Thousands march in SF against Keystone XL pipeline
Tommy Diestel, a student of Butte College, held a megaphone and led some of the thousands of people who marched near the Embarcadero in San Francisco during a climate rally on Feb. 17, in his favorite chant, “Don’t frack with California.”
Fracking is the process of extracting shale gas and other types of natural gas thousands of feet underground. The process uses massive amounts of water that environmentalists say has great potential for contaminating our water ways and severely damaging the environment.
After the march, people gathered in Justin Herman Plaza to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and urge the president to take action on climate control.
The Bay Area protest was held in solidarity with a much larger rally in Washington D.C. An estimated 35,000 people converged on the National Mall to demand the president reject the proposed expansion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline system, which plans to include an oil run from Alberta to the Gulf Coast where it would be refined and made ready for export.
“In the next 100 days or less there is going to be a decision made on whether or not they’re going to bring the pipeline through the United States,” Michelle Myers, director of Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, who helped organize the event, said. “We think that if President Obama is serious about combating climate change then there is no way he, in good conscience, could allow that to happen.”
Tar sands are a thick type of oil that is mixed with sand. The extraction and refining process can be more intensive than that of conventional crude oil.
“The tar sands are already more corrosive, more volatile, more toxic than conventional crude,” Scarlet Russell, an environmental activist who volunteered for the event said. She moved here from Houston Texas two years ago to be a part of 350.org, an organization concerned with solving the climate crisis.
Activists are worried that the pipeline itself could spill and that the refining process will dramatically increase carbon emissions.
“I was in Canada last summer for four months and I saw firsthand how the oil was extracted,” Chris Nelson, wearing white homemade hazmat-style jumpsuit, said. “I saw the pipelines; I saw the coal; I saw the clear cutting: I saw the mining, and I saw the Native American communities.”
Nelson and other like-minded activists said that refining dirty oil like the tar sands will increase carbon emission, raise the planets temperature and push us past the point of no return in relation to climate control.
“And I can tell you,” Nelson added, “there is a lot of work to be done, but the first thing we can do is stop the Keystone XL pipeline and stop fracking in California where water is so precious.”
Nelson drove to rally from Chico, Calif., and has been an environmentalist for years. Harmful chemicals have had a direct impact on her family. After the rally, she needs to drive straight home to be with her ailing husband.
“My husband has cancer, probably from Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and I have to go back home and take care of him. He’s got chemo tomorrow and he has to take it easy,” said Nelson.
Speakers at the rally included two 17-year-old high school students, who demonstrated that the younger generation does care about the environment.
“It’s really inspiring to see young people get involved,” Deistel said, adding that at 20 he is usually the youngest environmentalist in the room.
He said it can be maddening to see other people his age not care about the climate crisis.
“How do you not realize what is happening around you?” Deistel asked. “The information is out there and not believing the facts doesn’t change them, so it can be really frustrating when kids are so apathetic.”
Another speaker was Supervisor John Avalos, who pushed CleanPowerSF. But he wasn’t the only one who mentioned it. Myers and Russell also gave praise to the city’s local energy renewable programs.
CleanPowerSF is a program where San Francisco residents can purchase renewable electricity from the San Francisco Public Utilities Company. “So it would be a publicly controlled electricity provider in contrast to PG&E, which is currently the only option people have in San Francisco,” Myers said.
The program is currently in the works and should be ready by the end of the year, she added.
Russell would like to see the city become a leader in renewable energy programs and show the nation that a city can run and function without having to use fossil fuels.
“We think that by creating a green option we encourage more renewable energy here in the Bay Area,” Myers said.