ST. PAUL – A busy week in the future of oil in America will culminate in the largest anti-tar sands event to take place in the Midwest on Saturday along the banks of the Mississippi River, organizers say.
The Tar Sands Resistance March will start at Lambert Landing in St. Paul at 10 a.m. Saturday and will proceed to the State Capitol lawn, where there will be a rally and concert.
Event organizer Andy Pearson of environmental group MN350 said he expects the event to draw thousands of protesters, including busloads of people from places as far as Nebraska and Ohio.
The event will begin with a water ceremony by Native American performers, with the march beginning at noon. After reaching the Capitol grounds, more than a dozen speakers will address the crowd, including speeches from Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth.
On Tuesday, Pearson was joined by MN350 founder Bill McKibben, Indigenous Environmental Network executive director Tom Goldtooth and Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, on a press conference call with national media to talk about the event, which hopes to highlight the potential environmental threats proposed pipeline expansions pose to northern Minnesota and the country.
Tar sands, also know as oil sands, extracted from northern Alberta are transported through rail and by pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border into Minnesota to terminals in Superior, Wis., and elsewhere. While the Keystone XL project has made headlines nationally, Minnesota-based environmentalist groups are quick to point out Enbridge's proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion would increase capacity through northern Minnesota to the same levels as Keystone XL.
"Minnesota is really the hub of (oil) transportation," Pearson said. "Most of the oil flowing into the country is flowing through Minnesota. ... The key thing to note is we want to stop the oil at the source, and stopping the oil from entering this country."
Another large Enbridge project, the Sandpiper pipeline that would carry crude oil from the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota across northern Minnesota, faces a large milestone later this week as the state's Public Utilities Commission decides on granting a certificate of need for the project.
Preceding Saturday's activities, the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands of Chippewa will host public hearings on their own lands regarding the Sandpiper pipeline. Several Native American groups criticized the PUC for not holding public forums on native lands during the commission's public comment process. The proposed route of Sandpiper crosses sensitive waterways that are critical to the culture of those in the area, Goldtooth said.
"The frontline communities are strengthening the resistance," he said. "They're concerned, and we are linking up the pipeline resisters in Canada, northern Minnesota, out east and more."
The flurry of activity surrounding pipeline projects made St. Paul and this weekend a perfect storm for holding this march, organizers said.
"This is going to be a really powerful moment," McKibben said. "It will symbolize just how far this resistance has grown ... what's happening in the Midwest is absolutely Ground Zero."