Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pipeline protesters hit Montana governor's office

By John S. Adams, USA TODAY

HELENA, Mont. — More than 100 environmental activists from across the country descended Tuesday on the Montana Capitol to demand Gov. Brian Schweitzer rescind his support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and ExxonMobil's megaload transportation project.

Approximately 70 of those activists filled the governor's reception room, where they pounded homemade drums and chanted slogans such as: "No pipeline, no oil, the Big Sky State's too good to spoil."
Two activists also scaled the flagpoles in front of the Capitol and strung up a banner that read "Pipelines spill, Exxon kills. Big oil out of Montana."
Six activists from the environmental groups Earth First! and Northern Rockies Rising Tide, including one activist from Great Falls, locked their hands together within a mock oil pipeline made of PVC plastic pipe and said they wouldn't leave willfully until Schweitzer met their demands.
Law enforcement officials cut the activists out of the pipes. The group of activists dispersed late in the afternoon after police arrested two men and three women who refused to leave and were chained together.
Group members said earlier in the day that they would not leave until Schweitzer, a Democrat, gave up his support for two major projects related to oil sands development in Canada: the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian oil sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico; and the "Kearl Module Transportation Project," which would ship about 200 massive Korean-built oil sands processing modules across Montana highways to the Kearl oil sands region in northern Alberta. That megaload project is slated to start later this year.
Schweitzer met with the activists for nearly 20 minutes in the reception room of his office, but ultimately refused their demands.
"I'm not prepared to do that today," Schweitzer said.
Members of the group told Schweitzer that last week's rupture of ExxonMobil's Silvertip pipeline — which poured an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River downstream of Laurel — is a prime example of why Schweitzer should "toss big oil out of Montana."
"We feel the Silvertip pipeline disaster on the Yellowstone is just a preview of what's to come if you continue to cater to big oil's interests and turn us into what would essentially be an energy extraction colony," said Missoula resident Max Granger of Northern Rockies Rising Tide, a group that has led protests against the Kearl Oil Sands project and the development of the Otter Creek coal tracts in Eastern Montana.
After listening to the protesters complaints and demands, the governor said he hoped the environmental activists would put their passion toward ending the nation's addiction to foreign oil.
"I will say to you that this country uses an inordinate quantity of hydrocarbons. I would say to you that 25% of all the oil that's consumed in the world is consumed by us — you, me," Schweitzer said.
Protesters cut off Schweitzer several times during the 20 minute meeting before one activist began playing a honky-tonk tune on a piano in the reception room. At that point more than a dozen protesters jumped onto the large meeting room tables and began dancing and chanting.
In a news release, Northern Rockies Rising Tide criticized Schweitzer for publicly chastising ExxonMobil while continuing to promote the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, megaload shipments bound for the Alberta oil sands and other "extreme fossil-fuel projects" throughout the state.
"As the recent ExxonMobil pipeline disaster has made clear, Governor Schweitzer is attempting to turn Montana into an extraction state, while at the same time publicly proclaiming his supposed support for clean energy, protecting the environment and building healthy communities," said activist Erica Dossa of Bozeman. "It's one or the other — you can't be clean and dirty at the same time."
A report released Monday by University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor John Stansbury said that neither TransCanada nor the federal regulators evaluating the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have properly considered the risks associated with the project. Stansbury's report states that TransCanada underestimated the frequency of spills on the pipeline and the severity of the worst-case scenario spills.
TransCanada disputed the report's findings, saying in a lengthy statement that the company has more than 60 years of experience, and that safety is the company's top priority.

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