On Sunday Nov. 6, an estimated 12,000 activists – including nine Geneseo students and one professor – gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
Protesters of the XL project gathered in Lafayette Park directly across from the White House. Key figures spoke out against the pipeline, including environmental advocate Bill McKibben, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, leading climate scientist James Hansen and Nobel Laureate Jody Williams.
After the rally, protesters were divided into groups of three and led to surround the White House.
"It was a statement, a reminder to [President Barack Obama]," said junior Dean Viggiano. "We were the ones who put him into office and he made promises to us and to the environment. He can't back out now."
Initially, organizers had hoped to gather just enough people to encircle the White House, but once everyone was in place it became evident that the goal had been surpassed threefold.
"It's pretty cool to see so many impassioned advocates for change," said junior Sam Preminger. "You can really see that there's power in numbers."
The proposed pipeline would begin in Alberta, Canada, enter the United States through Montana, continue through South Dakota and meet with the existing Nebraska pipeline, which would bring tar sands crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico through Texas.
The existing Keystone pipeline, which travels from the Alberta tar sands through Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, currently terminates in an Oklahoma refinery. An additional 435 miles of pipeline make up the next proposal, which would bring crude tar sands oil to a refinery in Texas.
Those opposing the XL project believe that the environmental cost is too high, that the Ogallala aquifer is put at too great a risk and that the jobs created will be impermanent and ultimately detrimental to the lives and livelihoods of many in the Midwest.
Ogallala supplies drinking water to 82 percent of the population living within the aquifer boundary – which includes South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas – and 30 percent of the area's irrigation water.
Advocates of the XL pipeline speculate that 2,500-5,000 jobs will be created through the project, yet opponents claim that these speculations do not account for the net employment figure.
If the pipe leeches its content into irrigation water, opponents claim, thousands of Midwestern farmers will lose their jobs. The last pipeline built by TransCanada leaked 12 times in 12 months. This oil is especially corrosive because it is extracted from the tar sands, which means that there is a high volume of sand passing through.
Additionally, the pro-pipeline camp maintains that if the project passes, the U.S. will be able to move farther away from reliance on foreign oil agreements. Opponents insist that the Texan-refined oil will not be used in the U.S.; instead, it will be shipped to China and South America.
On Thursday Nov. 10, Obama sent the Keystone XL proposal back to the U.S. Department of State for a re-review, which most analysts say will kill the project. Some believe that Obama is simply pushing the project back until after the 2012 election so that he can make a decision without electoral repercussions. Protesters, however, have vowed to continue the fight until the project is definitively rejected.