WASHINGTON Thousands of opponents of a $7 billion pipeline that would boost U.S. dependence on Canadian oil sands plan to get arrested in protests over the next two weeks that they hope will help persuade the Obama administration to kill the project.
The State Department is set to issue a final environmental impact report this month on the Keystone XL pipeline project that would bring oil sands petroleum from Alberta to Texas refineries. The department hopes to make a final decision on the TransCanada Corp line by the end of the year.
Beginning on Saturday, protesters from all of the country's 50 states plan to linger in an area outside the White House where they are likely to be arrested, organizers say. They plan to conduct the civil disobedience citing what they see as the pipe's risks to the environment in waves of 100 people a day.
Bill McKibben, an environment writer and leader of the protest, said the Keystone project would likely be President Barack Obama's biggest climate decision between now and next year's election.
"Since Obama finally has a decision that he gets to make all on his own, without the Congress in the way, we are so hopeful that Obama will shine through," McKibben said.
Opponents want the administration to stop the pipeline, which would deliver up to 700,000 barrels per day of oil to Gulf Coast refineries, because it would cross water sources that could be vulnerable to spills. Also, oil sands petroleum emits more carbon dioxide than average crude oils.
Not everyone believes Keystone XL would be a disaster. Michael Levi, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank, said the United States, the world's largest crude consumer, could help foster North American oil production while reducing its oil dependence.
Obama's push to increase vehicle efficiency is a step to control oil dependence though more would be needed, Levi said.
In addition, the line would provide thousands of construction jobs, which could make it hard for the administration to kill the project.
But McKibben said a flood of oil from Canada could delay U.S. plans to move to electrification of vehicles and other alternative fuels.
And if Obama approves the line, environmentally minded voters who cast their ballots for him in 2008 may not be as inclined to back Obama next year, especially after the climate bill failed, and after the administration opened up a big section of Wyoming for mining coal in May.
"It's a harder case to make now," McKibben said.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)