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Fifty-Four Protesters Arrested as Environmental Report on Tar Sands Pipeline Is Released

 A protester is arrested in front of the White House on Friday, August 26, as part of a demonstration to urge the president to reject the Keystone pipeline. (Photo: tarsandsaction / Flickr)

As environmental activists were handcuffed in front of the White House on Friday, the State Department released the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the massive Keystone XL pipeline that would pump crude oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada across six western states to stations in Oklahoma and Texas.

Climate change and environmental groups have staged protests against the proposed pipeline across the country in recent months, including a two-week sit-in currently underway in front of the White House.

Police arrested 54 of the protesters outside of the White House on Friday, and organizers say 2,000 people from across the country are expected to participate in the nonviolent demonstration calling on President Obama to step in and cancel the project. A total of 374 protesters have been arrested in the demonstration so far.

TransCanada's $7 billion pipeline would stretch underground for 1,700 miles and deliver 830,000 barrels of crude oil to the US per day. A public comment period on the EIS extends until December when the State Department could approve or deny the permit for the pipeline. Public meetings will be held in all six states before a final decision is made.

The EIS describes the construction methods that would be used to build the pipeline and addresses some environmental concerns, including estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and impacts the pipeline could have on wildlife habitats and endangered species, but environmental groups say the report does not go far enough.

The EIS also details the 14 oil spills that have occurred on the existing Keystone pipeline system since 2010, including a 21,000-gallon spill that occurred after a fitting failed a pump station in Ludden, North Dakota. Most of the oil was contained in the station area, but 210 gallons spilled across adjacent land.

While the State Department, which regulates international pipelines, has yet to approve the project, environmentalists across the country have already made up their minds.

Michael Brune, the executive director the Sierra Club, called the final EIS “an insult to anyone who expects government to work for the interests of the American people.”

“Americans don't want a 2,000 mile-long toxic crude oil pipeline running through our heartland for the benefit of a foreign oil corporation and they don't want another oil spill,” Brune said in a release. “TransCanada's proposed tar sands pipeline would threaten our most productive farmlands and the drinking water of millions of Americans.”

The Sierra Club claims the EIS fails to address the “toxic pollution” created by refining the crude oil, which is one of the “dirtiest and most dangerous forms of oil on Earth,” according to a release. The club also criticized the report for failing to address potential impacts to an aquifer tapped for drinking water in North Dakota despite requests from US senators.

Brant Olsen, a spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network, told Truthout the pipeline should not be evaluated in a “vacuum,” and the EIS does not include information on the potential impacts the increased flow of oil could have on communities near domestic oil refineries. The heavy crude from the tar sands would increase emissions from refineries and people living nearby would suffer the consequences, Olsen said.

For farmers, the EIS provides a preview of how the pipeline would impact agricultural lands along the “right-of-way.” After construction, farming would be allowed to continue along the right of way “with little impact to production levels in the long term.” There would be some restrictions for farmers within 50 feet of the pipeline, and the oil company has agreed to compensate farmers for losses on a case-by-case basis.

Friends of the Earth, another environmental group opposed to the pipeline, accuses TransCanada of “bullying” farmers into giving up their land. The group says dozens of farmers have taken TransCanada to court over land rights and the proposed project has turned typically oil-friendly areas in east Texas into “hotbeds of resistance,” according to a release.

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