As Tom Weis of Boulder pedals his bright yellow “Rocket Trike” the length of the proposed route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline — 1,700 miles from Alberta to the gulf coast of Texas — the flag and bumper sticker attached to his transport clearly state his intentions: “No tar sands oil on American soil.”
Weis is dedicated to educating the public about what he says are the detrimental effects that the pipeline will have on the nation if it is built. One week into his ride, he already has met with tribal leaders, landowners, farmers, ranchers, schools and the media to spread the word about his protest.
“TransCanada’s project, the Keystone XL pipeline, is an affront to humanity,” he says.
Weis learned about the pipeline while he was in Washington, D.C. in January after a successful 2,500-mile ride in his trike, raising awareness about turning the United States into a nation completely powered by renewable energy. His inspiration to protest the pipeline came after reading an article on the Keystone XL pipeline in the Washington Post.
“I read the article, and I looked at the map [of the pipeline’s route], and I said, ‘There is no way we can let this happen,’” he says. “There is nothing about the Keystone XL pipeline that is remotely in America’s best interest.”
Weis started planning the ride in earnest in the spring, and began his ride in Canada on Oct. 13. People have been very supportive, he says, and he was even followed by a tribal police escort for 18 miles, four days into his ride.
“I’m talking to everybody I meet, and I tell them why I’m riding,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know the details [about the pipeline], and people are really open to hear it.”
Weis’ largest concern with the pipeline is the possibility of oil spills leaking into the land. The current Keystone Pipeline, which runs from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma, has spilled 12 times in one year, Weis says.
“It’s not a question of ‘if ’ the Keystone XL pipeline would spill, it’s ‘when,’” he says. “A spill in the Missouri River would be disastrous. This is America’s breadbasket.”
If built, the pipeline would transport tar sands oil that would contain toxic chemicals, Weis says. He is concerned about an oil spill contaminating drinking water in the Midwest and the farmland irrigation.
“That’s an irreplaceable resource,” he says.
Weis has encountered many people who are in favor of the pipeline, and he says he understands their reasoning.
“You hear the promises of jobs, and that’s a hard thing not to get your attention,” he says. “On one level I can understand that. When I meet people like that, I really want to talk to them.”
Weis is concerned that the pipeline won’t create as many jobs as hoped, and he says that he feels America should turn its focus on promoting renewable energy, and rely on things like electric cars and biodiesel.
“Anyone who says we need oil to keep living, it’s not true,” he says. “We need to start making the transition now. We’re Americans. We do great things.”
Weis says that he has become inspired by the Indian tribes he has encountered, and the general support he has received in the communities he visits. He has been working with several local organizations, and many grassroots groups support his ride, he says.
On Oct. 17, he had the opportunity to talk to 300 K-12 students about the pipeline.
“The kids were really receptive,” he says. “It was a really powerful experience.”
Weis plans to continue to raise awareness about the hazards of tar sands oil and the pipeline in as many ways as he can, while simultaneously promoting renewable energy options as he pedals south in the upcoming weeks. He plans to keep going strong to the end of the year.
“I’d like to be home by Christmas,” he says.