Today Chicago, Indiana and Michigan residents joined thousands from around the country rallying to continue to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and other tar sands projects that threaten the health of community members and further destabilize our climate.
The rally was held in Marktown Park, East Chicago, Indiana, in the shadow of BP Whiting refinery. The largest tar sands refinery in the U.S. stands on the shores of Lake Michigan, source of drinking water for 10 million. BP Whiting recently expanded its operations so that now 80-90% of the oil they refine is tar sands from Alberta, Canada – the same dirty tar sands that TransCanada would transport across six states in the KXL pipeline.
Speakers and participants from the region emphasized the connection between the hazards of building yet another tar sands pipeline and the billions of dollars of damage that tar sands projects have already wrought upon humans and wildlife in the Midwest. Groups involved included 350.org, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Calumet Project, Chicago Group of the Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, Indiana Chapter of the Sierra Club, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, National Nurses United, Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, Southeast Environmental Task Force and Tar Sands Free Midwest.
“Almost every day, there is a major oil spill or pipeline rupture in the U.S., including BP’s spill into Lake Michigan and Enbridge’s 1.1 million gallon spill into the Kalamazoo River,” said Laura Sabransky, Chicago Sierra Club volunteer leader. “The existing Keystone tar sands pipeline set a record with 12 leaks within its first year. It is indisputable that if a much larger pipeline like KXL were built – running through the nation’s breadbasket region – that the health, livelihoods, and food of millions of U.S. families would be put at risk.”
Community members at Saturday’s rally also called upon the U.S. EPA to conduct a thorough investigation into the cause, full extent and chemical analysis of BP’s oil spill on March 24, 2014, and to disclose the full results to the public, including all relevant documentation.
“The public deserves to know precisely what chemicals were released into our water and air and what chemicals still remain in our drinking water,” said Dave Ellis, Indiana Sierra Club volunteer leader.
“BP Whiting has called the spill of more than 1,600 gallons of crude oil on March 24 ‘an unfortunate accident,’ yet they are permitted to dump toxic emissions like mercury and ammonia into Lake Michigan on a daily basis and call it ‘business as usual.’ In April, BP Whiting evacuated twice due to additional malfunctions, which further underscores the dangerous shortcuts BP Whiting is taking that threaten our community and drinking water,” said Debra Michaud, co-founder of Tar Sands Free Midwest.
Another toxic byproduct BP produces is petcoke that they ship to Southeast Chicago. Up to 30% of tar sands oil that comes from Canada turns into petcoke, which affects the health of people – especially children – living close to piles stored in close vicinity to residential neighborhoods.
Michelle Barlond-Smith, a Michigan resident directly impacted by the 1.1 million gallon Enbridge Kalamazoo River tar sands spill said, “After more than three years and a billion dollars in cleanup efforts after Enbridge's pipeline burst and flowed into Michigan's Kalamazoo River, 800 acres of submerged oil remains to be cleaned.”
Much of the remaining tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo combined with river sediments and sank to the bottom, complicating the cleanup. The U.S. Coast Guard report on the Enbridge’s spill said that "current methods are inadequate to find and recover submerged oil.” Activists at the rally had the same concern about the BP oil spill.
“We demand from our leaders a real transition plan to a clean energy economy, not just platitudes. Instead of plans to expand dirty energy, passing the buck along to our children to clean up, we demand a real transition plan will create more jobs than the status quo, building our economy and preserving the planet for future generations,” said Norman Kravitz, Chicago Sierra Club volunteer leader.