Join the Blockade of the Keystone Pipeline
by Chris Hedges
Published on Monday, October 15, 2012 by TruthDig.com
The next great battle of the Occupy movement may not
take place in city parks and plazas, where the security
and surveillance state is blocking protesters from
setting up urban encampments. Instead it could arise in
the nation's heartland, where some ranchers, farmers
and enraged citizens, often after seeing their land
seized by eminent domain and their water supplies
placed under mortal threat, have united with Occupiers
and activists to oppose the building of the Keystone XL
tar sand pipeline. They have formed an unusual
coalition called Tar Sands Blockade (TSB). Centers of
resistance being set up in Texas and Oklahoma and on
tribal lands along the proposed route of this
six-state, 1,700-mile proposed pipeline are fast
becoming flashpoints in the war of attrition we have
begun against the corporate state. Join them.
The XL pipeline, which would cost $7 billion and whose
southern portion is under construction and slated for
completion next year, is the most potent symbol of the
dying order. If completed, it will pump 1.1 million
barrels a day of unrefined tar sand fluid from tar sand
mine fields in Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Tar sand
oil is not conventional crude oil. It is a synthetic
slurry that, because tar sand oil is solid in its
natural state, must be laced with a deadly brew of
toxic chemicals and gas condensates to get it to flow.
Tar sands are boiled and diluted with these chemicals
before being blasted down a pipeline at high pressure.
Water sources would be instantly contaminated if there
was a rupture. The pipeline would cross nearly 2,000
U.S. waterways, including the Ogallala Aquifer, source
of one-third of the United States' farmland irrigation
water. And it is not a matter of if, but when, it would
spill. TransCanada's Keystone I pipeline, built in
2010, leaked 12 times in its first 12 months of
operation. Because the extraction process emits such a
large quantity of greenhouse gases, the pipeline has
been called the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the
planet. The climate scientist James Hansen warns that
successful completion of the pipeline, along with the
exploitation of Canadian tar sands it would facilitate,
would mean "game over for the climate."
Keystone XL is part of the final phase of extreme
exploitation by the corporate state. The corporations
intend to squeeze the last vestiges of profit from an
ecosystem careening toward collapse. Most of the oil
that can be reached through drilling from traditional
rigs is depleted. The fossil fuel industry has, in
response, developed new technologies to go after
dirtier, less efficient forms of energy. These
technologies bring with them a dramatically heightened
cost to ecosystems. They accelerate the warming of the
planet. And they contaminate vital water sources.
Deep-water Arctic drilling, tar sand extraction,
hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) and drilling
horizontally, given the cost of extraction and effects
on the environment, are a form of ecological suicide.
Appealing to the corporate state, or trusting the
leaders of either party to halt the assault after the
election, is futile. We must immediately obstruct this
pipeline or accept our surrender to forces that, in the
name of profit, intend to cash in on the death throes
of the planet.
Nine protesters, surviving on canned food and bottled
water, have been carrying out a tree-sit for more than
two weeks to block the path of the pipeline near
Winnsboro, Texas. Other Occupiers have chained
themselves to logging equipment, locked themselves in
trucks carrying pipe to construction sites and hung
banners at equipment staging areas. Doug Grant, a
former Exxon employee, was arrested outside Winnsboro
when he bound himself to clear-cutting machinery.
Shannon Bebe and Benjamin Franklin, after handcuffing
themselves to equipment being used to cut down trees,
were tasered, pepper-sprayed and physically assaulted
by local police, reportedly at the request of
TransCanada officials. The actress Daryl Hannah, along
with a 78-year-old East Texas great-grandmother and
farmer, Eleanor Fairchild, was arrested Oct. 4 while
blocking TransCanada bulldozers on Fairchild's
property. The Fairchild farm, like other properties
seized by TransCanada, was taken under Texas eminent
domain laws on behalf of a foreign corporation. At the
same time, private security companies employed by
TransCanada, along with local law enforcement, have
been aggressively detaining and restricting reporters,
including a New York Times reporter and photographer,
who are attempting to cover the protests. Most of the
journalists have been on private property with the
permission of the landowners.
I reached climate activist Tom Weis nearly 1,000 miles
from the blockade, in the presidential battleground
state of Colorado by phone Friday. Weis is pedaling up
and down the Front Range, hand-delivering copies of an
open letter--signed by citizens, some of whom, like
Daryl Hannah, have been arrested trying to block the XL
pipeline--to Obama and Romney campaign offices. He has
been joined by indigenous leaders, including Vice
President of Oglala Lakota Nation Tom Poor Bear, and in
Denver by members of the Occupy Denver community.
Weis last fall rode his bright-yellow "rocket trike"--a
recumbent tricycle wrapped in a lightweight aerodynamic
shell--2,150 miles along the proposed Keystone XL
pipeline route. He was accompanied by Ron Seifert, now
a spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade. Weis'
"Keystone XL Tour of Resistance" started at the
U.S.-Canada border in Montana and ended 10 weeks later
at the Texas Gulf Coast. He recently produced a
15-minute video in which he interviewed farmers,
ranchers and indigenous leaders who live in the path of
"Keystone XL is being built as an export pipeline for
Canada to sell its dirty oil to foreign markets," he
said. "This is not about energy security; it's about
securing TransCanada's profits."
Weis cited a report commissioned by Cornell University
that concluded that the jobs estimates put forward by
TransCanada were unsubstantiated and that the project
could actually destroy more jobs than it created.
Barack Obama delayed, until after the election, a
decision on permitting the northern leg of the pipeline
after a series of civil disobedience actions led by
Bill McKibben's 350.org in front of the White House a
year ago, as well as fierce opposition from ranchers in
states such as Nebraska. The president, by announcing
the delay, put an end to the widespread protests.
Obama, however, flew to Cushing, Okla., in March to
call for the southern leg of the pipeline to be
fast-tracked. Standing in a pipeline yard, he said,
"I'm directing my administration to cut through the red
tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make
this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done."
Obama's rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, was no
less effusive in his support for Keystone XL, saying to
a Pittsburgh audience in May: "If I'm president, we'll
build it if I have to build it myself."
Grass-roots organizing along the proposed pipeline has
grown, especially as the project began to be put in place.
If completed, the 485-mile southern leg, from Cushing
to Nederland, Texas, would slice through major
waterways including the Neches, Red, Angelina and
Sabine rivers as well as the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer,
which provides drinking water for some 10 million
Texans. The southern section of the pipeline is now the
focus of the Tar Sands Blockade.
The invasive extraction of tar sands and shale
deposits, as well as deep-sea drilling in the Arctic,
Alaska, the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico,
has been sold to the U.S. public as a route to energy
independence, a way to create millions of new jobs and
a boost to the sagging economy, but this is another
corporate lie. The process of extracting shale oil
through hydraulic fracking, for example, requires
millions of gallons of chemically treated water that
leaves behind poisoned aquifers and huge impoundment
ponds of toxic waste. The process of extracting oil
shale, or kerogen, requires it to be melted, meaning
that tremendous amounts of energy are required for a
marginal return. The process of tar sand extraction
requires vast open pit mining operations or pumping
underground that melts the oil with steam jets. Tar
sand extraction also releases significantly more
greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil
drilling, meaning an acceleration of global warming.
Drilling in the Arctic, with its severe weather, costs
as much as half a billion dollars per well. These
processes are part of a desperate effort by
corporations to make profits before a final systems
collapse. Droughts are already sweeping the Midwest.
The battle between farmers and fossil fuel corporations
for diminishing water sources has begun. Yet our ruling
elite refuses to face the stark reality of climate
change. They ignore the imperative to find other ways
of structuring our economies and our relationship to
the environment. They myopically serve a doomed system.
And, if left unstopped, the cost for all of us will be
Weis, a former congressional staffer, expects the last
section of the pipeline to be authorized by the
president once the election is over.
"It is critical that people understand that completion
of the southern leg of Keystone XL--which President
Obama and Gov. Romney both fully support--would give
TransCanada a direct line from Alberta's landlocked tar
sands mine fields to refineries in Texas for export
overseas," Weis explained. "By tapping into Keystone I,
which has already been built, the southern leg of
Keystone XL would open the floodgates to tar sands
exploitation in Canada. At a time when the climate is
already dangerously destabilizing before our eyes, I
can't believe we're even having this conversation."
He described Obama's and Romney's "failure to stand up
to this corporate bully" as a "failure to defend
"It is unconscionable to put the interests of a
transnational corporation before the health, safety and
economic well-being of the American people," he said.
Weis sees the struggle to halt the Keystone XL pipeline
as a symbolic crossroads for the country and the
planet. One path leads, he said, toward decay. The
other toward renewal.
There comes a time when we must say to the ruling
elite: 'No more,' " he said. "There comes a time when
we must make a stand for the future of our children,
and for all life on Earth. That time is here. That time
is now." (c) 2012 TruthDig.com Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com.
Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was
for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The
New York Times. He is the author of many books,
including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What
Every Person Should Know About War, and American
Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of
Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.