Arrests made at oilsands protest in Washington
Published Saturday, August 20, 2011 10:09PM EDT
Alberta's embattled oilsands are at the centre of a mass protest that began this weekend with arrests in front of the most prominent government building in the United States.
Crowds descended upon the White House early Saturday morning, prepared to spend two weeks hosting daily sit-ins to denounce a proposed pipeline that would transport oil from Alberta's oilsands to a refinery in Texas.
A young woman who travelled from Arkansas to attend the protest became the first demonstrator to be arrested as part of the protest at about 11:30 a.m., according to Tar Sands Action — the group that organized the protest. Further details about her arrest are not yet available.
By Saturday night, dozens of protestors were arrested, including outspoken environmentalist and protest organizer Bill McKibben and notable gay rights activist Dan Choi.
The demonstration, which is expected to run until Sept. 3, comes as the U.S. State Department prepares to release its final environmental analysis of the TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
Protesters chanted "Hey-ho, Keystone XL has got to go," while U.S. Park Police and SWAT team officers handcuffed several demonstrators and removed them from the area. About 100 protesters were reportedly at the first sit-in on Saturday.
But Saturday's chants didn't reach the ears of U.S. President Barack Obama, who is currently on vacation with his family over 780 kilometres away in Martha's Vineyard. The Obama family is expected to return late next week.
Environmentalists have condemned the oilsands, accusing them of being the world's biggest emitter of carbon and responsible for so-called "dirty" oil.
Alberta Environment spokesman Mark Cooper has brushed off the suggestions that the oilsands emit excessive amounts of carbon, accusing the coal industry of being far dirtier.
In 2009, a single coal plant in China produced roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as the entire oilsands industry, he said.
Supporters of the oil and gas industry also stress that the proposed pipeline project will create jobs and are a boon to the economy.
Alykhan Velshi, who runs EthicalOil.org, said that it's a contentious issue and one worth millions to the Canadian economy.
"The choice Americans have to make, is do they want to get their oil from ethical sources like Canada, or from conflict oil regimes like Saudi Arabia or Venezuala," Velshi told CTV Vancouver on Saturday night.
The U.S. State Department is tasked with making a decision on the pipeline because it crosses an international border. After it produces its assessment, President Obama will have 90 days to determine whether approving the pipeline is in his country's national interest.
Jane Kleeb, a member of Tar Sands Action, said the mass sit-ins are necessary to pressure Obama into squashing the $7-billion proposal.
"The pipeline is a dangerous threat to our land and water," she told CTV News Channel in a phone interview from Washington on Saturday.
"We need to be focused on American-made energy and sustainable energy and tarsands is not that at all," she said.
Organizers say some 1,500 names have been registered to participate in the Washington protests, some of which are big names in Hollywood.
Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo is asking people to get involved in the sit-ins.
In a YouTube clip posted earlier this week, Ruffalo calls on Americans to "put your principles into action" and join him in opposing the proposed pipeline.
Canadian-born actress Margot Kidder has said she'll also be involved with the protests. "Lethal Weapon" actor Danny Glover has voiced interest in the protests as well.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Sarah Galashan