Over 100 arrested as tar sands civil disobedience spreads to Canada

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If we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.”

After two weeks of sustained protesting at the US White House against the Keystone XL pipeline, with 1,252 people arrested, civil disobedience has now spread to Canada, home of the tar sands. Yesterday, around 500 people protested in Ottawa against Canada’s controversial tar sands; 117 were arrested as they purposefully crossed a barrier separating them from the House of Commons in an act of civil disobedience.

Stop construction of a massive tar sands pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

The tar sands, dubbed by the industry as ‘oilsands’, is vociferously supported by Canada’s conservative government under Stephen Harper, who has been pushing the US to accept the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil through six US States to refineries in Texas, crossing one of the US’s most important freshwater sources, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Last month US activists staged a two week-long protest at the White House against the Keystone XL Pipeline and are planning another action in early November.

The tar sands has become a target for activists because it has a significantly higher carbon output than normal sources of oil. The Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) estimated the greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands was 5-15 percent higher than conventional sources, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that emissions were 20 percent higher.

Renowned climatologist, James Hansen, raised awareness of the issue when he wrote that if the tar sands are exploited along with coal reserves “it is essentially game over” for the climate.

Extracting oil is not just carbon-intensive but water-intensive as well: the oil—which exists in the form of bitumen and is mixed with clay, water, and sand—must be extracted from the ground with hot water and upgraded by using a high energy process. To make a single barrel of oil requires two tons of tar sands and three barrels of water. The tar sands have been blamed for despoiling fresh water sources, cutting vast tracts of boreal forest, poisoning wildlife, and spreading cancer in indigenous communities.

“The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community,” Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a press release. First Nation communities have been fighting the industrial juggernaut for years.

In many ways the tar sands has become a focal point for climate activists in North America after years of frustration with governments they view as doing next-to-nothing to mitigate climate change. In response, the tar sands industry has rolled out a massive PR blitz in the US. Supporters of the pipeline in the US argue it will provide jobs and make the US less reliant on the Middle East for oil.

The civil disobedience in Ottawa occurred without drama by all accounts. A step stool was placed before the barrier and protestors were even said to be joking with cops as they were arrested. One protestor in a wheelchair was lifted over the barricade by others. Those arrested were charged around $65 and banned from the House of Commons for a year.