Dozens More Arrested in Tar Sands Pipeline Protests: Gulf Coast Residents Speak Out

by Emanuel Feld

After five days of action, civil disobedience protests against the Keystone XL pipeline show no signs of easing up. Another 56 people were arrested in front of the White House yesterday, many of whom came to Washington from the Gulf Coast region to share their experiences from last year’s BP oil spill and to warn of the threats the pipeline poses.

As of yesterday, 275 people had been arrested in all.

The Keystone XL pipeline, if approved by the administration, would carry 900,000 barrels of oil each day from the “tar sands” in Alberta, Canada through the American heartland to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. Its path would cross over 70 rivers and streams, including the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Arkansas. It would also traverse the Ogallala Aquifer, which yields about one third of the groundwater used to irrigate US crops, supports $20 billion in agriculture, and supplies potable water to about 2 million people.


The movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline has drawn on a broad base of community support. Among those protesting over the past week were a group of doctors from Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, who awaited arrest while clothed in their white lab coats. Nebraskan landowners and farmers who will be directly impacted by the proposed pipeline were arrested on the third day of protests, joining Canadian actors Margot Kidder and Tantoo Cardinal.

The fifth day of protests featured a number of members of the Gulf Restoration Network, including Cherri Foytlin, a Louisiana mother of six who walked from New Orleans to Washington, DC last April in order to raise awareness about the BP spill, Louisiana singer/songwriter Drew Landry, and Andrew Gaines, a first responder clean-up worker who became ill from exposure to BP crude and dispersants.

“Do not believe when you go out there today for this action that you are only standing up against tar sands or against the keystone pipeline,” Foytlin told the crowd. “You are standing up for the people of this earth.”

Brian Parras, co-founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), called attention to the disproportionate impact the pipeline and oil-infrastructure will have on communities of color and low-income populations in Texas:

The community that I’m concerned about specifically is a small neighborhood called Manchester. And it’s completely inundated by industry, the port of Houston, we’ve got waste treatment plants, rail yards, a number of toxic exposure pathways. And if this pipeline comes it will be refined in that same community. So this is clearly an environmental justice issue. The population is largely Latino, low-income. In the area we have some of the worst uninsured rates in the nation.

Bill Watson, a professor at University of Southern Mississippi, was relatively pleased with the media coverage. With a number of German media outlets present, he remarked that “we’ve done pretty well in European media. Certainly we’re all over the web; Huff-Po is on this, New York Times editorials are speaking to this. I think we’re getting about as much as we can hope, and it has only just started. I think that the media attention will improve as becomes clear that these crazy folks are here every day.”


Not long after the protesters sat down peacefully in front of the White House fence, U.S. Park Police warned them to move along and handcuffed those who refused. Over 2,000 people have pledged to be arrested outside the White House every day until September 3rd.

Speaking before the sit-in, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben thanked those attending for their support, saying, “it’s not an easy thing to go get arrested. None of us are used to it. We’re not used to being where we’re not supposed to be and doing things the police tell us we’re not supposed to do.”

— Emanuel Feld, Climate and Energy Intern at the Center for American Progress

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