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As of yesterday, 522 Americans have been arrested in protesting against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a controversial proposed project which would connect Canadian tar sands oil production with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico by crossing 6 states across 1,700 miles. Protests began over a week ago and have been held in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The growing numbers of those arrested include top NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and distinguished environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Canada is, in fact, the largest supplier of oil to the U.S.; exporting approximately 2 million barrels of oil a day. About half of this petroleum comes from tar sands oil deposits in the Canadian province of Alberta. It is estimated that Northern Alberta’s oil sands contain over 170 billion barrels of crude; the third largest deposit of oil in the world. Proponents of the project proposed by industry giant TransCanada Corp. – which could bring up to 1 million barrels of oil from Alberta to Texas each day – pronounce that the Keystone pipeline provides a secure, consistent and environmentally sound source of petroleum to the U.S. Unlike other alternative fuel projects, TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline could provide millions of barrels of petroleum in the near future once construction is approved.

Unlike conventional crude oil, which is extracted by drilling wells into petroleum reservoirs, tar sands oil involves separating extremely viscous petroleum mixed in throughout sediments of sand, clay, and water. Tar sands mining requires stripping thousands of acres of land and has the capacity to contaminate millions of gallons of water with hazardous chemicals and fuel. Most importantly, because oil derived from tar sands must be heavily extracted and refined, it is estimated that the process creates 5 to 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions when compared to conventional petroleum drilling. Other concerns involving the pipeline itself include leaks and the risks of contaminating water, including the Ogallala Aquifer which provides freshwater to 8 states and provides the U.S. with 30% of its ground water for irrigation.

The Keystone XL pipeline – which could substantially increase daily Canadian oil exports to the U.S. – has been under federal review since 2008 and it is expected to be approved or denied permitting by year end. The State Department recently concluded a review of the pipeline which stated that natural resources along the Keystone XL’s corridor would not be affected, although the EPA has stated that further analysis is necessary. As the deadline for a decision nears, this issue will become more and more significant.

What do you think? You can become involved with and follow the protests on Twitter @TarSandsAction

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