beginning Sept. 26.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June questioned the findings outlined in the State Department's draft of the report, saying that not all ecological concerns were evaluated and that a significant oil spill could affect drinking water and sensitive ecosystems.

The EPA pointed in particular to the dangers of a spill infiltrating the shallow Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, which provides drinking water to two million people.

As proposed by TransCanada, the pipeline would carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil daily from Hardisty, Alta., to U.S. refineries. Nearly 2,200 km of the pipeline would be built in the United States.


Company spokesman Terry Cunha said the question of where the United States gets the oil it needs has almost been lost in the debate.

"They (Americans) have to decide where they want to get the oil: from Canada where there are similar regulations and rules and values or from countries . . . where the values are not the same," he said.

The United States obtains 20 per cent of its crude oil imports from Canada.

Economics also enters into the picture. A 2010 study by the Perryman Group, a financial and economic analysis firm, projected that the pipeline expansion would pump $20.9 billion into the U.S. economy over its lifespan.

Pipeline construction, expected to be completed in 2013, would create about 20,000 jobs, Cunha added.

He also said the company is working to ensure that environmental risks are minimized.

Travis Davies, spokesman for CAPP, denied that oil mining poses a great danger to the environment. The process accounted for 6.5 per cent of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in 2009, he said.

Davies also disputed claims that the entire boreal forest in the oilsands region in Alberta and a small part of Saskatchewan would be destroyed by the mining process.

Overall, he said, about 20 per cent of the area could potentially see oil mining, while the rest of the oil would be obtained through conventional drilling.

In addition, he said, the Canadian and Albertan governments require oil companies to reclaim areas where land is stripped of trees once a mining operation is closed.