The Battle Against the Keystone Pipeline

Environmentalists and landowners battle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and its load of crude from flowing across Texas rivers and aquifers.

The Battle Against the Keystone Pipeline
One after the other, Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies wearing straw cowboy hats dragged bearded, zip-cuffed young men toward a waiting van. Strands of snot and spit set flowing by doses of pepper spray dangled from their bowed heads. A company man wearing a hardhat trailed them, recording a video of the arrests, for liability reasons.

The deputies had puzzled for hours over how to extricate them from the tracks of the heavy machines used to chew through the East Texas pines. In the early morning darkness of November 19, before work crews arrived, the protesters had fastened themselves to the equipment with lock boxes — mechanisms straight from the civil disobedience toolkit. Take a length of PVC or steel pipe, two lengths of chain, carabiners and two willing arms, and you get a few hours of frustration for law enforcement.

Their intention was to halt the advance of what may soon become the longest pipeline outside of Russia or China. Since construction began in August, protesters have used their bodies to tie up heavy equipment or otherwise obstruct workers clearing the pipeline's path through East Texas. The right of way was secured by TransCanada, the Canadian natural-gas line giant, through an exemption in state law that allows for-profit enterprises to condemn private land if they cannot reach a deal with the landowner.

Members of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department drag away a protester who chained himself to construction equipment.
Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
Members of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department drag away a protester who chained himself to construction equipment.
A deputy uses pepper spray to drive away others gathered around a cherry picker used to extract protesters on platforms in 40-foot-high pine trees outside Alto, Texas, in November.
Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux
A deputy uses pepper spray to drive away others gathered around a cherry picker used to extract protesters on platforms in 40-foot-high pine trees outside Alto, Texas, in November.

If President Obama signs off on the entire project, the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline will connect the Alberta oil sand mines to the Texas Gulf Coast, home to the largest refinery complex in the world and gateway to a lucrative international market. But it isn't the pipeline itself these protesters most fear; it's what it will carry: as much as 830,000 barrels a day of a form of semisolid petroleum the consistency of asphalt, called bitumen. To render it liquid, it is blended with natural-gas condensate or synthetic crude oil.

Because it is much thicker than conventional sweet crude, the diluted bitumen will move through the pipeline at pressures of up to 1,300 pounds per square inch and temperatures as high as 150 degrees. Opponents, who are not solely a bunch of young enviros but include a number of dyed-in-the-wool conservative East Texans, say a major spill is inevitable.

In the bigger picture, some climatologists fear that digging up Canada's buried oil sands and burning them will pump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So much, in fact, that it may tip the scales against mankind's stuttering efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

For a number of aging, tiny and poor East Texas towns, the issue hits much closer to home. If the pipeline busts, what's going to happen to the wells they drink from and the rivers they fish?

And for landowners in the pipeline's way, bound by the contracts they've signed with TransCanada and now consumed by the specter of a simple country life gone toxic, is there no going back?

Proponents say that whatever minor hardship this may cause for a few is all for the greater good. The Keystone XL will bring jobs, energy security and lower prices at the pump. Under scrutiny, though, the claims don't always hold up. Oil is a fungible commodity traded on a global market. As long as huge sectors of the economy are dependent on it, we'll be subject to the shocks and price fluctuations inflicted by instability and unrest in places like Libya.

The tens of thousands of jobs — and by some industry estimates, more than 100,000 — are largely illusory, the products of studies whose methodologies haven't been open to scrutiny. Even the most liberal estimate from the U.S. State Department puts the number of direct jobs created by the pipeline at 7,000 or so, almost all of them temporary.

The pipeline isn't being constructed to keep America's gas tanks full. The oil that will be sent across rivers and sensitive aquifers in the Lone Star State is bound in ever-increasing percentages for tankers whose ports of call are in Latin America, China and points elsewhere. It is being sent this way because Canadian crude sells at a discount in the Midwest, costing producers billions of dollars every year. This is an economic panacea, to be sure, but not for the United States. Yet it is undeniable that the pipeline will connect us to a stable, friendly source of oil, which will replace crude shipments by sea from troubled African countries, South American dictators and Mexico.

As the last of the blockaders was extricated from the tracks of heavy equipment and loaded into a van headed for the Cherokee County lockup, a man who lives nearby leaned against a John Deere utility vehicle, watching. Terry Burroughs wore a bemused half grin at the procession of hip, environmentally conscious young men incapacitated by a generous dose of pepper spray.

Burroughs's place adjoins this spot. Before him, it belonged to his grandfather, who worked in a saw mill. He grew up hunting these woods, and he will remain long after the protesters move on.

There's one thing these young folks will never understand about this place. Land is income in parts of Texas where there aren't many other sources of it. And pipe has been laid beneath it since before he was born. "This pipeline's coming through," he says, as protesters loaded into cars headed to the other blockade site. "They ain't stopping nothing."
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16 comments
Miles Yao
Miles Yao

Can we pull a Castle Law here? Get yer shotgun out!

Mary Urech Stallings
Mary Urech Stallings

State Law? Didn't the Supreme Court uphold anybody taking your land for whatever they want to pay for whatever reason? Now, that's effed up.

Na Li
Na Li

it's always been that way - they want they get - landowner gets too but screwed isn't that much financially

Craig Wilkins
Craig Wilkins

Where are all the "Don't Tread On Me" people now? Or is it socialism to stand up to businesses? Jesus. I hate everything sometimes.

captainmike81
captainmike81

Might as well refine Canadian bitumen is Texas as Texas is the largest polluter in North America. Most people don't know that the US exports crude oil. Next is natural gas in LNG to foreign countries. Most people are taken being taken for suckers by everyone from government to energy companies. 

Jake Rawls
Jake Rawls

Affects the Texans? Does this mean Arian Foster won't do well tomorrow?

Hugh Bishop
Hugh Bishop

It's just a couple of miles from my house. I have several friends in the area that have it running right behind their property line.

keystonelonestar
keystonelonestar

Conservative protecting private property rights by seizing private property?  Reminds me of how they make government smaller by passing laws that expand government power; how they spend less money by spending more money; how they discredit science by making shit up; and how they stop frivolous lawsuits by filing frivolous lawsuits against the NCAA.

Mudrake2
Mudrake2

Oh, please not again. When will you liberal scientific illiterate "journalists" stop tauting the discredited (by actual scientists without an agenda) man-made global warming. If you had half a brain, you would realize the contradictions in your story. First, the sands "crude" is so thick it poses little or no risk to anything. If it is being pumped at 150F to keep it "liquefied" what do you think will happen in event of a spill? I will immediately cool and turn into something akin to asphalt. Then bring out the front end loaders and shovel it up. I guess we are ringing our hands over all those asphalt roads criss crossing the state too? As an environmental consultant for 8 years and a geoscientist of some 33 years’ experience, I have seen enough enviro-hysteria to make me want to vomit. This is not about the environment, its about politics. These ass clown kids are nothing more than pawns and useless pawns at that. They have no lives and are seeking to bring some kind of meaning to their worthless existence. They undoubtedly moved to the unsuccessful occupy movement to this. They are a few missed meals or picket lines from being homeless. One man's protest is another man's criminal trespass. Barry's gambit to halt the pipeline is just another step in his attempt to cripple the US and its oil industry. Its okay to drill offshore Brazil but not here, why? It’s not the environment, its transfer of wealth.

WRUPPELT
WRUPPELT

@Hugh Bishop Hu is giving them the Permit, to Du what ever they ( Keystone ) want?

                          The property rights in Texas has been taking away by our so called

                           Law makers and Mr. not so smart Governor Perry! Or shall we say

                           the Tea Party of Texas!!!    

Mudrake2
Mudrake2

Turn Brazil into an oil exporting nation and we'll have to send more of our dollars their increasing their standard of living while slowly lowering ours. Biofuels gives him a hard on, not because it is green but because it puts money in his friends pockets. Biofuel production actually uses more fuel than it saves. If you knew how heat and fuel extensive distillation of alcohol is, you'd know that. The only way its economic is with government subsidies that would make you cry. So ethanol probably costs way more per gallon to produce than the gasoline it is purported to save. Americans are such scientific illiterates that this kind of nonsense is pushed right under their noses by their elected officials and they don't have a clue. It is really and truly pathetic. If the first oil discoveries made in Texas were done so today, they would undoubtedly would have been no Spindletop, East Texas Field, or Permian Basin. They would all have been protested into oblivion on environmental grounds. Do you see any lingering effects of those efforts back when oil ran on the ground like water when it was being produced?

poeducker
poeducker

@Mudrake2 You are stupid.  Global warming is gonna kill your grand kids dead.  The US & other industrialized countries have screwed off over global warming for so long it looks like it will  kill humanity dead.  Then the planet can hum along for several million years & try something new besides humans.  Serves us right.

 
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