Lawsuits, protests and outrage spread as tar sands spills continue


More oil is spilling from pipelines in Canada, adding fuel to those outraged about the severe consequences of tar sands production. Last week, it was revealed that Alberta waited eleven days to report a massive toxic spill of tar sands wastewater to impacted communities, underestimating its size and the need to notify the public. This spill, which has the potential to be the biggest wastewater spill in North American history, comes as Arkansas and the federal Justice Department filed a joint lawsuit against Exxon for the poorly handled cleanup effort following a massive tar sands oil spill in Arkansas. These events have eroded public trust in oil companies to prevent these dangerous accidents, helping to set the stage for Monday’s Chicago sit-in against the Keystone XL pipeline. Twenty-two people, including many former Obama campaign staffers, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience calling on the President to live up to his promise to address dangerous climate change – a promise that would be next to impossible if the KXL tar sands pipeline were to be built.


RT @CREDOMobile Activists arrested in Chicago urging @BarackObama to reject #KeystoneXL @RAN


Key Points

  • It’s hard to trust the safety claims for new pipelines when current ones are failing in the U.S. and Canada. A recent spill of 2.5 million gallons of toxic tar sands wastewater in northern Alberta came from a pipeline that was only five years old, but designed to last for 30. In Texas, newly laid pipes that could one day be part of the Keystone XL have already been dug up and replaced for structural damage. In Arkansas, Exxon’s Pegasus spill devastated a community and its inadequate clean-up has resulted in a federal lawsuit. Companies applying for permission to expand their pipeline systems have yet to prove they can be trusted with such dangerous activities.

  • Recent events show tar sands production is all risk and no reward, no matter what politicians and oil executives report. Tar sands oil is terrible for the planet and is dangerous to transport. Pipeline failures and botched clean-ups have become a recurring theme. The Kalamazoo River spill in 2010 is the largest on land spill in U.S. history. More recently, Exxon has had large pipeline failures resulting in spills in the Yellowstone River in Montana and neighborhoods in Arkansas. Despite this destructive trackrecord Canadian politicians and oil executives would have the public believe transporting tar sands oil is safe.

  • Spilled oil, extreme risks, and accelerating climate change have sparked outrage that President Obama is even still considering promoting tar sands production by granting a permit for the KXL. Over 62,000 citizens across the U.S. say they are ready to peacefully protest the KXL pipeline, including former Obama campaign staffers who are frustrated that the campaign for ‘change’ and ‘hope’ has yet to tackle one of the greatest challenges of this generation and future generations – climate change. There’s no reason to extend a risky addiction to fossil fuels when all signs point to cleaner and safer clean energy solutions.


Monday’s protest is taking place in Chicago, President Obama’s hometown and the location of his Organizing for Action activist campaign organization. The State Department office is also noteworthy because it is the agency currently finalizing the environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL, a process that has been maligned for being riddled with conflicts of interest and insufficient science.

Monday’s Chicago sit-in is kicking a summer of hundreds of volunteer-led, grassroots actions organized by CREDO, Rainforest Action Network and the Other 98%. Their Pledge of Resistance against the Keystone XL pipeline has already gained signatures from over 62,000 people ready to risk arrest peacefully protesting the pipeline. Throughout the summer and fall, hundreds of events of civil disobedience will be deployed at strategic places around the country to demand that President Obama reject the pipeline, and if his administration drafts a National Interest Determination in favor of the pipeline. A decision is expected in the fall of 2013. The coalition also launched as the online hub where they will provide resources to activists who have signed the pledge, along with other ways activists can get involved to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

These protests follow more news of pipeline failures, lackluster clean-up efforts and poor transparency surrounding these spills. On June 14th, the State of Arkansas and the federal Department of Justice filed suit against ExxonMobil for its March 29th tar sands spill that sent 84,000 gallons of heavy tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas. A week prior to the Arkansas spill a train carrying 15,000 gallons of tar sands oil derailed in Minnesota, creating another major spill. Exxon was also hit with a $1.7 million fine for a spill in 2011 that sent 62,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. In July 2010, a six-foot break in a pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan resulted in the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest, in the American history. The pipeline carried diluted bituminous sands oil from Canada into the United States, which separated upon spilling. The light dilution fluids evaporated, leaving the heavy oil to sink to the bottom of the river. The United States Department of Transportation found that the pipeline’s operating company, Enbridge, reacted “grossly inadequately” to the spill.

In June of 2013, as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to tour the world touting his nation’s tar sands resource, tar sands accidents and protests simultaneously erupted. With toxic water seeping into Canadian soil, Harper travelled to London, where he was given privileged access to British MPs from both Houses of Parliament in a last ditch attempt to get the UK to support Canadian tar sands oil in Europe. But he was greeted by anti-tar sands protesters outside and inside, as activists stormed the roof of Parliament in order to voice their concern over Canada’s high-profile lobbying and misinformation campaign which, they say, is a desperate attempt to open the floodgates for dirty tar sands expansion. One of the two spills that took place in Canada while Harper was away is now being described as potentially the largest wastewater spill in North American history. That spill, which came from a pipeline that was just five years old, but designed to last 30 years, was not reported for 11 days.


Coverage of recent Canadian spills

Coverage of lawsuits against Exxon

Coverage of Obama’s indecision on KXL

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Tools and Resources


  • “When the new segments are welded up, how can the public be assured that the work will not be a repeat of the shoddy, prior performance that has brought them back to our properties? If we were concerned about leaking before construction began, how can we have confidence in TransCanada at this point?” – Michael Bishop, landowner in east Texas whose property is to be dug up once again to replace pieces of the KXL pipeline

  • “Many of President Obama’s best supporters have pledged to risk arrest to stop Keystone XL and next week’s action in Chicago is a preview of what’s to come if his State Department recommends approval of the pipeline. The people who knocked on doors, donated to his campaign and helped put him in the White House are watching to see if President Obama will side with a foreign oil company or keep his promise and take real action to fight climate change, starting with rejecting Keystone XL. The president said in his State of the Union speech ‘If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.’ We’re taking action to hold him to that promise.” – Becky Bond, CREDO’s Political Director

  • “I never thought I’d be back in Chicago to risk arrest in order to get President Obama to do the right thing on climate change. But the fact is, President Obama hasn’t made good on the commitment he made to his staff and supporters to fight climate change. If the president wants our help to push his agenda forward in the second term,Keystone XL is a make or break moment.” – Elijah Zarlin, formerly a Senior National Email Writer on President Obama’s 2008 campaign

  • “Delivering Virginia for the President in 2012 was a huge honor. I put in 14 and 16 hour days because I, like most of my generation, believe in the president and I believe he’ll do the right thing on climate and reject the Keystone XL pipeline. But until he does, we’ll be putting our bodies on the line and not volunteering to forward his agenda.” – Andrew Nazdin, formerly Virginia’s Deputy Training Director for OFA in 2012

More Tweets

  • MT @CREDOMobile @bbond at Chicago #nokxl action: “President Obama, I oppose KeystoneXL because: I voted for change!”
  • RT NBTWT@ “I Voted For Change”: Over 20 Arrested as KXL Protests Target Obama