Pipe dream: SU, SUNY-ESF students join oil pipeline protest

Courtesy of Ella Mendonsa

Students hold up their handmade signs outside of the White House while they peacefully protested the Keystone XL pipeline during the weekend.

A group of Syracuse University students transformed into activists this past weekend.

Three cars packed full of students made the 375 mile drive to Washington, D.C. to join a peaceful protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline on Saturday. That night, they slept on the floor of a church provided by, an international environmental organization.

The next day, the Syracuse University and State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry students joined a group of 1,200 students outside of the White House gates where they vocalized their concerns with the Keystone XL Pipeline. Some students were so impassioned that they lost their voices.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a plan to extend oil pipelines owned by TransCanada from the tar sands in Northern Canada to the Gulf Coast. The Canadian government and oil companies are waiting for approval from the U.S. government and President Barack Obama, who is reviewing the proposal after TransCanada changed the route of the pipeline, according to a Feb. 4 Washington Post article.

David Oster, a senior political science and geography major, was the campus point person at SU. He helped organize students to attend the protest hosted by XL Dissent, a national organization of youth activists.

“Seeing so many people out there united for one cause was amazing,” Oster said. “It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had.”

Outside of the White House, it was a sea of signs: SU students held homemade signs that read ‘WE>OIL,” “We The People Do Not Approve” and “Stop Your Dirty Addiction,” while a banner read, “Obama: Stop the Pipeline or the People Will.”

Three hundred ninety-eight people were arrested for chaining themselves to the White House gates, though none of them were SU students, said Ella Mendonsa, a junior political science and public policy major. It was possibly one of the largest youth protests in this generation, she added.

The purpose of the protest, according to XL Dissent’s website, was to hold Obama accountable for a promise he made in a speech at Georgetown University last July to review the Keystone XL pipeline’s effect on climate change.

In recent years, Obama’s rhetoric has shifted to a desire to fight climate change in the U.S., Mendonsa said.

She added that Obama’s Georgetown speech was one of the motivations behind the creation of SU’s divestment campaign.

“He actually gave us this idea that we should be divesting on college campuses, so it’s almost hypocritical, we feel, that he would let this pass after giving us the idea that as students we should be fighting climate change,” Mendonsa said.

The pipeline symbolizes the U.S. government’s investment in destructive energy sources such as tar sands over sustainable options, Oster said.

“This is one of the most important issues,” he said. “I’m really pissed about it and it’s about time I took action.”

Divest SU and ESF and Students of Sustainability, two groups on SU’s campus that publicly oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline, decided to join XL Dissent in rallying against the proposal.

The divestment campaign focuses on having the university withdraw its investment from fossil fuel companies so the oil companies are not financially or morally supported, said Emma Edwards, a junior geography and policy studies major.

Edwards, a member of Divest SU and ESF, said if more students are aware of the potential issues caused by the pipeline, there will be more of a sentiment against fossil fuel companies that aren’t concerned with the future.

Joe Sandford, a senior history major who is involved in Divest SU and ESF, described the protest as “the right thing to do.”

“This is a big issue that impacts a lot of people,” Sandford said. “Protesting is a way to show the country, the politicians and policy leaders that students care about their future.”

If Obama approves the pipeline, it will show the U.S. accepts fossil fuels as a part of everyday life, Sandford said.

“This decision will show the world where we stand,” he said. “We need to the send the message that we are moving forward.”

The Keystone XL pipeline presents numerous obvious environmental problems, said Miles Marcotte, a freshman geography major. For this reason, he felt compelled to join the protest.

“First of all, the method of extraction is destructive to the lands in Canada. They will be completely ravaged,” he said. “Oil is not renewable and will run out eventually. It makes no sense to keep using it, especially when we are aware of how harmful it is to the environment.”

Marcotte said a government investment in renewable energy projects could create just as many jobs.

Oster said the development of the Keystone XL pipeline will only increase the U.S.’s role in producing fossil fuels, which is counterproductive to the climate change movement.

“I think that in order for the United States to come out and be a leader in sustainability, we have to say no to this sort of reinvestment in fossil fuel infrastructure and sort of reorient ourselves towards renewable energy,” Oster said.

Mendonsa added that the pipeline will disturb a lot of important farmland as the pipeline’s development progresses through the Midwest, especially in Nebraska.

She said she met some kids and adults from Nebraska who were “furious” about the pipeline’s potential effects on their home state.

The Keystone XL pipeline would travel through the aquifer in Nebraska, which is an “incredible source of water for ranchers and farmers in the Midwest,” said Bob Wilson, a geography professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

If the pipeline ruptured, it could contaminate the U.S.’s most important underground source of water, he said.

Oster added that the pipeline plans to go through a lot of native lands in Canada, and it will disproportionately affect low-income populations in the U.S.

“It’s fundamentally a human rights issue too,” Oster said.

Oster said he hopes that the protest will get substantial media coverage both nationally and on SU’s campus.

“There is a huge movement going on nationwide and I would like to see more environmental activism on campus,” he said. “I hope students see this and get inspired to act on it.”

Mendonsa added that members of the SU divestment campaign plan to attend another protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in April.

“Sometimes as students, we think what we do isn’t important, but that’s completely false,” Mendonsa said. “We can try to say we want to stay out of politics, but everything we do is political. When there is so much money involved in politics now, you can’t just vote. You have to go out and be a part of the political process.”

  • Diane Williamson

    Please submit a comment to the State Department about the pipeline: there are only 72 hours left for pubic comment:!documentDetail;D=DOS-2014-0003-0001

  • Bostonway

    Environmental activism? Sustainability? Interesting they DROVE all that way to protest (couldn’t do so locally). Hmmm, I wonder how much gas they used and carbon they created? Now, multiply this times the 1000’s that also drove. Does the word hypocrite apply? I think so!

  • Chuck Faegan

    This article is actually astounding. I wonder if the author intentionally avoids obvious questions (let alone opposing views, which are absent) or is completely unaware of them.

    What does it mean, exactly, to be “against fossil fuels?”
    If you travel 400 miles with 3 cars to an anti fossil fuels rally, are you a hypocrite?
    What happens to the oil if the US refuses it? Does it go to the Chinese, or does it magically transform into green, ozone enhancing pixie dust?
    How long has Obama been “contemplating” this issue? The article makes no mention, but I have a feeling the answer would be interesting!
    What are the economic impacts of blocking the pipeline? Is ensuring that the Chinese use the oil instead of Americans worth denying thousand of low skill jobs to poor people?

  • BK

    The Keystone XL pipeline will emit many times more greenhouse gasses per minute than the entire carbon footprint of everyone who carpooled to the protest from around the northeast. When we stop the pipeline, I think future generations will forgive the gas that each person used for carpooling.

    To be hypocritical is to not act in accordance with your beliefs. In this case, carpooling to DC to stop the pipeline is what it means to act in accordance with our beliefs.

    The article could focus on what people in the movement do to have a sustainable lifestyle — and they do a lot — but that would miss the point. The point is that individuals can only do so much without political and social change. If this was Europe or China and we could take a three hour train to DC, we would have. That’s not an option for us because the US puts billions into oil subsidies instead of developing a sustainable infrastructure, and that’s why we’re fighting.

  • Bostonway

    Huh? “The Keystone XL pipeline will emit many times more greenhouse gasses per minute than the entire carbon footprint of everyone who carpooled to the protest from around the northeast.” Of course it will, so not the point. THE POINT IS the hypocrisy of traveling (in 1000’s of gas guzzling cars) the huge distance to bark about saving energy, the environment, etc. Similar to Gore flying around the world saying the same thing… in his private jet. By the way, the Keystone will avoid the US being locked into middle-east oil dependency. The same oil being used to fuel the above cars AND yours…yet the money is going elsewhere. Not to mention, Canada will sell their Keystone oil regardless if the US is a customer or not. Get with reality.

  • Marc K

    I would say the greatest transportation system (airports, highways, bridges, rail) in the world is pretty special. Listen if you want to waste your time with the climate change cult, more power to you. However, when you get into typical left wing lying to change the subject from your hypocrisy, I have to call you out. Oil companies don’t get subsidies, they get tax breaks like all other companies and people. In fact they get less breaks than other industries like failed green companies with direct subsidies and massive govt loans. If it were Europe, your grandparents house would have been vaporized in WWII making it easy to run rail lines. Unless the 500 year old town was lucky enough survive and not be workable for any 20th century highway system. As far as China, Communists have the distinct advantage of not having to worry about personal property or environmental issues when building railroads. That’s OK with you I guess. Plus Mao realized you need a system to move around 900 million poor communists slaves to work for the motherland. How does a pipeline emit more greenhouse gases than the thousands of railcars needed to move the same amount of oil? You’re not discussing this with your fellow groupies, so your junk science comments don’t work.

  • BK

    So, reality — not that I think it is important to Bostonway, but in case anyone else wants to know about the KXL.

    1. The KXL will not lessen dependence on foreign oil. It is an export pipeline that routes tar sands oil — an extremely dirty form of oil extraction — to US refineries so it can be put on tankers for Asia and Europe. It will only create 35 permanent US jobs and would put drinking water for 2 million people in jeopardy. (Sources below, if anyone is interested.)

    2. The protests aren’t traveling to the White House to “bark” — so far these protests have stopped the pipeline. That’s why a few gallons of gas spent getting people down there is insignificant. (And it is not 1000s of cars — I know you know what carpooling means.)

    3. The US’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, has called tar sands oil “game over” for the climate. So barking on the DO website about the hypocrisy of students — there are bigger issues. If you deny science and global warming, then you can hang out with the folks wearing aluminum hats somewhere. If not, then it’s time for everyone to wake up and start talking about solutions. Global problems need global answers, and we’re starting by demanding action on climate change from the most influential government. This week, that meant participating in the largest youth-led action against climate change in US history and making sure we keep this pipeline from being built.

    And with that I’m out — I promise not to feed the trolls anymore.

  • Bostonway

    Keep spinning it BK. You are trying. Canadian oil will be developed and solid… US involvement and benefit or not. You have all the rhetoric, and no practical solutions.

  • Bostonway

    Chuck, all great points / questions. However, libs have no intent (and even capability) to look at reality, use common-sense, and be practical! Why should they? Their MO is the government exists to solve all problems AND to pay for their lives (food, medical, housing, day care, etc). Hence, it is easy to bark idealistic thoughts. Sure, it would be great if all of US energy was from wind and solar. BUT the rest of us live in the real world. Further, as you and I posted, looks like these libs are just as dependent on cars and oil. Hmmm, the word hypocrisy comes to mind!

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