By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Police arrested hundreds of young people protesting the Keystone XL project on Sunday, as demonstrators fastened themselves with plastic ties to the White House fences and called for U.S. President Barack Obama to reject the controversial oil pipeline.
Participants, who mostly appeared to be college-aged, held signs reading: "There is no planet B" and "Columbia says no to fossil fuels," referring to the university in New York City.
Another group, several of whom were clad in white jumpsuits splattered with black ink that was meant to represent oil, lay down on a black tarp spread out on Pennsylvania Avenue to stage a mock spill.
Organizers estimated 1,000 people protested and said several hundred agreed to risk arrest by refusing to leave the sidewalk in front of the White House. Citing U.S. Park Police figures, the organizers said later that almost 400 people were arrested.
"If the Democratic Party wants to keep our vote, they better make sure President Obama rejects that pipeline," said Nick Stracco, a 23-year-old student at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Canadian energy firm TransCanada Corp is behind the proposed pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The project already weathered a State Department environmental review, which was required because the project would cross international borders. Several other agencies also are doing reviews, and Obama has the final say.
Environmental groups, which fear oil spills along the pipeline and say it could hasten climate change, have staged a number of protests at the White House over Keystone.
Supporters of the $5.4 billion pipeline say it would create thousands of temporary construction jobs and improve U.S. energy security.
"Today's protest represents a fringe minority of people against any use of fossil fuels," said Matt Dempsey of Oil Sands Fact Check. "This extreme position is well outside the American mainstream. Even President Obama says we need an "all of the above" approach to energy. As a result, today's protest does little but expose the extreme nature of these last remaining Keystone XL opponents."
Sunday's event, which was planned by students with support from environmental groups 350.org and the Energy Action Coalition, began with a rally at Georgetown University, where Obama unveiled a climate change plan last summer.
The group marched to the White House, where police began arresting protesters, pulling them aside in small groups into tents set up on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Organizers said they intended to remind the White House that young people are a key voting demographic of the president's party and their peers do not want to inherit environmental damage caused by current leaders.
"Our future is on the line. The climate is on the line," said Aly Johnson-Kurts, 20, who is taking a year off from Smith College in Massachusetts. She said she had decided to get arrested on Sunday. "When do we say we've had enough?"
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Peter Cooney)