August 29, 2012

Some North Texas environmentalists are standing up to the Keystone XL pipeline.

This month, construction began on the Gulf Coast leg of the controversial oil pipeline, which is being extended from Oklahoma through East Texas to Nederland near Houston.  TransCanada, the Canadian-based corporation that owns the Keystone pipeline system,  expects to be pumping crude oil, primarily from American producers in West Texas and Oklahoma, through the southern segment by the end of next year. 

However, the Denton-based group Rising Tide North Texas wants to halt their plans.  Rising Tide is part of an international organization fighting climate change, which launched in the Netherlands in 2000 and spread to the U.S. in 2006. When the Denton chapter formed in 2010, initially members focused on keeping fracking out of Denton and coal power off the University of North Texas campus. However, this spring, they joined forces with East Texas landowners, concerned residents and other activists to form a spin-off group, dubbed Tar Sands Blockade. Now, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is their primary goal.   

Cindy Spoon, a University of North Texas graduate who majored in international studies, said both groups grew from a circle of friends who were interested in a variety of causes.  “Denton has a great activist scene,” she said. “We realized that all of the issues were important, but if we lose the battle against the environment, we lose everything.”

In July, Rising Tide North Texas and Tar Sands Blockade organizers held a three-day training camp near Sulpher Springs, attended by more than 70 people, who learned techniques for non-violent resistance.  On Tuesday in Livingston, participants put their training to use when Tar Sands Blockade activists chained themselves to a truck carrying TransCanada pipe, shutting down progress for several hours. Seven activists were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Department for illegal trespassing.

According to Ron Seifert, spokesperson for Tar Sands Blockade, fighting the pipeline is not just about protecting the environment, it’s about protecting landowners’ constitutional rights.      In a recent Dallas Morning News article, Debra Medina, founder of We Texans, a Libertarian Tea Party group, said she found as many as 100 cases in Texas where landowners were forced to give up their property under eminent domain laws to TransCanada. In August, a judge ruled against Julia Crawford, the last landowner holding out against the company.

“The blockade is an expression of people who have spent years using every available avenue afforded to them and nothing has worked,” said Seifert.    
Garrett Graham, a member of Rising Tide North Texas and videographer for the Tar Sands Blockade, said despite reassurances from TransCanada that oil spills are rare, he says accidents are inevitable.  “When this pipeline spills, and we know it will, it’s going to be homeowners and landowners who’re going to suffer first,” he said

If the proposed segment of Keystone XL between Canada and Nebraska is approved by the U.S. State Department, the Texas pipeline would eventually carry the thick, sticky diluted bitumen extracted from the oil sands region in Canada, where the pipeline originates. The process of extraction of what's called tar sands has been criticized by environmental groups for its destructiveness to the environment.

The Sierra Club condemned the clear cutting of the boreal forest, a natural carbon sink, to make way for mining operations. While the National Federation for Wildlife voiced concern about animals displaced from their habitat and the hundreds of birds that have died from landing in oily tailing ponds where waste from the extracting process is stored.

In addition, NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has been an outspoken critic of the pipeline saying it prolongs the U.S.’ s oil addiction and will increase greenhouse gases.  Ron Siefert said there’s a growing movement nationwide, especially among youth, to take action against climate change. But opposition to the Keystone pipeline is bringing together people in Texas across all ages and party lines.

Graham added, “I think [the pipeline] will be stopped -- not with one blockade, but with a thousand blockades.”

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