Home Environment Student Group Holds Small Vigil to Educate about Pipeline

Student Group Holds Small Vigil to Educate about Pipeline

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An unrelenting wind drove six vigil-goers on Saturday night to the atrium behind the columns of Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium where, huddled in a circle against the cold, they managed to light six tea candles. The wind would extinguish a few of the candles, so one of the vigil-goers would lean toward her neighbor, cupping her hand around the flame to light her neighbor’s candle until the circle was afire once more.

“This cannot be more symbolic,” said Benjamin Bushwick, one of the organizers of the vigil, which was held in anticipation of the march in Washington D.C. on Sunday against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The pipeline, a 2,000-mile-long project of TransCanada, would extend from Canada through the Great Plains region to the Gulf Coast. Like Saturday’s relentless winds, the proposed pipeline continues to batter some people’s hopes for climate change.

During the vigil, Bushwick noted that leading scientists and researchers have agreed that the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “would mean ‘game over’ for the climate change movement,” partly because of the amount of natural resources required to extract oil from tar sands.

According to both the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the process of separating the oil from the sand generates three times the pollution released by conventional oil production. It also requires “vast amounts” of energy and freshwater.

“[President Barack Obama’s] decision [to approve or deny the pipeline] is extremely symbolic of the kind of future that we want to live in and sowing the right seeds for the future,” Bushwick said. In order for construction of the pipeline to occur across the United States-Canadian border, Obama must grant permission.

Proponents of the pipeline tout the economic benefits, such as more jobs and greater energy independence. However, Susannah Wells, another organizer of the vigil, emphasized the dangers of fossil fuel dependence and pointed to other ways of achieving energy independence.

“[Building the Keystone pipeline] is not moving us for sustainable energy resources. It’s keeping us reliant on fossil fuels, and we all know the environmental impacts of that. It’s just adding to that instead of moving in a different direction,” Wells said.

Wells suggested geo-thermal energy, solar power and wind power as alternatives to fossil fuel dependence.

Although some assert that no renewable source of energy will satisfy America’s current energy needs, Bushwick believes that “it’s a matter of economic obstacles” and that “social and political will” are lacking.

“We just need people getting real enthusiastic and excited about renewable energy and the idea of free energy,” she said.

Wells commended the six vigil-goers for “giving a damn about the environment” and encouraged them to “inspire other people” and “be role models.” Wells and Bushwick are both members of Fossil Fuel Free OU, an organization pushing the university to divest from fossil fuels and educating students about issues regarding fossil fuels dependence.

In addition to worries of fossil fuel dependence, Wells said that leakage from the pipeline could contaminate fresh drinking water since the proposed pipeline would pass through the Ogallala aquifer.

On its website, TransCanada downplayed the risks of groundwater contamination saying, “If oil were to reach groundwater, movement of oil and any resulting contaminants that enter groundwater would be slow and limited in scope, likely to hundreds of feet at most.” The company also indicated that it followed or exceeded safety standards, constantly monitored its pipelines for leaks and had developed an emergency response plan.

However, for Wells, one spill—no matter the scope—is one too many.

“You have to consider that if they do build the pipeline, you can’t envision it as this thing that doesn’t have pitfalls. Nothing is perfect, and accidents happen all the time. We see that with the Gulf of Mexico. I mean they have all these protocols to prevent accidents and clean up afterwards, but it still happens, and that’s the biggest problem,” she said, referring to the 2010 BP oil spill at a deep-water drilling rig.

From Wells’ point of view, that “biggest problem” is something that requires immediate attention.

“We’re entering climate hell conditions… We already see people losing their homes and their communities and their livelihoods due to severe storms, and that’s a big problem,” she said. “And if we have the power to change that by switching to renewable resources, then it’s our obligation for our generation and future generations.”

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