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Oklahoma activist plans to keep opposing projects like Keystone XL

Activist Stefan Warner, 25, has been to jail twice for trying to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma, but he isn't backing down in the fight against development of Canada's oil sands.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: June 21, 2013

Stefan Warner is not one to shy away from standing up for his beliefs.

The self-described activist traveled to Iraq to protest the war there before turning his attention to issues closer to home.

Warner, 25, admits a “not-in-my-backyard mentality” spurred him to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil across Oklahoma on its way from Canada to Texas, but his concerns grew as he learned more about the implications of the project.

“I'd heard a lot of awful things about the tar sands industry,” the Harrah native said of companies that produce bitumen from Alberta's oil sands.

The oil sands account for 97 percent of Canada's oil reserves, which are the third largest in the world, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. More than half of the production from the oil sands comes from mining, but most operators, like Oklahoma City's Devon Energy Corp., rely on a process called steam-assisted gravity drainage to harvest the thick oil known as bitumen.

Environmentalists often refer to it as the “world's dirtiest crude.”

“It's nasty stuff, this bitumen that they're getting out of the ground up in Alberta,” Warner said. “This stuff is the consistency of cookie dough. It's not like normal crude oil, even though the industry keeps calling it crude.

“I just realized it's some nasty stuff and I didn't want it coming through Oklahoma.”

Warner said bitumen is harder to clean up than regular crude oil, citing a 2010 spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

“They're still trying to figure out how to clean it up,” he said.

Pipeline developer TransCanada Corp. has been moving diluted bitumen from the oil sands into Oklahoma since February 2011.

The Keystone XL pipeline would bring more oil from Alberta to the storage hub at Cushing on its way to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada began building the southern leg of the pipeline, from Cushing to the Houston area, after the Obama administration denied a permit for the $5.3 billion project in 2012. The company still hopes to win approval for the transcontinental pipeline.

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