|Protesters warn of the environmental risks from the proposed pipeline carrying oil from Canada's tar sands [EPA]
A raucous final public hearing on a controversail $7bn oil pipeline from Canada to the US ended Friday with vociferous protests denouncing the project as an ecological disaster in the making if it receives approval.
Canada's TransCanada Corp has promoted the 2,700km pipeline stretching from Alberta to Texas as entirely safe, while immediately creating 20,000 American jobs. Opponents say the danger of leaks, as well as carbon emissions and related climate change effects, mean the US government should scrap the plan.
About 200 people gathered outside the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington where the final public discussion was held Friday, singing songs, dancing, and denouncing TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline proposal.
"I'm here because of my grandson ... If the pipeline goes through, climate change will only accelerate."
- Nancy Anderson, protester from Maine
"Stop the pipeline, yes you can," they chanted. Signs held aloft read: "Windmills not oil spills", and "Oil jobs are finite + few".
"I'm here because of my grandson," protester Nancy Anderson from Maine told Al Jazeera. "I want him to have a good life. If the pipeline goes through, climate change will only accelerate."
The US State Department decides the fate of the pipeline because it crosses the border with Canada. A decision is expected before the end of the year. It was originally expected to go through without a hitch, however, environmentalists and other concerned citizens have organised a formidable opposition campaign throughout the country.
The president of TransCanada, Russ Girling, told the hearing he never anticipated such stiff opposition. Girling said stringent safety measures would prevent any pipeline problems. "The last time we permitted a pipeline across the border, it took about 20 months. I did not expect it to become such a lightning rod for a debate between alternative and fossil fuels."
National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger told reporters at the National Press Club on Friday the pipeline would be dirty and dangerous. "After the Gulf disaster and major spills in Montana and Michigan in recent months, Americans are fed up with risky energy and the corporate polluters and their underhanded political games," he said.
The State Department released a study in August stating that the pipeline would have "no significant impact" on land and water resources along its route. But opponents disagree.
An already-operating TransCanada pipeline was shut down for repairs because of leaks in North Dakota and Kansas in May.
"Americans are fed up with risky energy and the corporate polluters and their underhanded political games. "
- Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation
Michael Klink, a former inspector who worked for TransCanada on the pipeline in North Dakota and South Dakota, said there were leaks and many other problems. "Oil and water don't mix ... There were all kinds of failures," a tearful Klink told the audience.
Canada's oil sands are estimated to contain about 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. But it involves large-scale open-pit mining that wipes out huge forest areas while using vast amounts of fresh water. The resulting waste includes millions of gallons of toxic sluge.
At one point outside Friday's hearing, a group of anti-war demonstrators passed by, raising cheers and waves of solidarity between the two groups. The pipeline protesters then joined the anti-war march. It was also the second day of "Occupy DC" demonstrations, with protesters of all stripes converging on Freedom Plaza.
Alongside environemental activists were civil rights, anti-poverty, anti-corporation, and pro-democracy demonstrators at the plaza. Even pro-skate board protesters were about, alleging DC park police had made it "a crime" to ride.
Under a blue tarpaulin, David Croisant said he and his friends drove eight hours from Cincinatti, Ohio to join. "We all need to stop listening to one small group of wealthy people," he told Al Jazeera.