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In recent years, an energetic movement has emerged in the United States to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport an estimated daily 800,000 barrels of tar oil extracted from tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined, exported and burned.

The southern route of the pipeline has been completed; there is also pipeline in place from North Dakota to Illinois. The permit that awaits approval—and which is being strongly challenged—would allow construction in a 1,179-mile stretch that starts in Alberta, Canada, crosses Montana, and connects with the southern end at the border of Kansas and Nebraska.

In a letter that was sent in February to the U.S. State Department’s Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues, several faith-based groups, including the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, expressed their opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“Our concerns are grounded in faith traditions that call us to protect God’s Earth and the most vulnerable human communities, and we plead with the State Department to deny permits for this destructive pipeline,” the letter stated. “At virtually every stage—from tar sands oil extraction in the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada, to refineries near Houston and Port Arthur, Texas—looms the potential for environmental destruction and negative consequences for human health.

We especially are concerned that tar sands oil extraction and processing will disproportionately impact indigenous communities in Canada and low-income persons of color in the United States. Since tar sands oil is among the dirtiest types of fuel on earth, its extraction is linked to increased incidences of cancer and other diseases among Canadian indigenous populations, and the processing of it would add to already substandard air quality and elevated cancer rates in the vicinities of its Texas refineries.”

The letter listed concerns such as the following:

  • Contrary to findings in the State Department’s disputed Environmental Impact Statement, the pipeline poses a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for more than 2.3 million people and of irrigation for more than 30 percent of crops in the United States.
  • Studies dispute claims of job growth that have been associated with the proposed pipeline. Based on TransCanada’s own numbers, the State Department reports that—at most—3,900 construction jobs will be created in building the pipeline, with only 10 percent of that total workforce hired locally and only 35 permanent jobs.
  • Given the risks of spills and aquifer contamination, the pipeline could cost jobs by destroying the livelihoods of ranchers, farmers and others nearby.
  • The bulk of the oil is marked for export to countries whose consumers will pay a premium price, thereby raising prices for U.S. use, according to a report by Consumer Watchdog. Drivers in the Midwest, for instance, could pay 20 to 40 percent more per gallon.

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline requires a presidential permit to move forward; it is not exactly clear whether President Obama will approve the project or not. His decision is expected sometime in the first half of 2014, and he has said he’ll reject the pipeline if it means a “significant impact” on the climate.

Faith in action: Learn more about local events and activities that support the challenge to the Keystone XL pipeline. Visit or Friends of the Earth ( for information and actions.

Featured Image: Rose Berger, a Catholic who is associate editor at Sojourners magazine, bows to her colleagues before being arrested during a protest in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.(CNS/R. Reinhard/U.S.)

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