My name is Elisabeth Leja. I am 75 years old and a retired high school math teacher. I also have a master’s degree in Social Psychology. Before being arrested in this case, I have never been arrested for any kind of criminal conduct.
On February 4th of last year I was honored to be the first person in the state of Oklahoma to engage in an act of what I consider to be civil disobedience in protest of construction of the TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL pipeline and the extraction and mining of Canadian tar sands. On that date, here in in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, I locked myself to a piece of construction equipment being used by the Trans Canada Corporation to construct the southern section of what is known as the Keystone XL pipeline. My intent was to stop construction of the pipeline for as long as possible and call attention to the issue of how production of the Canadian tar sands and continued reliance on fossil fuels will in all likelihood result in catastrophic climate change and currently is poisoning and killing both human beings and the environment. I believe that my action was justifiable for the reason that any trespassing law I may have broken was broken to prevent a far greater harm, the extraction, transport, refining, and burning of the Canadian tar sands.
When I entered onto the Keystone pipeline construction site here in Okfuskee County I saw no signs posted that stated no trespassing on the construction site. No person from TransCanada Corporation or the construction company ever told me I was trespassing or asked me to leave. I was cut off of the construction equipment and arrested by deputies of the Okfuskee County Sheriff’s Department.
I read and pay attention to current events. I have always been interested in human behavior. When I was in graduate school at the University of Illinois I wrote an article which was published at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I learned my research skills, during the seventies, at a time when research was not as easy as today and meant many trips to libraries. The internet makes things a bit easier.
I retired on a good union pension and have a nice life, with few responsibilities, good health and live in a nice house with a wonderful daughter who is in solid agreement with me in my concern over global warming and its causes. Although I have no grandchildren, I do have grand-nieces and grand nephews. I want them to grow up in a world much like the one I grew up in. Not a world with increasingly catastrophic weather patterns, increasing toxic oil spills, higher cancer rates, acidified and rising oceans.
I was taught to leave my surroundings and the world in as good as or better shape than it was before I entered into it. I am scared to death of the long term consequences of global warming. I feel an obligation to do anything I can to help make more people aware of the immanent dangers of global warming and climate change and our role as human beings in causing these crises by our increasing reliance and use of fossil fuels.
The science regarding the “greenhouse” effect, associated with CO2 (carbon dioxide) was already settled before the end of the 19th century. i Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes heat to be trapped in the atmosphere warming the air, land, and oceans.
The “greenhouse” effect then changes climates all over the world. The scientific evidence has been mounting. Glaciers are in retreat worldwide. Both the Arctic and Antarctic are losing ice masses at historic rates, as has Greenland. In September 2012, the Arctic summer sea ice fell to a new record low: an area twice the size of Alaska was lost. ii The oceans have warmed and are absorbing much of the additional CO2 being released into the atmosphere, warming the globe and acidifying the sea waters. Warming of the ocean leads to the killing of coral reefs, disruption of the ocean food chain, increased disease among fishes, extinction of some fish species, and changes in fish migration patterns. All of these will ultimately impact humans who rely upon the oceans for significant sources of food.
The overwhelming scientific consensus supported by multiple independent lines of inquiry, convinces me that serious negative climate change is real and a result of human caused global warming. The weather is getting hotter as we as Oklahomans have recently experienced. Since 1950, heat waves have become longer and more frequent worldwide. iii Extremely hot summertime temperatures have increased by a factor of 50. It is happening now, and will continue to be a threat to the people of Oklahoma, the United States, and the rest of the world as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels and especially tars sands oil. Who else recognizes these facts? 97% of the world’s climate scientists, the United States Military, and all of major underwriters of the insurance industry.
According to James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, perhaps America’s most highly regarded climate scientist, the tar sands “must be left in the ground” because if they are thrown into the mix, it is essentially “game over” for a viable planet.
Tar sands consist of a mixture of crude bitumen, a dangerous carcinogen, silica sand, clay materials and water. The Canadian tar sands are found in approximately the center of the province of Alberta, Canada covering 54,000 sq. miles, (an area the size of the state of Florida). This area has been mined since 1967 but on a small scale because extraction was not profitable at that time. Innovative extraction methods and higher oil prices have developed encouraging oil companies to profitably mine the tar sands. Only 20% of the tar sands fields are suitable for surface mining. The remaining 80% can lie up to 200 ft. below the surface of the land and must be dug out with large scale excavation of the land with huge hydraulic power shovels and 400-ton heavy hauler trucks. The Canadian tars sands are comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum. ix Canada then becomes the third largest oil reserve next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The Enbridge pipeline system is an existing oil pipeline system which transports tar sands oil from Canada to the United States. An Enbridge pipeline to the west coast of Canada has been proposed but the Canadian people are opposed to this plan and have so far blocked it. Because Canadians resisted a tar sands pipeline through Canada, TransCanada Corporation decided to build a pipeline for Canadian tar sands through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico using refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. x The resulting oil will be shipped to China and elsewhere, and here the prices are higher.
The Keystone XL pipeline is essential to the complete development and production of Canadian tar sand but production and burning this oil will put us over the edge as far as global warming is concerned. This is clearly set out by Bill Mckibben in the short film – “Do the Math”. How much carbon in the atmosphere is too much? Scientists agree that a constant concentration of 350 parts per million would be a safe level of carbon in the atmosphere. We are now seeing periods of up to a month where 400 ppm are being measured. At current rates of fossil fuel usage, in approximately 15 years, that number will rise to 565 ppm. The reserves of oil in all of the oil companies involved in the tar sands is five times as big as our atmosphere can hold, approximately 2795 ppm. We have no more space.
With more tar sands flowing through pipelines moving on rail cars, and being processed at refineries, there is also mounting evidence that people and communities in the vicinity of tar sands transportation activity face substantial health and safety risks. iv On average, 275 pipelines leak every year. Because tar sands oil is diluted with solvents and pumped at high temperature and pressure, it is even more likely to cause leaks. As we’ve seen in Mayflower, Arkansas and in the Kalamazoo River, tar sand spills are highly toxic, carcinogenic, and very difficult and extremely expensive to clean up. Tar sands oil is exempt from the oil spill liability trust fund. Because of that, local and national taxpayers not the corporations producing and transporting tar sands oil will bear the initial cost of any clean up. If the northern end of the pipeline is approved it will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater supply in the American Heartland. vii Because it is virtually certain that the pipeline will leak, our water is at stake all along the pipelines route.
Extraction and preparation for transport of Canadian tar sands is having disastrous health consequences for the native First Nations people, like the Cree and Bene, in Canada, where the tar sands are being mined and prepared for transport. Their land and water are being impacted. Native people in the small community of Fort Chipewyan, downstream of the Alberta, Canada tar sands have been dying of a rare bile-duct disease in disproportionate numbers. People, in this community, are developing blood cancer, lymphatic cancer, and soft tissue cancers at an alarmingly increased rate. Alberta’s Cancer Board study said that rates for certain cancers were up 30%. (Climate Progress (4/2/2014). Alberta health officials have confirmed that there are higher rates of cancer in at least one of the small aboriginal village downwind of the tar sands production in Alberta, Canada. A study of the Alberta Tar Sands was published by researchers from University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan, (10/28/2013) found levels of carcinogenic air pollutants 1.3 butadiene and benzene to rise and were 51 times as great as that found in the upwind population. The immediate area around the Alberta tar sands area is populated by about 80,000 First Nations people. These native people of Canada are in eminent danger from the mining and processing of the Canadian tar sands. xi “We need to be proactive and avoid this situation in the first place.” The problem should be solved before cancer develops, not on damage control after the disease has appeared.” v
At the other end of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the people living in the area where the tar sands are refined for shipping overseas to the highest bidder are dying from tar sands production. The oil town of Port Arthur, Texas, the last stop of the Keystone pipeline’s proposed path, has cancer rates that are 15 % higher than the rest of Texas. vi Tar sands bitumen contains as much as 11 times more sulfur than conventional crude oils. viii Diluted bitumen, the product of the crude mixture after it is refined, has higher levels due to the presence of sulfur compounds in diluting agents. The growing use of the tar sands in our refineries is making the fundamental act of breathing more difficult for some of the most disadvantaged communities in our country. The pollution from these refineries puts an extra pressure on those who already suffer from disease-weakened heart and blood circulation systems. Tar sands are highly volatile. They produce strong odors at very low concentrations and have been linked to central nervous system problems and can irritate the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory systems. iv According to the Environmental Protection Agency, short term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.
As oil producers continue to look for ways to develop markets and increase sales to Canada and the United States, it is incumbent on health and environmental agencies to protect the public from potential harm. iv
The UC Irvine study I have previously mentioned addresses the problem of health and air pollution in Alberta, but here at home there are many problems plaguing the people who live in areas affected by tar sands spills. Last year Exxon Mobile’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured and 210,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude immersed the Northwoods, a subdivision, of Mayflower, Arkansas. vii Many residents are still suffering from serious health problems they blame on that spill. A far larger spill in July 2010 dumped more than a million gallons of tar sands oil from an Enbridge Energy pipeline into yards, fields, and the Kalamazoo River in Marshall Michigan. Citizens are still waiting for information on chemical exposure and health risks from the Michigan Department of Community Health: information that is now three years overdue. vii
In American law there exists the concept of the “public trust doctrine,” whereby the state serves as trustee on behalf of present and future generations of US citizens. The governments in our country, both state and federal, have an obligation to protect the public natural resources on which we all depend. In its role as trustee the state has a strictly defined “fiduciary duty” to the citizen beneficiaries. Our officials have no legal right to harm the public trust in order to benefit a corporation – no matter how politically powerful it may be. The property of the state is being destroyed – our earth’s atmosphere-remains the common property of the American people, the people of the world and our prosperity. Instead of protecting its citizens’ common property rights as it is duty-bound to do, both the state and federal governments are permitting the destruction of the public natural resources. Our air, our water, our atmosphere, our oceans, and our children and grandchildren’s’ futures are at stake. The fact that TransCanada has been permitted to lay pipe in the ground so as to make possible the complete development of Canadian tar sands is proof that both the state of Oklahoma and the United States government were in dereliction of this duty.
As I have said before, I am scared to death of the long term consequences of global warming. I feel an obligation to do anything I can to help make more people aware of the immanent dangers of global warming and climate change and our role as human beings in causing these crises by our increasing reliance and use of fossil fuels. I believe that my action in locking myself to a piece of equipment being used to build the Keystone XL pipeline and attempting to stop construction of that pipeline was justifiable for the reason that any trespassing law I may have broken was broken to prevent a far greater harm, the extraction, transport, refining, and burning of the Canadian tar sands.
For these reasons, your honor, I respectfully request that you find me not guilty of the trespass charge that has been filed against me in this case.
i It was first identified by Joseph Fourier in 1824. The argument and the evidence was further strengthened by Claude Pouillet in 1827 and 1838, and reasoned from experimental observations by John Tyndall in 1859 and more fully quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.
iii Hansen, James, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy. (2012) Perception of climate change. August 6, 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,10.1073/pnas.1205276109
v Dr. Stuart Batterman, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. News conference December 2013
viii Aaron Sanger, M.S.,J.D. Director, U.S. Campaigns
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