Texas residents who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline were arrested after they chained themselves to pipeline construction equipment in Polk County on Tuesday.
The seven protesters, five men and two women, were trying to thwart the progress of the pipeline through Texas, the Southern leg of the 1,700 mile project that would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries near Houston. They oppose the pipeline because they believe it will be unsafe, violates landowners rights and could leak harmful chemicals onto farmland and aquifers.
Many of the protesters, part of the Tar Sands Blockade, also oppose the tar sands project because it will add to the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.
Police retained the protesters on charges of criminal trespassing and released them Wednesday morning, according to Tar Sands Blockade members, who began training in July to take action against the pipeline. (Read more about how and why the Tar Sands Blockade formed.)
TransCanada, operator of the transcontinental Keystone XL, says the project will employ several thousand Americans and the oil it will deliver is needed in the U.S. and elsewhere. Canada’s vast tar sands deposits, the largest in the world, are located near Calgary in Alberta. The tar sands oil uncovered in Calgary need to be shipped to either British Columbia or Houston, to refineries and shipping ports, to enter the world oil market.
Keystone XL has attracted many opponents because of its potential damage to the environment. They worry about the direct pollution from tar sands mining, which releases toxics and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as possible pipeline breaks, which could contaminate ground and water sources with thick bitumen, the mix of chemicals and heavy tar sands oil that will be send through the pipeline.
Last year, pipeline detractors converged by the hundreds in Washington D.C., staging a sit-in at the White House in August and September. The coalition of environmentalists opposed to Keystone XL, which included 350.org, Greenpeace and many other groups, asked the Obama Administration to reconsider whether it should approve the project.
In November, the State Department ordered a review of the portion of the pipeline running through Nebraska, to study claims that the route directly over the Ogallala Aquifer needlessly imperils that underground water source. The Ogallala is considered essential for irrigation and drinking water needs in Nebraska and other Great Plains states.
While a new route or possible cancellation stalled pipeline progress in Nebraska, the Southern leg of Keystone XL, inexplicably, was given the go-ahead.
Work began on that portion of the pipeline — from Cushing, Okla., the self-proclaimed “Pipeline Capital of the World”, to the Houston area — this month.
The Tar Sands Blockade was ready, raising signs of protest at various construction staging grounds. On Tuesday, several members took the protest to a new level, handcuffing themselves to the underside of a pipe-carrying truck. Police were called and spent about two hours detaching and then detaining the demonstrators, according to news reports.
The blockade describes itself as “a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma landowners and climate organizers using peaceful and sustained civil disobedience to stop the construction of Keystone XL.”
“The blockade is an expression of people who have spent years using every available avenue afforded to them, and nothing has worked,” said Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert in a news release. “The urgency of this crisis is galvanizing supporters who understand that doing nothing involves a greater risk than taking action.”
Denny Hook, a protester who’s also a minister, explains why he’s opposing Keystone XL in this video.