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Found 7 results

  1. From the vantage point of a few days out, the Paris climate summit looks set for success - at least by the metrics we've learned to use for these types of meetings. The main target for COP21, which is set to open on November 30, is to garner solid commitments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and setting a strict bar to keep global warming from passing the 2°C mark. At first glance, this sounds a lot like the goals of previous climate meetings that ended up going nowhere. The 2009 Copenhagen meeting of 115 world leaders, for instance, was at first seen as a big opportunity to reverse climate change. Even before it ended though, the summit was widely panned as a failure. Most of its major goals for reducing CO2 emissions had to be dropped before a final communiqué could even be signed. But Paris could be different. For the first time, leaders from the advanced capitalist countries and those of the emerging economies seem to be on the same page when it comes to the urgency of slowing climate change. Governments are declaring - in advance - their commitment to legally-binding targets and timelines for emissions reduction. That's a real advance compared to previous climate talks where there were only vague recognitions of climate change and pledges to do more. If governments stick to their commitments and follow through with real reductions, then Paris will be worth marking down as progress. Reasons for optimism So why are things shaping up so differently for COP21? A number of major political and economic developments portend a significant shift from what happened at Copenhagen. After several years of wavering, President Obama forcefully rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in early November. By shutting down the plan to build a 1,700 mile pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta down to Texas Gulf coast refineries, Obama helped set the stage for the discussions that will take place at COP21. On the day of his decision, Obama declared, "If we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground." He continued, "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action on climate change...approving that project would have undercut that global leadership, and that is the biggest risk we face: not acting." Secretary of State John Kerry's comments at the time made it even clearer that the Administration had the upcoming Paris summit on its mind when making the decision. "The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves," he said. "Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices." The symbolic importance of Keystone should not be underestimated. Stopping the pipeline was the biggest victory that the environmental movement has achieved in the U.S. in many years. It was proof that organized action could have an impact on policy debates. But even more than that, it has sent the most powerful signal possible to other governments that America takes climate change seriously and is prepared to act. By pulling the plug on a pipeline that would have carried some of the world's dirtiest oil to market, Obama demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to be a serious partner in international efforts to tackle global warming. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both praised the President's decision. Political developments in Canada have also contributed to a changed atmosphere for the Paris talks. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn in just days before Obama announced his decision. Though ostensibly a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau was publicly against his predecessor Stephen Harper's aggressive lobbying on behalf of the TransCanada Corporation that planned to build it. Trudeau put up no real resistance to Obama's decision. After Harper's loss, the changing of the guard in Canada has been swift. Trudeau moved the environment portfolio out of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which under Harper had prioritized tar sands exploration. Instead, he created a new Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The new foreign minister, Stephane Dion, previously led the Liberal Party on a "Green Shift" platform in 2008 and recently declared that climate change is the "worst threat we are facing this century." The scuttling of Keystone has also gone a long way, especially among developing countries, to begin reversing the image of the U.S. as one who preaches but does not practice. It was preceded by the historic U.S.-China clean energy agreement last year, in which both countries agreed to move toward more renewables. The fact that the world's two biggest polluters have already hammered out an understanding before they arrive in Paris bodes well for a positive outcome. China has long argued that the U.S. had its industrialization heyday and yet continues to produce more emissions per capita than any other nation. The new trend of cooperation between Obama and President Xi signals that the U.S. may be recognizing Chinese criticisms. Taking on the role of leader among developing economies, China has set a target of 20percent clean energy by 2030 and announced a few weeks back that it was implementing a national cap and trade carbon market beginning in 2017. In Britain, meanwhile, the Conservative government of David Cameron has declared its intention to shut down its last coal-fired power plants by 2025. The country which pioneered the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution of early capitalism is now on board with the changing international climate discussion. The divisions in big oil Where is the credit due for the major turnarounds on the climate issue by these leading governments? Recognition first of all goes out to the environmental and labor movements who have come together to push for stronger climate policies, as well as to the activists and governments of poor and developing countries who are already feeling the effects of climate change. It is also necessary, however, to look at how divisions among the major energy companies are producing cracks in the coalition opposed to climate action. At a gathering of the world's top oil executives - the OPEC International Energy Seminar - in Vienna earlier this summer, major divisions over how to respond to COP21 and the growing commitment to environmental action were revealed. While world oil prices are down over the last several months, no one believes that oil and coal will not continue to be major parts of the world's energy mix. This means that although the market outlook for producers of the dirtiest oil, like TransCanada, may be dimming, all the companies agreed that they will of course continue to invest heavily in their respective sectors. Where the façade of unity begins to break down, however, is on the issue of long-term prospects. The major European oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Eni, BG Group, and Statoil - released a joint statement at the meeting calling for the development of a global carbon pricing system. The CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden, told the meeting that the global energy system is experiencing "a transition from the traditional model based on oil and coal to a progressively cleaner, less carbon-intensive model." With an eye toward long-term profitability and market opportunity, these companies are already beginning to think about a post-fossil fuel future. The head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, took a completely opposite stance. In a strongly-worded warning to his fellow executives, Tillerson said that carbon pricing would destroy economic growth. He declared, "It is very important for governments that make those choices to live with the economic consequences." The imperatives of the short-term thinking inherent to the obsession with quarterly reports and shareholder returns seem to be motivating Exxon Mobil's perspective. The model of a carbon pricing market being debated by these oil executives is a complicated one that has all kinds of shortcomings of its own, not least of which is its in-built inequalities for developing and developed economies. This is not the most important thing to take note of at the OPEC Executives conference though. The most important thing to pay attention to is the fact that big oil is divided and this leaves an opening for progressives to pressure their governments. It has been said that powerful enemies can be vanquished, but only by the most "thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use" of any, even the smallest, of rifts among that enemy. These divisions among big oil are ones that need further attention and study. Stumbling blocks remain While there is reason to be optimistic about the Paris summit, it will not be smooth sailing. The recent terrorist attacks in the French capital have greatly altered the terrain in which the talks will take place. The recent downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces further threatens to overshadow the environmental focus that governments had earlier put so much of their efforts into. The heavy focus on security also means that the atmosphere surrounding the conference will probably be very different than anticipated. The dynamics of debate outside of the meeting hall look to be radically changed as French President Francois Hollande has banned demonstrations and public protests by environmental groups. How this will affect the wide range of civil society parallel conferences and events that were planned to take place alongside COP21 is uncertain. It could mean that only the voices of governments and the most well-funded green groups will be heard. That is why it's all the more important to have progressive news coverage and analysis from on the ground in Paris. Back here in the U.S., meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are doing all they can to sabotage the Paris talks before they even begin. On November 24, they passed two resolutions aimed at blocking EPA regulations that would impose stricter emissions targets on power plants. The President will certainly veto the resolutions, but the main political goal is to undermine Obama at the Paris talks. The Republican plan is to make it look like Obama will be unable to carry through his pledges. West Virginia GOP Senator Shelly Moore Capito admitted as much when she said foreign diplomats "will take away a message from this vote...the general support for the direction he's going is weak at best." Many of the major oil companies, like Exxon Mobil and TransCanada, will also certainly be on the job the morning after the summit concludes to try to water down and derail any commitments that threaten their profits and investment plans. Lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa, and many other capitals will be hard at work to put a check on the drive to halt climate change. COP21 has the potential to be big. Just like the lobbyists of big oil will be doing though, progressive activists and the climate justice movement will have to roll up their sleeves and get down to work if they want to make the pledges of Paris a reality.
  2. The Keystone XL pipeline is down, but not out

    After receiving a total of 59 votes in the Senate - 45 Republican, 14 Democratic - a bill that would approve Keystone XL came one vote shy of its needed support on Nov. 19, putting a stopper on the troubling project for now. The victory settled the nerves of environmentalists and spared President Obama the task of vetoing the legislation, as he was likely to have done. Though the GOP has vowed to renew the fight to push the project through, those who value the safety of nature and people, including indigenous groups throughout the U.S., can now celebrate a moment of triumph. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., staked her hopes of winning a fourth Senate term on the Keystone measure, engaging in frantic last-minute lobbying, especially trying to acquire the needed votes from her fellow Democrats - the majority of whom, alongside Obama, wholly oppose the bill. "I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave," Landrieu claimed. Her efforts were seen by many as unwise, especially as her state - a long-embattled victim of Big Oil in its own right - had nothing to gain from the project's approval, as the pipeline would not go through Louisiana, and would thus create no jobs there. This is a particularly important point, as it rendered her statement rather hollow. For the Republican Party's part, they will gain an additional eight or more Senate seats in 2015, and are expected to seize that opportunity next year to try and ram the legislation through once more. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become Senate Majority Leader in January, said, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone 'jobs bill' early in the New Year." The GOP's language surrounding the bill, which emphasizes job creation and support for working families, is alarmingly misleading, as several labor unions pointed out yesterday. This is because it will not generate the job numbers that Republicans suggest, and moreover, will pose a risk to the environment that most Democrats, and the President, agree is not worth taking. Nevertheless, the GOP will likely try again in January or February, and might even try and integrate the measure into a broader bill that Obama would find harder to veto. Landrieu asked, "What is everybody upset about?" from the Senate floor on Nov. 18, adding, "We already have 2.6 million miles of pipe in America." But environmental activists and those affected by the oil industry have been answering that question since the project's inception back in 2008. "If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours," said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for environmental advocacy group 350 Action. "For somebody that had the Gulf oil spill and the devastation it brought to her state, she should understand how important it is that we don't have these types of environmental disasters," added Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer and member of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group uniting workers and Native Americans against the pipeline. Environmental groups are excited about this temporary victory, but it is tempered by an ongoing sense of uncertainty. Still, many believe the President will make the right decision, despite Republican efforts to fight him tooth and nail on this issue. "Since day one, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has belonged to President Obama," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "And he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he'll do."
  3. The Keystone XL pipeline is an extremely controversial project. If constructed, the pipeline will transport dirty oil from the tar sands in Western Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands is considered to be the world’s most polluting fuel and its production process is highly energy-intensive and causes widespread environmental damage. Besides wrecking the climate, environmentalists also claim that the pipeline would be a danger to local ecosystems and pollute water sources along the way it’s built. NASA climate scientist, James Hansen has said that the pipeline will be “game over for the planet.” Proponents of the bill has said that the pipeline will generate thousands of jobs and secure U.S. energy independence. But critics say these claims are overstated and that the pipeline would bring no energy independence, no cheap gas and no lasting jobs. Environmental organisations are now calling for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project once and for all. “The bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the pipeline.” “Since Keystone XL has always been President Obama’s decision, this vote was never anything more than an empty gesture of political theatre,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said. “Rather than letting Congress continue to pantomime for Big Oil, President Obama should step up and reject this dirty tar sands pipeline once and for all.“ This vote does not mean the end for the Keystone XL project. Republicans, who will control both chambers of the new Congress from January, has promised to re-examine the project and put it up for a vote once more.
  4. It has become the defining environmental battle in the US. And on Friday the Republicans fresh from the midterm elections victory voted on a bill directing the Obama Administration to direct the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. It was comfortably passed. Today the bill will be voted on in the Senate and if approved it will land on Obama’s table where he would be expected to veto it. In the last week Obama has made the strongest signals yet that he is against the pipeline when he questioned how many jobs it would actually create and if Americans would actually see any benefit of the extra oil. Advocates of the pipeline claim that it will create growth and thousands of jobs while making US more energy independent, while the opposition, such as former NASA scientist James Hansen and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben claims it will be game over for the climate if the pipeline were to be built. Opponents also say that it actually won’t create a lot of jobs, only 35 permanent jobs and Americans would not benefit from it as the oil it is transporting will be shipped to China and other Asian markets from Texas refineries. Below video released by the Sierra Club explains why they insist the pipeline is such a bad idea. The Senate vote will also show how much Democratic support Obama has for his environmental policies. The Democrats still control the Senate and will do so until January when it will be Republican controlled. If all Democrats vote against the bill, it will be defeated easily but it is expected to be a lot closer meaning some Democrats will support the bill. One such Democrat is Mary Landrieu, who as a Keystone XL supporter, is expected to vote for the bill. Landrieu is currently locked in an election battle as her Louisiana seat was too close to call at the midterms election and will face a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy on the 6th December who sponsored the pro Keystone XL bill. On Monday protesters gathered outside Landrieu’s house in protest against her stance on the pipeline: While Obama has said he would use his veto power should the Senate approve the bill, it is clearly a risk that environmentalists does not want to take. Furthermore it could showcase cracks in the Democratic party. We will post the result of the Senate vote here when available.
  5. No KXL; a Non-Environmental Point of View

    All over the world people are protesting against what I call the stupidest project of the moment: Keystone XL. We shouldn’t use oil so why should people just accept the damages this pipeline will bring? “The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged more than 400 parts per million throughout April, the first time the planet’s monthly average has surpassed that threshold.” When I read this on Bloomberg I immediately thought to oil and then Keystone. It’s unbelievable the disrespect of some governments to the CO2 limits. While UN are shouting CO2 emissions must immediately stop some governments think to pipelines and coal plans. But apparently some people are bored in front of an environmental accusation so I will analyze this pipeline from a non-environmental point of view. First point: jobs. TransCanada (the company that should build the pipeline) CEO says the project will put 20,000 U.S. workers to work investing $7 billion in the economy. Although Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute found that Keystone XL construction would result in 2,500 to 4,650 temporary construction jobs. President Obama also stated "The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people." We have to consider also the loss of jobs. After completion of the Keystone XL line, oil pipelines to the U.S. may run nearly half-empty, so there won’t be new jobs, just a swing from one line to the other. Second point: cost. Canadian government spent $9 million by May, 2012 and $16.5 million by May, 2013 to promote Keystone XL. To promote it. Not to build it. And I really think that’s all for this point. One more thing: the original Keystone Pipeline cost $5.2 billion but with the expansion slated to cost approximately $7 billion. Third point: local population. Many Native Americans and Indigenous Canadians are opposed to the Keystone XL project for various reasons, including possible damage to sacred sites, pollution, and water contamination, which could lead to health risks among their communities. Who has the authority to destroy the land of a people? Fourth point: any profit? No. In fact with Keystone gas prices won’t be cheaper. From a Cornell University study: KXL will divert Tar Sands oil now supplying Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs (estimated to total $2–4 billion) will suppress other spending and will therefore cost jobs. If this isn’t enough please go to see the environmental consequences. You can find them everywhere. The last controversy is about the major safety than trains transporting oil. I will repeat again: the cleverest thing to do is stop using oil. I’m sure that one day we’ll stop fighting on how to transport oil and dedicate our energy to new greener sources.
  6. In a dramatic sign of growing opposition to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, 398 students were arrested March 2 after they chained themselves to the White House fence. A network of students called XL Dissent organized the protest, part of a groundswell of calls upon President Obama to block approval of the pipeline, which will carry millions of gallons of crude oil from the tar sands region in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States. "Obama was the first president I voted for, and I want real climate action and a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline," Nick Stracco, a senior at Tulane University and one of the organizers of the protest, told the Huffington Post. "The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that's to reject Keystone XL." Over 1,000 students from some 80 campuses and 42 states gathered at Georgetown University and marched on the White House. The students, many dressed in mock hazmat suits, first stopped at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, where they unfurled a giant black tarp to symbolize an oil spill. The State Department has issued a finding claiming that building the Keystone XL pipeline won't have a significant environmental impact. The State Department study was necessary because the pipeline crosses international borders and is required for federal approval. Kerry must sign off on the study. Once at the White House, students again unfurled a giant tarp and lay down on it to symbolize an oil spill. Students then tied themselves to the fence with plastic handcuffs and were arrested. "The youth really understand the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient, so we needed to escalate," Aly Johnson-Kurts told Politico. Johnson was one of those arrested. "They say we are too young to make a difference, but we are proving them wrong, right here, right now," Earthguardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez told the cheering crowd. This was said to be the largest student civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation. Over 1,200 people of all ages were arrested in a similar protest organized by the environmental group 350.org at the White House in August 2011. "An entire movement has thrown itself into in this Keystone fight, from local frontline groups to big national green organizations," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote in an email to Huffington Post. "But this weekend shows the power and bravery of some of the most crucial elements: young people, and activists who understand the centrality of environmental justice." The Keystone XL pipeline is a project of TransCanada. Once constructed it will transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil, described as the "dirtiest oil," to its refining destination in the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would double the amount of tar sands crude oil entering the U.S. Environmentalists are warning that burning this dirty oil will increase greenhouse gas emissions exponentially at a time when they must be reduced to stem the climate crisis. They also warn of vast ecological decimation due to extraction from the tar sands and massive oil spills over delicate aquifers and waterways. In one of the largest spills in U.S. history, one million gallons of oil gushed into Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and it still hasn't been fully cleaned up. Activists from the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands also participated. Three activists were arrested last year trying to block construction of the pipeline by Enbridge Inc., which will also carry tar sands crude oil through the state. They face two to three years in jail if convicted. Battles have also erupted in Detroit and Chicago over petcoke dumping. Petcoke is a byproduct of the refining process, which many believe is contributing to increases in cancer rates and other health issues. Also participating in the demonstration were activists from the Indigenous community including Jasmine Thomas from Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia. Over 50 First Nation communities that will be impacted along the route of the pipeline are offering some of the fiercest resistance to construction. "Even President Obama has admitted the jobs created are temporary and very few," American University student Deirdre Shelly said in an interview on Democracy Now! "There's no reason why those jobs have to be in dirty and expensive oil. America is ready for a clean, green economy and we can begin by saying no to this dirty pipeline," said Shelly. In another protest, nine students were arrested when they sat in at the State Department building in San Francisco on March 3. XL Dissent organizers vowed the protests and acts of civil disobedience would continue. Website 350.org has signed up over 70,000 people to commit civil disobedience against the pipeline. Many more actions are expected over the next few months. This article was first published in People's World by John Bachtell.
  7. April 1 was no joke in Lansing, Michigan, when equipment at a power plant malfunctioned and caused 300 gallons of oil to leak into the Grand River. Two days later in Chalmette, Louisiana, a pipeline connected to a drum full of chemicals broke, releasing the toxic liquid into the surrounding area, along with airborne cancer-causing agents. These two incidents followed even worse disasters in Mayflower, Arkansas and West Columbia, Texas. This means that the U.S. endured four spills over the course of two weeks. And still, oil companies have not been brought to justice. The Michigan spill occurred at the Lansing Board of Water and Light's Eckert Power Plant, and for once, the spill came from somewhere other than an oil corporation, small comfort though it may be. Lansing Board of Water and Light is a publicly owned municipal utility that provides water and electricity to Lansing and East Lansing. An equipment failure at their plant caused turbine oil to escape, and soon make its way into the adjacent Grand River. The utility staff deployed three booms to contain the oil, and the EPA was on the scene almost immediately. Impacts to the local ecosystem are still being assessed, but thick dark patches could be seen by people in parts of the river after the time of the spill. "An oil spill in the Grand River is alarming, and we're calling for a thorough investigation to determine the extent of the damage and its environmental impact," said Nick Clark, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. "This is another reason why it's so vital to make clean, renewable energy a priority. There is no environmental fallout connected with clean energy sources like wind or solar power." Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality, remarked that though the spill is "manageable in terms of the substance ... and in terms of the environment's ability to absorb it," the smaller size of the incident (in comparison with those in Arkansas and Texas) by no means lessens the negative impact. "It's not a minor spill. We take it very seriously. Nobody wants to see anything spilled in the river. ... We'll probably continue to see [a] sheen [in the river] in the near term." Luckily, since the oil spilled was hydraulic, rather than tarsands crude, it would cause no foul odor. Nor, said Wurfel, would it release any airborne pollutants. Both of these facts are more than can be said for Louisiana. In Chalmette, not far from New Orleans, ExxonMobil has added a new disaster to its list of anti-accomplishments. While its Pegasus pipeline continues to poison the Arkansas town of Mayflower, a thick liquid chemical mixture is infecting the air and ground in Louisiana. A pipeline malfunction at ExxonMobil's refinery there caused a (so far) undisclosed amount of the liquid to poison the immediate outside area. Though the leak was quickly reported and stopped, the damage is done. On the day of that incident, people throughout Chalmette and New Orleans reported a strong, foul odor not unlike oil or gasoline. That was the effect of the chemical, which released 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene into the air. The latter is, according to Before It's News, "a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer." Petty Officer Jason Screws, of the Coast Guard National Response Center, who was overseeing the accident, added, "The odor threshold for these chemicals is very low. You can smell it a lot sooner when the concentration is enough to be harmful." In other words, it was released in a large enough amount to have a negative health impact. The bottom line is that oil has tainted land and water in four different states in two consecutive weeks, and right in the midst of right-wing attempts to drum up support for pipeline oil transportation, to boot. Just days before the Arkansas pipeline leak, Alex Pourbaix, president of Keystone XL company TransCanada, had done his best to tout pipelines as the best option for transporting crude. "If you're actually concerned about the environment, you very much want to see oil moving by pipeline," he lied. On April 11, as part of the ongoing effort to show just how wrong such sentiments are, environmentalists from Texas and various parts of the Gulf Coast rallied outside the G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the Lancaster House in London. Their goal was to send a clear message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: that the Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected - particularly after this latest string of oil disasters. Environmental justice advocate Bryan Parras, who lives in Houston (very near to the West Columbia spill), remarked, "The XL pipeline is set to deliver a toxic slurry of dirty oil to communities all over the U.S. As we've seen from the pipeline spills in [these] last two weeks, the delivery of tarsands is too risky and costly for the communities [that are] in harm's way." The solution, he concluded, is simple: "Keep the oil in the soil." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.