From Green Right Now Reports
A major standoff over the Keystone XL pipeline in unlikely East Texas is becoming more than just a nuisance to pipeline operator TransCanada,Â as protesters have repeatedly stood in the path of clearing crews and occupied a tree village aimed as slowing progress on the project.
The Tar Sands Blockade protesters are now in the fourth week of their “tree sit” in which a handful of activists remain encamped in a patch of forest that was in the pipeline’s path. Work crews have cleared forest nearby and police have cordoned off the encampment.
On Monday, a group of 50 blockade supporters marched into the woods with fresh supplies for the tree campers, and once again, a couple of protesters shackled themselves forest-clearing machinery, a tactic they’ve used several times to slow work crews. Eight protesters were arrested and later released.
Tree sitters in the Lone Star state haven’t been the only October surprise now making national headlines. Two weeks ago, Daryl Hannah arrived to stand in solidarity with Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year-old Texas woman who faced down tree clearing equipment on her land near Winnsboro. Both were arrested, marking what must surely be one of the few arrests of a person for trespassing on their own property.
“She never signed a contract with TransCanada and feels she still has all the rights to her property,” says Ron Seifert, a media spokesman for the group.
Many property owners who tangled with TransCanada are now doubly angered, Seifert said, because they’ve seen that the pipeline’s course can be altered.
The pipeline operator had insisted on the path it designated, even though that meant plowing down one man’s vineyard and traversing valuable springs on Ms. Fairchild’s land, Seifert said.
But now, TransCanada has re-routed around the tree house encampment, leaving area residents feeling burned.
“They (TransCanada) demanded that the route had to be right where it was,” Seifert said of Fairchild’s debate with the pipeline company. “We now see they could have negotiated and reached an agreement in good faith rather than condemn it (a portion of Fairchild’s property) altogether.”
The strangeness of this fight being waged in Texas, where people are traditionallyÂ pragmatic about pipelines and accustomed to living with oil and gas leases, has not gone unnoticed. Many national publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have filed articles on the protest, which has brought together landowners and activists who oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons. The environmentalists say the tar sands extraction ruins forests and emits more carbon dioxide emissions than even regular crude. The diluted bitumen that the pipeline will carry is more toxic than traditional oil and will do greater damage if the pipeline leaks. Many of the landowners share those concerns and have some special ones of their own.
TransCanada clearly earned extra ill will with the 100 or so landowners who refused to sign lease agreements, in some cases because the company was intransigent about the pipeline path, Seifert said.
The company’s reluctance to commit to using all American labor and steel also fueled animosity, according to an Associated Press story this week.
Landowner opponents see the 1,700 mile pipeline, set to carry Canadian tar sands-produced oil to Houston-area refineries, as an imposition on Texas, given that the oil appears destined for global markets. For some land owners, that negates the argument that Texans should make way for the pipeline and that TransCanada should have “common carrier” status, enabling it to seize property over landowner objections.
To fight back, insulted Texas landowners are filing and appealing dozens of lawsuits, threatening to further delay a project that has already encountered many obstacles. Others are allowing activists to go on their land to stage protests. Several have been arrested.
“We’ve fought wars for it. We stood our ground at the Alamo for it. There’s a lot of reasons that Texans are very proud of their land and proud when you own land that you are the master of that land and you control that land,” said Julia Trigg Crawford, who is fighting the condemnation of a parcel of her family’s 650-acre Red’Arc Farm in Sumner, about 115 miles northeast of Dallas.
Crawford has not won in the courts so far. Other appeals by landowners to state politicians also have failed to bring relief.
And now TransCanada has fired a legal shot back at the coalition of environmentalists and landowners that compose the Tar Sands Blockade. Last week, it filed a a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), naming 19 people, many of those who’ve been arrested at civil disobedience actions and Seifert.
The suit seeks an injunction against the civil disobedience actions of the 19 and six “unidentified” tree sitters and three organizations.
As Halloween approaches, more than 11,000 people are now following the day-to-day developments on the Tar Sands Blockade Facebook page and dozens of environmental groups have signed a letter of support, standing in solidarity with the blockaders.
Seifert says that on a day-to-day basis about 30 to 40 in the blockade group are meeting and strategizing in East Texas.
TransCanada, meanwhile, has defended its position in Texas, noting that the Southern leg of its pipeline has been approved by the Obama Administration and that lease agreements allow the company to restrict and control access to construction sites.
The Canadian company still faces another landowner issue about 800 miles north, in Nebraska, where a re-routing of the proposed Northern leg of the pipeline is underway. Nebraskans opposed to the pipeline and/or its original route through Nebraska won a reprieve when they convinced officials that the proposed path threatened the Ogallala Aquifer in the state’s Sandhills region.
The Ogallala is close to the surface in the sand dunes region and would be at great risk during a spill. Of course in Texas, the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer lays beneath the pipeline route, but it is not as near the surface.