Keystone XL pipeline protesters released, tar sands ‘Blockade’ vows to continue
By Liana Lopez
Tuesday marks just the second week of the new presidency and already protestors have descended on the nation’s capital and held rallies across the nation. They are not opposing the election outcome, but a pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Thousands of citizens took to the streets around the White House Sunday following Bill McKibben’s 350.org Do the Math lecture to protest TransCanada’s plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
On Monday, the Tar Sands Blockade, some of whose members have been living in East Texas trees blocking construction of the southern portion of the pipeline route for 59 days, held solidarity actions nationwide from Florida to Oregon with some ending in pepper spray and arrests.
“In D.C., members went into the Canadian Embassy and released a ‘No Tar Sands’ banner with balloons in the atrium. Some supporters got arrested in Florida when they tried to personally deliver a letter to the manager of a Deutsche Bank [an investor of the pipeline]. People were arrested in Nacogdoches for blocking the path of cherry pickers rolling in to rip tree sitters from their platforms,” Rue Tarsby a representative of the Tar Sands Blockade said. (Some members of the Tar Sands Blockade have adopted pseudonyms in an effort to “avoid personal lawsuits that have been filed by TransCanada to keep people from protesting. Especially in East Texas, they’ve been keeping a close eye on us, documenting and filing lawsuits to intimidate anyone they can,” Tarsby says.)
The action in Nacogdoches was the biggest and drew more than 100 supporters. Four people locked themselves to machinery and three others attempted to establish a second tree village in the pathway of the pipeline. The East Texas affair was the most confrontational with officers arresting 11 and pepper spraying many others. By Tuesday evening, however, the Tar Sands Blockade had raised $14,000 to post bail and get those arrested in Texas out for the Thanksgiving holiday.
This is a sign of things to come according to both 350.org and the Tar Sands Blockade as a decision on the second presidential permit request for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline looms.
President Obama denied the first presidential permit request to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in January citing the need for a thorough environmental review, one which would not be complete until early 2013 at best. Two months later, however, Obama began publicly supporting the fast track of the southern portion of the line. Construction started in August and there have been people getting arrested at actions ever since.
Although 350.org’s 21-city tour is not coming through this time, Texas is in the center spotlight right now as it’s the only place where construction has actually started.
“I had the honor of being in the capitol of Texas last month to talk about the campaign we are running. We’ll do our best to get the word to the whole U.S. and, beginning in June, to the other 190 countries,” Daniel Kessler from 350.org said.
Opposition to the pipeline has also formed a head-scratching partnership between the Sierra Club and the East Texas Tea Party and resulted in the arrest of a 78-year-old grandma for trespassing on her own property in Winnsboro (with Darryl Hannah no less.)
The Tea Party members are fighting the pipeline for perceived abuses of eminent domain, the ability of public or private entity to take or force the sale of private property. Some landowners complain the pipeline is a threat to democracy itself, since those who don’t willingly sign over their land are forced to watch as it is subsequently condemned and taken away — as was the case with Julia Trigg Crawford. A Lamar County Court judge ruled in favor of TransCanada’s condemnation of Crawford’s land, although Crawford is appealing.
So what’s all the ruckus about another oil pipeline?
Beyond the ramifications of mining these oil-bearing sands and refining them into usable petroleum (a process that requires several times more CO2 than the development of traditional oil fields), contamination via spills is a major concern to residents living around the pipeline. Existing tar sands pipelines have already suffered more spills than forecast by the oil companies.
TransCanada’s infamous Keystone I pipeline, one-third the size of the proposed Keystone XL expansion project, experienced 12 spills in its first year of operation. And when spills do happen, cleanup is incredibly difficult. Two years after Enbridge leaked tars sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, parts of the river are still restricted from public use because they have not been able to clean up the site, despite federal and state efforts.
Tar Sands Blockaders promise that the resistance in Texas will continue because, although the construction on the southern leg of the Keystone XL is happening, the transcontinental pipeline has not yet been officially approved.