James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was arrested alongside 142 activists - including actress Daryl Hannah - who oppose the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The arrests occurred on day 10 of a two-week sit-in protest against the $7 billion, 1,702-mile pipeline, which will pump heavy crude oil from mines in Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
Before he was detained by authorities, Hansen reportedly yelled into a microphone, asking President Obama to oppose the pipeline, for the sake of your children and grandchildren.
Hansen and 20 other leadings scientists sent a letter to the White House urging Obama to halt construction of the pipeline, explaining the project could have major impacts on the environment.
If the pipeline is to be built, you as president have to declare that it is 'in the national interest.' As scientists, speaking for ourselves and not for any of our institutions, we can say categorically that it's not only not in the national interest, it's also not in the planet's best interest, the letter stated.
Prior to his arrest, Hansen told the environmental blog SolveClimateNews that the threat posed by the pipeline is too great to ignore.
If [Obama] chooses the dirty needle, it's game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled, coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction, he said.
In 1988, Hansen famously gave a congressional testimony about climate change where he showed one of the earliest model projections of global warming's potential environmental impacts based on further increases in human-produced greenhouse gases.
Hansen has been arrested on at least two other occasions in public protests over climate change and global warming, according to multiple reports.
Despite the outrage from activists, government officials insist the pipeline project will not have dire impacts on its surrounding environment.
There would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor, Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said in a statement.
Since the operation began in June 2010, 14 oil spills have occurred, one of which was 21,000 gallons. However, the State Department's environmental impact reports points out that while spills are likely to occur during operation, it insists the spills will not cause significant harm to the surrounding environments.
However, some fear the pipeline could possibly contaminate groundwater along its route, including the Northern High Planes Aquifer. The aquifer supplies 78 percent of the public water supply in Nebraska and 83 percent of its irrigation water, as well as 30 percent of water for U.S. irrigation and agriculture.