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In the fight to power the future, the US is at risk of turning to a method with a very detrimental environmental impact; tar sands oil extraction through the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

The pipeline will transport the tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma and Texas, generating considerable income for the oil and gas industries as well as boosting America’s internal stockpile of oil, further reducing dependency on Middle Eastern and Russian refineries; it is worth noting that most of the end product will, in fact, be exported abroad through the main US port networks to foreign oil markets.

The Keystone XL pipeline is problematic, however, due a number of environmental, political and social reasons. Firstly, the environmental. The method, in which tar sand oil is mined, compared to typical crude oil extraction, is 17% more harmful to the environment alone. Transporting this across an international border, across sensitive natural ecosystems – the Sand Hills region in particular – to America, will add further to the detrimental environmental impact. Any future spills – lest we not forget Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez crises – will be more difficult to cleanup due to the chemical density of tar sand oil; it is denser than typical crude oil, meaning that it will sink through soil, sand and water, instead of rising to the surface.

Secondly, the political. The House of Congress is now Republican-controlled and, with each new KXL vote and motion, the Yes:No votes are creeping up, with the Republicans pushing hard to get the final adjustments to the bill passed to complete the legal requirements for the full 4 phases of the pipeline to be greenlit. The majority of Democratic Congressmen and women have fought against the pipeline from the Bill’s inception – one such fighter is the brilliant Elizabeth Warren; the incumbent Senator of Massachusetts. Warren, for those who have not heard her name, spent a large portion of her career as a professor of law – with a particular interest in bankruptcy law – before turning her hand to politics. She is now, although unannounced, a huge figure in the upcoming 2016 US Presidential Democratic nominees – others include Hilary Clinton and incumbent U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden – with many grassroots supporters backing, and hoping that she will choose to run for the Democratic Presidential or, at least, Vice Presidential nomination.

Warren has identified that the oil industry has been, for the last 8 years, lobbying Congress and the Senate. Lobbying hard. It is estimated – through a recent Politico study – that approximately $7m has been attributed to lobbying fees. All this effort and lobbying must, in Warren’s eyes, lead to a reward – that reward would be overcoming the final hurdle; a vote to be held in Congress this Friday. If this critical vote is passed, the Bill will become protected against any veto or last ditch attempt to derail the final phases, even if it came from the President himself.

Finally, the social impacts. Environmentalists, politicians and other professional bodies and organisations have aired public concerns as to the direction of US energy policy if the Keystone XL pipeline were to be completed. Instead of investing in cleaner, renewable energy such as solar or wind energy, the US will be, in large part, powered by tar sand oil reserves. One well-organised campaign is one called ‘Bold Nebraska’. As Nebraska is a key state through which the pipeline will run, communities and businesses have come together and organised protests, marches and also sell merchandise to fundraise and maintain their efforts – visit their BigCartel store here.

This coordinated effort begs the further question; what is the consensus of the US voters in general, state-by-state? Do most support the pipeline or are many in favour of President Obama stepping up to the plate and vetoing the Bill in its current form, before it is too late?

Today is Tuesday.

We have under a week before the final vote is taken, making the Bill effectively veto-proof. We have under a week to do something, to act and speak out.

Americans and Canadians; please pick up your phone and ring your Congressman, ring your Senator, tell all of your friends and neighbours about the upcoming Keystone XL vote. You can find your local Representative through the .gov website here.

Everyone else – get talking, get Tweeting, pick up the phone and start calling.

For more information:

Friends of the Earth | US Department of State | Guardian | Politico

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