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.

Tiny Reklaw itself couldn't get so much as an audience with the state and federal entities pulling the pipeline's strings, so Crawford pitched town leaders in nearby Gallatin and Alto on joining with Reklaw to form a sub-­regional planning commission, a governmental entity both the state and feds would have no choice but to recognize, even if it represented a population of only some 2,000. He found a sympathetic ear in Roberta Colkin, a nurse and member of the Gallatin town council.

"Nobody knows what's in this diluted bitumen. It is proprietary information," she told me on a recent afternoon at her home, built in a clearing in the pine woods. "We're close enough that if something happens, our local volunteer fire department will be called in." They don't have the training or the equipment to handle a spill, she says.

A response crew, the pipeline company says, should arrive at the scene of a spill within two hours, but Crawford and Colkin had seen no spill plan from the company.

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.

The problem is, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules dictating how extensive a pipeline's spill-response assets should be, and no laws outlining what kinds of leak detection and prevention measures pipeline operators should take. The Texas Railroad Commission, the state regulator, doesn't have that kind of authority over interstate pipelines. And the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which does, uses only "performance-based" guidelines. That means it is all left largely to TransCanada's good judgment. PHMSA's guidelines are the pipeline-safety equivalent of a "smiley face that says drive safely" in place of speed limits, says Carl Weimer of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The National Transportation Safety Board called PHMSA regulations "weak," "giving too much authority to the regulated."

What's more, diluted bitumen has never been piped in the volumes Keystone XL will import, yet no study has been completed on the potential wear and tear of the substance on pipelines. The National Academy of Science is conducting a review of existing literature, but it won't research diluted bitumen's toxicity, or its behavior in water when spilled. The industry disputes the idea that diluted bitumen is any different from other heavy crude oils, yet it is apparently distinct enough that it isn't subject to an excise tax like conventional crude.

Even if the odds of a spill were small, there were simply too many unanswered questions, too much that could not be replaced and too much at hazard. The Keystone XL will cross the nearby Angelina River twice. Something, town leaders said, had to be done.

But none of them had the money to mount a legal challenge to TransCanada, a corporation with assets valued at nearly $50 billion. Instead, they joined the Sierra Club in a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would issue permits for the southern section through Oklahoma and Texas. In June, they filed suit in an Oklahoma federal court. The streamlined approval process could not account for the East Texas wetlands that would be irrevocably altered by the pipeline, they argued. The EPA had said as much the year before. The agency sought to coordinate with the Corps to minimize the pipeline's footprint, but was apparently rebuffed. The president's executive order authorizing a speedy approval process had clearly been heeded.

The judge refused to grant an injunction. As the litigation continues in a federal appeals court, the machinery is already in motion, the pipeline's forward progress inexorable. Michels, a pipeline-construction company from Wisconsin, has set up a compound not far from Reklaw, down State Highway 204. Some 800 workers, half of them from Wisconsin, had 120 miles of pipe left to lay in early November. They expect to finish by summer 2013. Crawford's case hasn't even been scheduled yet.

"We just keep on fighting it," he said wearily. "That is all we can do."
_____________________

A diluted bitumen highway will bisect 64-year-old Mike Bishop's 20 acres in Douglass, a town of 500 bordered by the Angelina River in Nacogdoches County. The enthusiastically profane ex-Marine and retired chemist stalked across his property on a recent evening, smoldering. He gestured to the assorted scars his land bore — the partially bulldozed cane he was hoping to turn into biofuel; the fruit trees he's had to dig up; the clear-cut woods behind his tiny cabin. He still remembers waking up one night to a glowing in his back pasture. Piles of bulldozed wood, he said, were doused with diesel and still burning.

Since the day in 2008 when surveyors first showed up on his property unannounced, he says, impotent rage has eaten at him. "It's like something is happening to you, and you have no control over it." He ran the first surveyors off. TransCanada succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against him. The surveyors, he says, returned the same day, this time with a Houston lawyer and a sheriff's deputy. When they left, he didn't hear from them again for another year. Then they made him a low-ball offer to compensate him for the 36-inch pipeline they would soon bury through the middle of his land. "It was a fucking slap in the face."

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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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