Protests In Bay Area Send President Obama Clear Message On Keystone: Just Say No

By Tina Gerhardt

San Francisco, CA — Mass demonstrations welcomed President Obama to the Bay Area today and sent him a clear message on the Keystone XL Pipeline: Just say NO!

President Obama arrived in San Francisco’s well-heeled Pacific Heights neighborhood at the home of former hedge fund manager turned environmental campaigner to host a $5000 per person cocktail hour followed by a $32,500/plate dinner fundraiser at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Organized by CREDO Action in conjunction with environmental organizations such as, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Idle No More, Rising Tide SF and the Sierra Club, over 1000 protesters greeted President Obama.

The protest forms part of a rising national movement that plans to dog the president and keep pressure on him not to authorize the Keystone XL Pipeline.

On Friday, March 19, 2013, the U.S. Senate voted 62-37 to pass the pipeline. But the vote is largely symbolic. The fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline lies with President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who have ultimate say in its future.

Activists intend to keep the pressure on. As Rose Braz, Campaign Director at the Center for Biological Diversity told The Progressive in an interview: “The climate crisis should confront President Obama anywhere he goes. The president has asked us to compel him to do the right thing on climate change, so we’ll be there in force when he visits San Francisco to urge him to reject the dirty Keystone Pipeline.”

In February, over 40,000 persons rallied in Washington D.C. to urge the present to vote against the new 875-mile long pipeline, which would transport oil from the U.S.-Canadian border through Montana and South Dakota to connect with an existing pipeline near Steele City, Nebraska for onward delivery to refineries in Texas. It would run over the Ogallala Aquifer, which extends from south Dakota to northern Texas and provides fresh drinking water to millions in the Midwest.

The pipeline would also threaten endangered area wildlife, including western prairie fringed orchids. whooping cranes, piping plovers, Arkansas River shiners, pallid sturgeon, American burrowing beetles and woodland caribou.

Last Friday, the Pegasus pipeline that ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas and has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “major spill” dumped vast quantities of oil in neighborhoods and made clear the risks associated with a tar sands pipeline.

The Pegasus pipeline carries diluted bitumen (dilbit), a combination of crude in the form bitumen and chemicals used to make it easier – that is more liquid or diluted – to transport. The dilbit originates in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, just as the oil that the Keystone XL Pipeline would transport would originate. (Click here for a Dilbit Primer.)

To extract petroleum from tar sands requires vast quantities of water. In addition to the wasted freshwater and the hazards, some to date undetermined and unknown, associated with dilbit, tars ands development produces greenhouse gas emissions two to three times higher than those associated with conventional oil and gas operations.

The Pegasus pipeline transports dilbit from Patoka, Illinois to refineries in Nederland, Texas. Initial estimates of gallons leaked were 45000 barrels or 189,000 gallons. Within a day, they reached 12,000 barrels or 504,000 gallons.

Twenty-two homes have been evacuated. The oil continues to gush down streets of area neighborhood and subdivisions and to coat residents’ backyards. It is coating area wildlife, including birds, as well as fish, such as bass, catfish, bream and crappie. Efforts are underway to avoid the spill from contaminating nearby Lake Conway, the area’s source of clean drinking water.

According to InsideClimate, Exxon is running the show, not federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and Exxon is not allowing journalists into the affected areas.

In response, Michael Brune, Sierra Club stated, “This latest toxic mess is just another reminder that oil companies cannot be trusted to transport toxic tar sands crude through Americans’ backyards, farmlands and watersheds. It’s not a matter of if spills will occur on dangerous pipelines like the Keystone XL, but rather, when — and at what cost to Americans.”

As Emma Pullman at DeSmogBlog lays out in an infographic, the Keystone XL Pipeline predicted it would leak once very seven years. Yet since it began operation in June 2010, it has leaked 14 times.

The Arkansas spill comes two days after a train, also carrying Canadian crude, derailed in Parkers Prairie, in western Minnesota, spilling around 15,000 gallons of crude oil.

These two recent accidents follow on the heels of two massive spills, in 2010, when an Enbridge pipeline leaked 100,000 gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River; and in 2011, when an Exxon pipeline dumped 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River, for which Exxon was hit by a $1.7 million fine last week.

Ross Hammond, Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner with the Climate and Energy Program, told The Progressive, “President Obama actually has the power to cancel this project. It is all risks, no rewards. It does not help the U.S. at all. There has been so much propaganda about this pipeline, that it is going to lead to U.S. oil independence and create all these jobs. But the State Department itself thinks it will create only 35 permanent jobs. We are here to urge President Obama to cancel this project. It is going to unlock an enormous carbon bomb.”

As Bill McKibben, co-founder of, put it in an interview with The Progressive, “the President needs to constantly be reminded that Americans, unlike oil executives, are ready to back him if he’ll be the first world leader to say no to a big project on climate grounds.”

CREDO recently launched a call to activists to pledge to risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience if President Obama moves forward with a plan to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Over 53,000 people have signed the pledge to risk arrest in peaceful dignified civil disobedience in their local communities, in front of OFA meetings, State Department offices, TransCanada’s corporate lobbies, banks that are financing tar sands oil development, areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and along the pipeline route. is calling for people to take action and to submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released on March 1, 2013. A public meeting is also scheduled for Thursday, April 18, 12:00 – 3:30 pm and 4:00 – 8:00 pm at the Heartland Events Center, 700 East Stolley Park Road, Grand Island, Nebraska.The State Department is accepting public comments on the new proposal until April 22 here and here.

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers energy policy, climate negotiations and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, The Nation, The Progressive and The Washington Monthly.

11 Responses to Protests In Bay Area Send President Obama Clear Message On Keystone: Just Say No

  1. Leif says:

    Stop profits from the pollution of the commons. The GOP do not fund abortion. Fine. A precedent. Why do Progressives allow themselves to be taxed to support of the ecocide of the Planet via subsidies to the Fossil Barons? I vote for a TAX REBELLION. The original Tea Party was rebellion against “taxation without representation.” This is far worse an offense, IMO. This is taxation in support of the destruction of Earth’s Life Support Systems and a livable future for the Kidders of ALL! Many hands make light work. “When dissent becomes impossible, revolution becomes inevitable.” MLK

  2. tarfpir says:

    Anybody notice the ad on the right? My cursor accidentally went over it. . . . It’s a Chevron recruiting ad for ‘drilling and completions personnel.’

    I’m not sure if there’s an explanation, other than the obvious, but please Joe, tell us why TP or CP is accepting ads from Chevron.

  3. David Sheridan says:

    Exxon hiring local cops to keep journalists away from their tar sands spill in Arkansas.

    At one point, the cop said to the driver, “If it were up to me. I wouldn’t mind y’all being out here, but I’m getting paid a lot of money to keep you out of here.”

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It must be time for yet another diatribe attacking China, Russia, Iran (fill in your favourite non-obedient state) for not possessing ‘Freedom of the Press’.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’m with the brazen Rose Braz! Obama must be confronted every time he goes out to visit his rich patrons, for the rest of his term, by plebs not willing to sit back and see our children sentenced to a life of Hell.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    ‘Just say no’ was an absurd strategy in relation to teenage sex but seems appropriate in this case so go for it folks, ME

  7. Brian R Smith says:

    Not mentioned in this piece is that all this high end fundraising is purposed for trying to flip the House back to a Democratic majority in 2014. Which is the political grail for climate activism, so the problem is not disagreement over the goal. The problem is that there’s not the slightest hint that the Administration is interested in including, consulting with, much less collaborating with high level climate advocates to build an emphasis that one of the important issues on which to elect a Democratic House in 2014 is the truth about catastrophic climate disruption.

    Common sense says that if Obama wanted to improve his chances for significant climate legislation post-election 2014, his team would be as focused on prioritizing it as an issue for the candidate-recipients as on collecting money for their campaigns. Not happening. Instead the President is noticeably avoiding climate as a motivation for flipping the House in his fundraising pitches.

    If, as we all assume, Obama knows the score (how could he not?), this is not the behavior we would expect. I see two possibilities.

    One, he actually does NOT know the full consequences of inaction, in which case radical steps should be taken by determined climate scientists to demand the president’s attention. Or, two, Obama is fully aware but his advisers have decided that bringing in the complexity and divisiveness of climate would hobble rather than help in regaining the House in the short term. This is the most likely case and beggars the question. Why? Can they possibly be unaware of the avalanche of concern over climate and the researched advantage for candidates in identifying with that concern? Absolutely.

    Either way, it should be obvious now that climate knowledge and climate activism have not been invited as partners in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s fight for the House. Maybe there’s still time to do something about that. If only climate leaders could come together around the idea that being locked out of this last-hope election process is just f%#$@!g well not acceptable then maybe things would change.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Here’s a fearless prediction. Between now and 2014 Obama behaves in a really ‘inexplicable’ way, collaborating with the Thuggees to attack social welfare, extend his ‘all of the above’ energy approach, approve Keystone and generally dismay the Hope Fiends. Resulting in mass refusal to vote, a la 2010 but more so, and a Congress infested with Tea Partiers and whole tentacles of Kochtopus suckers.

  9. Brian R Smith says:

    There are plenty of reasons to believe you’re right, not least of which is that the progressive response to Obama’s “make me do it” climate challenge remains a collection of uncoordinated campaigns with no apparent plans to harness a much larger collective power to influence elites. Lots of not very effective skirmishes, no battle plan.

  10. Dan Miller says:

    I believe that President Obama does not truly understand the consequences of inaction. I had a discussion with someone who used to write climate briefings for him and, it turned out, only information that had enough evidence that it would be included in a peer-reviewed academic paper was included. Think “IPCC-plus”. Think about that a bit. If the military used that approach, we would lose every battle and every war we ever fought! Many of the “likely” and “probable”, and some of the “possible” impacts will happen, but the White House is not considering them. They probably think that we can start addressing climate change sometime soon and things will get better once some future administration finally acts.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    His science advisor, Holdren, knows the score on climate change intimately…he was the guy who mentioned that simulations show that once you loose the summer ice in the arctic, the winter ice follows much faster than one would expect (or something to that effect) and he wasn’t saying it from a “oh this is interesting perspective”, it was a “we need to do something now” context.

    I feel confident that Obama has been told the real score (Holdren and Chu both would have told him), he obviously has chosen to not to listen or believe it. One can only guess as what is going on, but our Peace Prize winner (given to him for his pre election climate change action speeches)…he certainly blew our (the world’s?) chance for the last decade and at least most of this one and shows no signs that he thinks that choice was wrong in the slightest…his administration is an obstacle, not a help, to serious action on climate change.