Students protest oil pipeline project
March 15, 2014
A group of UW-River Falls students recently traveled to Washington but the trip was not merely a vacation.
They were protesting the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline project, which would extend from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, and it would span across the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world. The pipeline would meet up with an already existing pipeline, which originates in Texas.
The nine UWRF students who traveled to the protest on Feb. 28, 2014, are involved with a student organization called ECOS, or Environmental Corps of Sustainability. According to the OrgSync page of ECOS, the group advocates for campus divestment in fossil fuels and seeks to inform the campus and surrounding community about climate change.
The ECOS members met up with students from other UW schools, including UWStevens Point, UW-Madison and UW-Lacrosse, in Madison to drive to Washington, but once in Madison. they experienced a travel setback.
“We had a huge bus that we were supposed to rent, but the driver got a full-time job the day before we were supposed to leave,” said Greg Mathews, secretary of ECOS.
The international organization 350.org, which organized the Washington protest, was able to assist the UW students with finding alternative transportation.
“They helped us out,” Mathews said.
Once in Washington, the UWRF students slept in a church and started the protest the next day at Georgetown University. They walked for a couple miles to the White House and established a base in Lafayette Square. Mathews said there were speakers, such as Native Canadians, talking about getting their land taken away and Michigan residents talking about the problems associated with fracking, which is a method used to extract oil.
The protesters then zip tied their hands to the White House fence. They also staged a “human oil spill” with a black tarp to demonstrate the negative effects of an oil spill. The human oil spill was also staged in front of Secretary of State John Kerry’s house.
“He’s a big influence on the approval or denial of the pipeline because he’s secretary of state and it crosses an international border,” Mathews said.
There were over 1,200 students from 200 different colleges and 42 states at the protest, and 398 people participating in the protest were arrested, including Mathews. Three other UWRF students were arrested as well, and all four were charged with an infraction.
“The way it was described to us is that it’s kind of on par with walking your dog without a leash,” Mathews said. “They didn’t fingerprint me, I sat in a holding cell for fi ve minutes and then I paid a $50 citation and they let me go.”
UWRF student Jack Haren also traveled to Washington to participate in the protest, but he chose to take photographs instead of zip tying his hands, so he was not arrested.
“It was a new type of road trip, being in Washington where all of the politics in our country happen,” Haren said. “It felt really cool to be part of a huge mob protesting.”
The Keystone XL pipeline requires a Presidential Permit to move forward, so President Barack Obama will be making his decision regarding the pipeline in the next few months.
As for ECOS, the group will continue to spread awareness about the pipeline. On March 10, they had a table set up in the University Center to reach out to students and educate them about the environmental impact of the pipeline.
“We felt we needed to stand up and say it’s not in our nation’s best interest,” Mathews said. “If the aquifer does get contaminated, I’ll be one of the first people down there to help with relief.”