Along the Pipeline
July 12, 2012
A quarter inch of rain fell on this thirsty ground last night as I camped on the shore of Pelican Lake, hardly enough to settle the dust. I’m in South Dakota, on my way to follow the route of the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s not as hot or dry here as back home in Kentucky, or in the state I drove through the last few days. The corn is shriveled in Indiana, and worse in Illinois, with brown spots in some fields. Market reports tell of soybeans at record prices and corn selling for over seven dollars a bushel. Crop reports list wide percentages of “poor” and “very poor” in several Midwest states. But things looked better in Iowa and Minnesota. Iowa is its usual summer ocean of corn, just beginning to tassel, and it looks fairly good for a bad year. In eastern North Dakota, where the drought has not reached, the cornfields are a dark healthy green. A man with a quarter section of healthy corn can make some real money in a year like this.
I spent the day yesterday with a farming family in North Dakota: Paul, Tammy, and Elijah Mathews. They have a beautiful new home on a low hill overlooking 2000 acres of corn and soybeans – and, to their chagrin, overlooking the TransCanada Keystone 1 pipeline. The pipe itself is 4 feet below ground, but the scars it has left on their lives remain on the surface. This is a 30” tar sands pipeline, built in 2008. Its diameter is 6 inches smaller than the proposed XL, but the patterns of land acquisition, construction, and operation are the same. It is already pumping Canadian tar sands into the American economy. It showed up at the Matthew’s home like a bolt of lightning. An agent for TransCanada came to their front door in early 2007, without notice, and spread out a map on their table showing the Keystone 1 pipeline going right through their living room!
“We didn’t know anything about pipelines, crude oil, or tar sands.” Paul said. “We were shaken. They took us totally by surprise. They wanted us to sign right away, right then. People who didn’t sign were threatened with eminent domain. They acted like there was no choice – it was going to happen anyway, so why go to all the trouble of resisting?” At first, they wanted to move the right-of-way from right through the Matthew’s house to 150 feet away. But North Dakota law requires a pipeline right-of-way to be at least 500 feet from a house, so the company offered Paul and Tammy money to sign a waiver. But they didn’t sign. “When I think of pipeline rupture, I think of a flame shooting fifty feet into the air,” Paul said. “The thought of that next to my house kept me up at night.” Sitting there listening to Paul, I wondered why the state would allow a waiver if their own law required 500 feet. The company threatened condemnation, but Paul and Tammy held out, and the pipeline ended up a full 1500 feet from their house.
But the issue is not over for them. The water table is high in this part of the state, and chemicals leaking from a pipeline can travel long distances before seeping into well water. “Every time we draw water out of the faucet we wonder, ‘is there benzene in it or isn’t there?’ That’s a fear they have thrust on me. I belong to a communal society in North Dakota that respects other people as equals: you’re a human, just like me, we can handshake, and you wouldn’t put me in such a position just because you have the power to do so. Corporate greed – that’s a whole new realm for me to deal with: But let me tell you, there is a such thing as corporate greed. I didn’t know what that meant before. I’m God-fearing, and when I go to heaven I don’t expect to see any of these major corporations there.”
When I asked him what it was like to suddenly become a critic of corporate America, he replied that he considered himself something of an “accidental activist.” “But who was more of an activist than Christ?” “When all the dust settled,” he went on, “Tammy and I decided we needed to put a voice to what had happened to us. When Nebraska called, we went, (Paul testified during the Nebraska legislative session) and when the Montana people called, we talked to them.” But Paul is lukewarm on environmentalism in general. “Unfortunately, I don’t think environmentalism is going to work in American society where we judge everything in a financial decision mode. There’s not enough money behind it.” The other problem he sees with environmentalism is the environmentalists themselves. They get too wrapped up in extreme issues, like saving snails and lizards. “This is where environmentalism can get injured. If you’re trying to range out too far you can get attacked. When you start talking about big things like the climate, that’s too far from my reality. I don’t want to think about it.”
Tammy walked in at that point, and I asked her the same questions.
“We just felt we needed to speak out. We couldn’t just lie down and let it happen. That’s what TransCanada wanted us to do: just sign the papers. They wouldn’t listen to us. How can they do this to us? They were telling us how everything was going to happen. We had no voice; they didn’t listen to anything we said, and we were supposed to take whatever they gave us. We decided to stand up. It was all planned out: they picked up the senior citizens and absentee landowners first: then they could say ‘all your neighbors have already signed. You might as well, too.’”
But I sensed Tammy had a slightly different take on what had happened. “Has this all changed how you understand things like climate change and environmental protection?” I asked.
“When we first got into this,” she answered, “We were thinking about our rights as property owners. Then, after we got into it for a while, we started thinking, ‘What is flowing through this pipeline?’ Then I heard about what is happening to the land in Alberta. I’ve become a lot more aware now. There really is a huge planet issue and a fossil fuel consumption issue that we have to face in this country. We would have paid no attention to any of this without the pipeline.”
“Tammy took us all to Washington.” Paul added. “We went to a protest last November and stood in front of the White House.”
“350, Bill McKibben’s organization, was doing this civil disobedience thing last August,” Tammy continued. “I had a lot of ‘get go’ in me then. I thought that would be great to go to, but the timing was all wrong for us in August. So we went in November, without son, Elijah, to surround the White House, reminding Obama what his campaign promises were on the environment. That was a big event for us: thousands of people were there. But I felt like I missed an opportunity not going in August. I’ve never been arrested for anything, I’m kind of a quiet, shy person, but I really wanted to do it. I wanted our son to experience the feeling of putting yourself out there for something you believe it.”
I complemented her for going that far out of her way to show the world what she was beginning to see. But there was a dark side to her growing awareness. “The oil and gas companies are so powerful and influential: I kind of think they’re running the world. I have read books that predict an apocalypse. It’s sort of prophetic. It’s a very dark future. I think there will be an apocalypse.” I told her that it can look that way to me sometimes, but that I see the future as a challenge and an opportunity for creativity.
After lunch, Paul and I drove a few miles down the road to visit a neighbor, Bob Bondurant. One morning last spring Bob saw for himself what Paul and Tammy, and everyone else along the pipeline most feared. “I saw it first,” Bob’s daughter piped in. Meagan was out early in the morning, bleary eyed, feeding her calf. “I saw this thing spraying up over the trees. I knew what it was.”
“There was no mistaking what it was,” Bob added. “Those cottonwood trees are a mile and a half away, just behind the pumping station. It was way up above them. I would have guessed it was a stream about the size of a fence post, but it was a ¾ inch fitting that had ruptured. They later said the pipeline was pumping 1100 pounds of pressure. I called the emergency number and told them what I saw, and they put me on hold for about four minutes. That was one of the longest four minutes in my life.”
It’s a good thing Meagan and Bob caught it as soon as they did. The line had been leaking for about a half hour, and it took ten minutes to shut the pumps down. “We heard the pumps stop. We can hear them from here. But the plume of oil kept spurting for ten minutes after that.”
About 20,000 gallons leaked into the containment area at the pumping station and onto an adjoining field. A small amount flowed into a pond nearby. The first cleanup crew arrived five hours later.
“There was not enough of a pressure drop for them to detect it electronically,” Bob said. “Somebody had to see it, and there’s nobody there most of the time. If we hadn’t seen it when we did, it would have leaked for hours, maybe days or weeks. This could easily have been a major disaster. People don’t realize how fragile this pipeline is.”
The spillage added fuel to Bob and Paul’s concern about what the pipeline could do to their property and their homes. “I am changing my mind,” Bob said, after a pause. “I probably wasn’t a big global warming person before. Now I’m starting to consider the possibility a lot more. It’s changed me. Even in the local community, some of our neighbors look at Paul and me and start saying, ‘Oh, they’re talking pipeline again,’ but this whole thing has changed how I understand what is going on.”
Bob added, “Our story is going to mirror what happens on the Keystone XL.”
As we finished up, I asked both Bob and Paul how they would react to the possibility of civil disobedience actions along pipeline. “It won’t happen in North Dakota,” I assured them, “But it may happen in Texas and Nebraska.” There was a long, North Dakota pause.
“It wouldn’t be me,” Bob said, “I would admire their tenacity, and it would depend on what they were doing, but I can’t see them doing it for air quality or the climate. I could see it if they were defending their homes.”
“What if they were defending their home in the larger sense?” I asked.
Paul thought for a minute. “For the general population, getting arrested because it’s getting hot out might not go over well. Bob and I might appreciate that kind of effort, but our neighbors likely would not.”
I was not a bit surprised by this. When you’re talking climate, you’re talking worldview. You’re talking big picture. The big picture comes from church, from community and upbringing. There are always politicians, preachers, tree-huggers and talk show hosts trying to get in on your worldview, for their own reasons – some for votes and profit, some for do-gooder causes. But you don’t want to get pulled back and forth by the latest fashions in religion, science, and political ideology. You don’t change your worldview if the world you see around you does not change; you don’t take anybody else’s word for what is real. You have to see it for yourself. Without a full vision of the purpose of human life on Earth, changing a worldview can be a very scary, dark, and threatening proposition. We do not have a full vision of the purpose of human life on Earth.
I was flicking through channels on the road today, trying to find something worth listening as I drove through the wheat fields of northern South Dakota. I’ve been taking the back roads, avoiding interstate and avoiding my usual listening habits (NPR). I chanced upon a Christian station with a preacher describing a gathering of “over a thousand” young Muslim-Americans somewhere in Wisconsin. “This is a religion that teaches that Allah is the only God and that God has no son. It demands so much of one’s individual life and commitment that it persuades young people to strap explosives to their body and detonate them in a crowd.”
There is a long way to go.
July 13, 2012.
I drove southwest across the Missouri this afternoon into the prairie lands of South Dakota. It’s much drier here than in the eastern Dakotas. There’s more wheat, hay, sorghum, and pasture here, and less corn. John Harter, a landowner near Colome SD, has several hundred acres of each. The Keystone XL will cross through the middle of his homestead acreage along the northern edge of the Ogallala aquifer. “This place has a lot of meaning for me,” John said. “See that old homestead there? My brother and I used to fight over who would sleep next to the wall. It was so cool in the summer time next to that stone wall.”
“My father had this land, and my grandfather before him. We’ve had it since the thirties. If that pipeline leaks on my property, it’s done. It’s junk. Once that oil gets into this sandy soil and starts moving, I’ve got nothing left. The land is worth around $1000 an acre, and I have 280,000 acres, and they wonder why I won’t sign off on it for $13,000! I’ve asked bankers ‘Would you do that? They said, ‘No, it doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.’ But none of them will stand up for me, either.”
“If the pipeline goes through, the outcome of this is going to get scary. When it starts spilling and leaking and people start getting sick… It seems like a dark hole I’m looking from, but we know these pipelines leak, and they’re gonna’ leak, and they know they’re going to. We’ve put everything we’ve got into this place and now somebody is coming to take it away from us. In my mind they might as well be taking it away, because to me, it’s going to be worthless.”
John has a strong sense of preservation for the land and water, and for passing down to the next generation what has been given him. He wants to keep it in the family, and keep it healthy and beautiful. He also has a strong sense of living in the heartland of America. “A big share of our community is built on rural people. The people in rural America have been a pawn of the government for a long time. The Keystone people are trying to make this an energy security issue. But I think it’s a security risk. They’re running this pipeline down the center of the US. This is our stronghold area; this is our safety zone. We’re 1500 miles from every coast. We’ve got water; we can raise food, and they want to put what I consider a terrorist target out here. Water and food – those are the two things we need to live, so I think this is a matter of national security.”
John knows the climate has changed, but he’s not ready to blame it on fossil fuel consumption. “I know how the climate has been just since I was a kid. We used to have 5, 6, 10-foot snow banks every winter. This year we didn’t have any. I think we are in climate change. I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s causing it. I’m kind of skeptical about whether these scientists are honest. I don’t know if anybody is honest anymore, after what I’ve been through with these TransCanada people. It takes your faith out of having a decent system.”
I asked him if he gets any support from the community. “Some people agree with me, but they won’t stand with me. I kind of understand – if this wasn’t going through my land I wouldn’t be so worked up about it.” When I asked him what he’s going to do about it he answered, “They’re taking me through eminent domain court in November. You can’t go in thinking you’re going to win, but you’ve got to give it your best shot. What really gets me is, I own this land, I pay taxes on it, and I have to prove that they don’t have the right to it, instead of them having to prove that they do have the right to it. The burden of proof is on me!” Then I asked about civil disobedience. “When you have all your rights taken away from you, you don’t have a lot of power. They’re going to have to put me in jail. Civil disobedience is basically what I’m doing now. I got people that will go out there with me, mostly native Americans.”
John is deeply wounded by this sudden intrusion into his world. “The worst thing I’ve ever had happen to me is watching my mother die from cancer, but this is worse in a way, because there was an ending to that.” He is an emotional person. He cares, and does not want to be left alone in defense of what was his from the beginning. He’s a fighter, and a believer. We are likely to hear from him again.
“They will be judged for this sin when their judgment day comes. I truly believe that, because it would drive you nuts if you didn’t have something bigger than yourself to get you through this. Who knows what God’s plan is, but this paints a blacker picture for me.”
“I think this is a time in human history when we are being tested.” I said. “I don’t think there’s a plan to the test. We’re not going to fit into something preconceived. We have minds; we have spirit, we have eyes to see.”
“That’s why God gave us free will.”
“Exactly. The plan is for us to make the plan. To do that, we have to see clearly what is happening. Not what anyone says is happening, but what we see happening. And to do that we have to clear our minds of the distortions money gives to how we think.”
“Yes. We have to clear our minds to the fact that money is not the issue. My wife Tammy and I decided that a long time ago.”
Along the Pipeline: July 16, 2012
July 17, 2012
1016 counties in 26 states were declared a natural disaster last Thursday by the US Department of Agriculture. Parts of the Midwest have seen the driest conditions since 1988, but what distinguishes this drought is its geographic expanse: over one half the entire country, mostly in the southern states. Of the areas I have driven through on this trip, only Indiana and Illinois are in the declared area. Nebraska is not. The wheat crop here is mostly in, the corn looks pretty good, especially where irrigated, but the hay looks like amber waves of grain. But it’s not grain; it’s grass, and supposed to green. Crossing the Platte River two days ago I noticed it was completely dry. The state has banned any further irrigation from surface waters and there are no reports of significant rainfall in the forecast.
A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ties extreme weather events such as prolonged heat waves and drought to the broader implications of climate change. The past 12 months have been the warmest on record in the US since the National Climatic Data Center began recording temperatures in 1895.[i] I will be driving into some of the states most affected by the drought later this week and next week.
I have mentioned several times in this book that I belong to a small, informal group in Louisville that participates, and often initiates, climate-related actions on both the local, national, and even global level. We have no dues, no membership list, no staff, no budget, and no regular meetings or programs. We just do things as they come up. We don’t even have a name, or at least we did not at first. We called ourselves the Louisville Earth Affinity Group (LEAG) for a while, but ended up with 350 Louisville, as many of our actions coordinate closely with the distinctly global organization, 350.org. In 2009 we went to DC to shut down the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant and later that year, as part of a global event, organized a large “350” human formation on the Great Lawn in downtown Louisville. On October 10, 2010, we put together a 10-10-10 renewable energy workday that included a solar installation that I directed, and in 2011 we organized another think-global-act-local 350 event, “Moving Planet.” This last May we did a 350 “Connect the Dots” event at the Kentucky Derby. We also go to hearings on Mountain Top Removal and coal ash pollution. The informal approach in our group avoids the burden of keeping the organization itself going, and allows us to enjoy each other while we are making a difference in the world. We like being together. Sometimes we just party. Being together and knowing each other well serves an important purpose in building solidarity when we do things. Last August, when we to DC for the White House sit-in, we gave each other emotional support as we stepped into the great unknown of bodily arrest. We are teachers, musicians, dentists, carpenters, nutritionists, solar installers, and nurses. Some of us are old enough to be retired. We are not hard-core politicos. Individually, we belong to the Sierra Club, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the National Audubon Society, Move-On, and the Kentucky Solar Energy Society. We are ordinary people who sense the Earth slipping away beneath our feet and who feel compelled to take action. We have hope.
There are lots of ways to organize, but I think this is an especially good model for environmental action in the coming years. It is nearly identical to what a group in Lincoln, Nebraska is doing. I came to their meeting last Saturday. They have no official name, and usually refer to themselves as “the coalition,” “the group,” or “350.” A dozen or so people showed up at Mary Pipher’s house with snacks, wine bottles, and covered dishes. After a half hour of small talk, Adam Hintz reported on his outreach film presentations in small towns around Lincoln, Aubrey Streit-Krug told of her work helping with Mary’s writing, Ken Winston spoke of the latest on the legislative front, I reported on my experiences in the Dakotas, and Mary read the introduction from her new book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, due to come out over the winter, just before this one. (If you’ve just bought this book, go back and buy hers, too.) Her book is about the dynamics of this small group and the larger coalition that includes Bold Nebraska, the Sierra Club, the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Audubon Nebraska, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraskans for Peace, and University environmental groups. It chronicles their struggles with the Keystone XL pipeline. Mary has written several other important books, including the best seller: Reviving Ophelia.
A key phrase I found in Mary’s manuscript (She let me have a peek) is “…relationships always trump agenda.” She goes on to say “In fact, what I came to realize from my work with the coalition is that in individuals, families, communities, cultures, and even on earth itself, nothing good and beautiful lasts unless it is grounded in loving, interconnected relationships.” That sums up the group, and Mary. She lives as she says. I spoke with her at length after the meeting.
“The politics in this country are dead. If we wait for politicians or international bodies or corporations to make changes, it will never happen. The world will be gone. The only way a democracy exists is when you create it every day. There’s no way going to a voting booth gives people democracy. What gives people democracy is participating in a very engaged way in the decisions of the day. Democracy isn’t just voting; it’s making decisions locally about resources, about land and water.” When I asked her how the legislature could be so overwhelmingly in favor of the pipeline with so much local and national opposition to it she answered “TransCanada gave our legislators over $800,000, over $600,000 of it in the form of entertainment. They were giving each legislator $42,000 in “entertainment!” What does that mean? What are they doing with all that money? The people who actually have pure spirits and the common good in mind are almost never elected, and if they are, they don’t last long.”
The members of the group decided never to have a meeting where anybody left without something to do. “You deal with a lot of information – upsetting information – it’s very depressing if you have no way to act. I’m a worrier, but if I act, I let it go. I can go on being happy. We have all felt impotence, despair, sorry, rage, confusion. If each of us feels those emotions individually, we’re whipped. But when we come together and realize we are all feeling this, there is an immediate catalytic energy, an immediate power. If someone has and idea, there are other people who want to hear it. If you think you have power; you have power, because you start acting like you have power. It’s so simple to empower people; all you do is say ‘I think your idea is great, why don’t you go for it.’ It’s like giving someone who’s thirsty a glass of water.”
Mary is always helping people through the heartache of witnessing the ecological destruction of mother Earth, and soothing her own spirit in the process. And she is a good judge of character. “We all know each other pretty well by now. We know strengths and weaknesses and who would do what. When we go to speak, my venue is the university, or the Unitarian Church. If it’s speaking to ranchers, we want Randy Thompson to go. He looks like John Wayne – he can really talk to those people. One thing everybody knows about me it I always think a lot more people are going to show up at events than actually do. I’ll think, “This is such a great thing we have planned; 500 people are going to show up!” and only 50 do.”
“Churchill said something like ‘Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of optimism.’ That’s us. No matter what happens we just keep working, we keep showing up. That’s the most important thing: just keep working! The opposition never goes away, but they never wear us down. What keeps us from being worn down is having a really strong social network, a lot of validating each other. I have a vehicle here to hold my own anguish; something bigger than me. If all the pain I felt about the world stayed in me, it would be too much. This has been a way for me to put that pain into the care of a loving group of people. This has been a transcendent experience. The people who are most depressed are the people who know the most about the situation and don’t do anything. Others are in denial. But what makes me a happy person is feeling I have a sense of agency and control. This group is one way I can do that.
Then I asked Mary what was likely to happen when the construction begins. “The place to take a stand is in your home, you environment, in your land: It’s in Nigeria, its in Kentucky, it’s in Pennsylvania, it’s everywhere. We feel part of people everywhere. We in Nebraska are at the hub of the universe; but so is everyone else! If this pipeline goes through, I think there will be an enormous amount of organized civil disobedience all the way from Alberta to Texas. And I think our group will be the organizers of that in our state. In most cases, you get the usual suspects to show up, but this one is going to be everyone. Not everyone is going to lie down in front of a digger, but we’re going to have walks across the state, demonstrations, and dramatic events. We don’t know now what we’re going to do. It doesn’t make sense to plan too far in advance. You’re much better off having a tight team that works well together. Whenever something happens they can come together quickly. I would certainly be willing to be arrested for this. I think thousands of people would be willing.”
“Well, maybe hundreds.”
I caught up later with several others in the group. Aubrey Streit-Krug is in her late twenties and a graduate student in Great Plains culture. She is currently learning a Siouan dialect that very few people are still able to speak. She heard about the group through helping Mary with the Green Boat manuscript.
“I haven’t been part of an organized group like this before. It’s exciting to meet people who share similar interests with me. I grew up in north central Kansas where my parents were dry land farmers (without irrigation). We grow wheat, not corn. Maybe a little for silage, but it’s not a commodity crop for us.”
“Having just driven through Indiana, Illinois, the Dakotas, and eastern Nebraska,” I noted, “I saw full sections, full square-mile fields of corn. I don’t think we need any more corn.”
“I’m actually quite interested in corn, as a crop for indigenous people, and I’m interested in the different varieties they grew.”
When I asked her about how she likes the dynamics within the group she was upbeat. “What I like about the coalition is its informal nature – it’s social, it’s organic. They’re willing to shift interest and involvement depending on who’s in the group, depending on what’s exciting, what abilities they bring, and what they’re willing to do. It’s fun, and a lot less intimidating than joining a formal organization. I can miss a meeting and that’s OK. Mary invited me the first time – when somebody you already know invites you to come, that’s a little different. I would have a hard time going if I didn’t know anyone. There’s spontaneity; you don’t feel like there’s a to-do list. And it’s inter-generational. I find that very rewarding. Whenever you can get people in their twenties involved with really experienced people, that can be powerful.”
“We didn’t have that when we were in our twenties.” I said. “The older generation couldn’t understand us. “What did we do wrong? You come from good families, we gave you everything you could want, why are you turning it down?’ We would have benefited from more intergenerational contact.”
When I asked her what motivated her interest in the pipeline issue she said, “I feel a strong sense of responsibility and commitment to the Great Plains region. I don’t mean that in the abstract. I have places and people I know and love that drive my academic work and my teaching. I want to learn and be useful, and taking action keeps you going.”
Ken Winston is the group exert on the state legislature. By profession, he’s a policy advocate for the Nebraska Sierra Club and spends a long of time at the capitol building. His story is important because it was Nebraska that alerted the nation to the perils of the Keystone pipeline, and people like Ken who alerted Nebraska.
“It goes back to the Gulf oil spill in April, 2010. Nobody was paying much attention to the XL here, but all of a sudden people started thinking, ‘There’s oil in that pipeline, and it could spill out.’ Senator Ken Haar, a real hero for us, asked me what questions to ask TransCanada in their application to the legislature. Then, later on that year there were oil spills in Michigan and the Yellowstone River in Montana. That got people thinking.”
“Jim Pipher (Mary’s husband) had written a piece about the pipeline in the paper, and I had heard that Mary was interested in the issue, so I joined this group. We decided to have a citizens hearing on May 12, 2011 at the state capitol. Mary and Randy Thompson spoke. About 100 people showed up. That same day the legislature passed a bill requiring complete reclamation of the pipeline right-of-way. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a small victory. Then Senator Haar got 21 state senators to sign a letter to Secretary of State Clinton saying they did not want the pipeline running through the Sand Hills. In May there was the leak in the Keystone 1 in North Dakota (the one at the pumping stattion near Bob Bonderant’s house), so things were happening. Haar called me up and asked if I liked the idea of a special session of the legislature for the purpose of moving the route out of the Sand Hills. The Sand Hills is something very valuable and very vulnerable. It’s huge: the largest fresh water aquifer in the northern hemisphere, all fresh, clean water, I’ve been told it has as much water as Lake Erie, and it’s very close to the surface. It’s very important to Nebraskans, but nobody thought we would ever really get a special session. So we wrote letters to the editor, held art exhibits and rock concerts. Bold Nebraska organized a “Shine the light on (Governor) Heineman” event at the governors mansion. There were around 700 people with flashlights shining on the mansion, urging him to call the special session. The Apple Pie brigade, several grandmotherly ladies in our group, brought cookies to the governor every week with a little message about calling the special session.”
In March a dozen Nebraskans went to DC and spoke to the EPA and the state Department. “We asked to have a supplemental environmental impact statement, which they gave us! This would require hearings in September. The demonstrations at the White House happened in August before the hearings, and brought a lot of national attention to the issue. Nebraskans were arrested there, (including Nancy Packard, who was at the meeting at Mary’s house.) The Dalai Lama and several Nobel laureates wrote letters opposing the pipeline. On the last day of August – I have never have quite understood this – Gov Heineman wrote a letter to President Obama opposing the pipeline because of its route through the Sand Hills. I think he had some big donors who were landowners along the pipeline. We still didn’t think we would get a special session, but the State Department hearings in Lincoln and Stewart Nebraska were huge. 1200 people were at the one here in Lincoln. My daughter spoke there. I wrote in my blog that day ‘The last week has made me more proud than ever to be a Nebraskan.’”
“So, momentum was building, and there was all this focus on what’s happening with the pipeline, and a barrage of messages were saying we needed the special session. We still didn’t think it would happen, but the Governor called it suddenly at a press conference in October. That was a victory for us.”
“The Special Session started Nov 1. There’s a convergence of national and local events. Right as bills were being introduced the “Hands around the White House” event took place in Washington. It was crazy, but I went to DC – right in the middle of the Special Session – but I had to go. It was too important. I came back to Nebraska and hearings started the next day. On our local television station we heard Obama say “We can’t sacrifice our water for a few jobs,” which was exactly our message. It was exciting to hear my words come out of Barrack Obama’s mouth! Then the State Department announced it would delay its decision for a year in order to evaluate the Sand Hills route!”
“The special session hearings were overwhelmingly in favor of moving the pipeline out of the Sand Hills, but TransCanada was not giving an inch. During the debate one of the leading senators asks me to come to his office, wanting to make a deal. I thought he was going to chew me out for something I had said. But they wanted to make a deal. All the pipeline regulations we had come up with would not apply to the Keystone XL, but they would take the pipeline out of the Sand Hills. So we thought, all right, we’ll take the deal. The downside is there was nothing official defining what constitutes the Sand Hills.”
“Then, during the regular session of the legislature this last January, they came up with disappointing bill known as LB1161, which basically stated that the governor would approve the pipeline, there would be an environmental quality review, and TransCanada would have the right to use eminent domain. But this would apply only to TransCanada. It passed 44 votes to 5. This undid much of what we had accomplished in the special session. We’re claiming now that it’s unconstitutional because it is “special legislation” that applies only to one legal entity.”
“So, overall, we won round one of the Keystone XL battle, but they’re coming back at us.“
When I asked Ken what was likely to happen if and when the pipeline is approved, he said, “Maybe we will get to a point where there is civil disobedience or worse, but right now I don’t want to go there, I want to think in terms of how we stop it through the legal process. It’s like Kung Fu: we take the opponent’s mass and we allow them to damage themselves. They’re very prone to overreact – to using sledgehammers to kill flies. So I thing we have to exhaust all our legal procedures. I’m hoping we get to the point where mining the tar sands is as unacceptable as apartheid in South Africa.
A12 Adam Hintz, KZUM(.org) radio, Lincoln “Earth to Lincoln” program, Meadowlark Café.
B01 Aubrey Streit-Krug
B02,03 Ken Winston, policy advocate, Nebraska Sierra Club
Governor Hineman writes letter to Obama opposing pipeline, Aug 31, 2011
State Department hearings Nov 2011
Special Session nov 2011
LB1161 Jan 19, 2012
Along the Pipeline
July 17, 2012
It’s another scorcher here in Lincoln. It will be 100 degrees today, with a 30% chance of showers, but there is no other rain in the forecast for the next ten days, and temperatures will range from the nineties to one hundred.
A crop expert on the PBS News Hour said last night that draught and heat stress during the tassel stage of the corn crop limits the number of grains pollinated, so there is no chance of recovery later in the season no matter what the weather does. But he said that Americans probably would not experience much difference in food prices because so much of the retail cost of food is in packaging, transportation, and advertising. Only a small portion of what we spent at the grocery store ends up with the farmer, so when commodity prices go up, we don’t feel much of a bump. Americans can afford to buy up the whole crop, which will push up food prices all over the world. The people who do feel the bump are the poor in other parts of the world. When half of a family’s budget in Africa pays for food, and world food prices double, the entire family budget pays for food.
July 18, 2012
Randy Thompson is the public face of Bold Nebraska, literally. There are bigger-than-life fiberboard statues at stores and Coffee shops around town showing Randy the Republican Rancher in his big cowboy hat with the words: I STAND WITH RANDY printed boldly across the middle. He’s tall and white-haired. Mary says he looks like John Wayne, but his manner is more Andy Griffith. He’s not only the poster boy; he speaks well in public and speaks well to the farming public who most need to hear him. He’s famous for phrases like “Water is clean or dirty, it’s not red or blue.” He has been in Washington several times for demonstrations at the White House and to testify at the State and the Energy departments. I caught up with him just outside of Lincoln.
“This is the biggest issue that’s come along in our state for a long time,” He began. “TransCanada ran ads at a Huskers football game and they got booed out. Their land agents act like ‘We’re coming through whether you like it or not.’ They gave us thirty days to accept an offer before threatening eminent domain procedures. This intimidated a lot of people. The way Trans Canada has treated people is not the way we do business in Nebraska. They go to county boards and offer to build something at the fairgrounds or buy baseball uniforms or something – bribery, basically. A lot of people just accept their trinkets – We all know how it worked out for the Indians.”
“How did your neighbors react when you took a stand?”
“I get a lot of support. At cattle auctions a lot of guys come and say ‘hang in there, we believe in what you’re doing.’”
“I know your primary interest is landowner rights, but does the climate issue figure into what you do?”
“Climate change is a newfound awareness for me. Up until I got involved in this whole thing I never thought too much about it. I always took care of the land, not overgraze, and that kind of thing. I didn’t think too much about the environment in general, but when I saw what they’re doing up there with the tar sands in Canada and all, I began to see the potential disasters we could have here with our rivers and streams. Yeah, it made me think about it.”
“Does the word environmentalist still bother you?”
“No! I’ve come to admire them!”
“We’re not all communists, then.”
“Yeah, (laughs). Some people say we’re being manipulated by Bold Nebraska – as if we couldn’t think for ourselves.”
“The climate is what’s motivated a lot of us outsiders to pay attention to what you folks are doing in Nebraska. It’s what has put us behind you in your work.”
“That’s true. I’m just thankful as hell that we’ve got environmentalist taking a stand with us. If we the people don’t stand up, who’s going to? For me it started out as an individual thing, but when I started finding out about this whole tar sands thing, my opposition became a lot more than just because it’s coming across my land. But property rights is still a key issue for me.”
“What about what we’re experiencing here this summer? We’ve had draughts before, but this one is bigger in scope than what has happened before.”
“I personally think climate change is real.”
“What do you think things will be like around here when construction begins?”
“It will be very interesting. (Laughs.) There are a lot of folks pretty upset about this. They may make a physical protest. I’m not talking shooting people, but a protest. A bunch of us went to the DC in November for the ‘Hands Around the White House.’ John Harter (South Dakota) was there and we got to talking: how it affects you. I mean I was getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning – couldn’t sleep. And he was going through the same thing. I talked to Paul Mathews, too. Same thing happened to him. I mean, it wears on you. I don’t know, we might have 50,000 people at the border in Montana. I’d make a stand.
“I wasn’t there in November, but I went in August.”
”Did you get arrested?”
“Good for you.”
“And I don’t even live here.”
“Well, this is a whole lot bigger than just Nebraska.”
“But you guys are on the front line. You’re the ones who brought it to national attention. You’re organized.”
“What about civil disobedience?” I went on. “If it was done well, if people were polite, gentle. How would it feel to you if people came here from the outside?”
“I’m not in favor of that. I don’t think the people of Nebraska would accept that; we can fight our own fight. I don’ want you to think we don’t appreciate the support, but people in Nebraska are going to listen to other Nebraskans…. But, you know,” He paused, with a laugh and a grin, “When it comes down to the point of construction we might need all the help we can get! Come on down! Sam!” He laughed out loud.
As I got up to leave and shake his hand, the last thing he said was, “You know, this really grates my soul.”
Joe Moller owns 88 acres west of Lincoln that looked to Trans Canada like a nice place to put a pipeline. He wore a baseball hat and jeans, and spoke in a slow, deep, thoughtful voice. The land came from his parents, and will pass on to his kids and grandkids. He leases out part of it for grazing, but it’s mostly a weekend getaway for the family. It has a beautiful clear water lake for fishing and swimming, and has become the center of extended family life. Joe’s daughter Kim is passionate about saving it from the environmental uncertainties of the XL pipeline. Both are members of Bold Nebraska.
Joe worked for Northern Natural Gas, a regional company that got bought out by Enron. “Lost two thirds of my pension,” he quipped. “But that’s another story.
“I know about pipelines – they leak. They might not leak for several years, but they leak. Tar sands oil is corrosive and abrasive. It’s not like natural gas. They get a lot of the sand out before it goes in the line, but they don’t get it all. That silicate will scrape the inside of the pipe. It’s abrasive and corrosive, too. Up in Canada they have these gigantic shovels that mine the tar sands, and it’s so corrosive they have to replace the steel teeth on the shovels every day. The pipeline is made out of steel, less than a half inch thick. And they put all kinds of chemicals like benzene in the tar to make it runny so it will flow.”
“The water table is about four or five feet below the surface here in the sand hills, and the bottom of the trench they have to dig is a minimum of seven feet, so this thing isn’t going to be over the aquifer or above the aquifer; it’s going to be in the aquifer. It’s sitting in the water. They can detect a leak of 1 or 2 percent, but that’s still tens of thousands of gallons of tar sand. Generally, where you have a leak is not on the weld, but right next to it, where the metal has been heated and weakened.”
And Joe is looking ahead to the day when the pipeline is no longer in use. “Once they determine the life cycle of the pipeline is over, the landowner becomes responsible for any leaks! We they stop pumping, there’s still going to be residual oil in low spots. There’s no way to get it out. So when the metal eventually corrodes away, the landowner is stuck with the liability and for cleanup costs. That might be fifty years from now, but that’s my family.”
“I’m the future landowner,” Kim piped in. “This is something my grandparents worked hard for so we could enjoy it. We go out there to relax and there’s nothing relaxing about this pipeline.”
“The pipeline was not part of the original vision.” I joked.
“No, Not at all!” she giggled.
She brought a four-inch thick notebook collection of all the letters she had written to the legislature, the Public Service Commission, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the US State Department, and the President. “This is one of three other binders I have back home.”
“Senator Avery wrote back to me that all it takes is one teaspoon of tar sands to pollute a whole swimming pool of water beyond drinking water standards.”
“That’s my name, too, but I don’t think he’s any relation. Sounds like he is on your side.”
“He was, but then went LB1161 went through, he voted for it.”
When I asked her what motivated her to work so hard against the pipeline, she said. “Mainly, it’s my family. I want to protect our land and our water. Some people don’t understand, but I’ve gotten other people on our side just by telling them about the consequences. We know about this sort of thing because we’re first responders. I’m a firefighter, with my dad. TransCanada doesn’t have to release any hazardous materials data sheets on what they have going through the pipeline.”
“I don’t know how they get away with that!” I blurted.
“We don’t know if we need hazmat suits.” Joe added. “We don’t know whether to go in or not. Are there dangerous fumes? Do we need oxygen tanks? They won’t tell us. They call it ‘proprietary information.’”
“Do your neighbors support your stand?”
“Some do, some don’t; most of them are neutral.”
“But the neutral ones sign on.”
“That’s right. I’ve got a neighbor to the south of us whose all in favor of it.”
“I’d like to talk to him.”
“Curt Carlson. I’ll give you his number.”
“Great. I’ll find him. But I want to know if this whole thing has changed your understanding of things like the environment, or the climate.
“It’s definitely making us more aware of the environment.” Joe responded. “This gives you a wakeup call. I was like 95% of the rest of the country. I thought climate goes in cycles, but I’m thinking now that it’s changing.”
“We’re still going to have cycles.” I said. “But they will be hotter than before; the storms will be stronger, the draughts drier. Whatever the atmosphere was going to do anyway is just going to be worse.”
“I would love to have a wind farm on that land.”
“What will happen when construction starts? Do you think people will physically resist it”
“Yup, I do. It could get ugly, really ugly.” There was a tense pause. “I don’t want to see it come to that.”
Kim had been on her cell phone, but perked up when we mentioned resistance: “I want to put that on my resume! I fight for my family!”
I notice a mild generation gap developing across the table. “If it gets violent,” Joe said, “Then everybody’s going to think we’re a bunch of tree-hugger nut cases.”
“Usually when people call us tree-huggers I tell them, yeah, maybe if I’ve had a few too many drinks…We went to DC and surrounded the White House. If it weren’t for the August protests there I don’t know if we would be talking here now.”
We met a lot of people there who looked like professional protesters.” Joe muttered. “But there were a lot of genuine people there, too.”
“So what’s your status now? Have you signed anything?” I asked as I stood up to leave. Joe gave me Curt’s phone number, and Kim took my email address to send me more information.
“Have we? No. Will we? No.”
“There are people here who want Trans Canada to move the pipeline onto their land. ‘Here – put it on our side of the fence row – We’ll take the money!’ It’s just the Bold Nebraska group of individuals that are screaming the loudest. Jane Kleeb’s husband got pounded in a senate (congressional) race, and now they got to go around hollering about the pipeline. That’s all it is. And Obama doesn’t like oil. He doesn’t like coal. He’s about to shut down the coal industry.
“Yeah, I know, I’m from a coal state.”
“Yeah, I saw your bumper sticker.” (Clean Coal is like Dry Water).
Curt has an answer for every question. There’s a little swagger in his manner when he’s explaining himself, and he tends to answer before the question is fully finished. He often interrupted toward the end of my sentences with an up-volume “Well… or “What people don’t know is…” It might have bothered me, but he was always kind, polite, and never hostile. He really wanted to have his say. His ready answers reminded me of some of the anti-pipers I had run across earlier. Curt turned out to be a really nice guy.
“You see that corn over there? That’s food. You know what it needs? Carbon. What are we going to eat? Most people don’t understand… that fire in Colorado created more greenhouse gases than we’ve made in the last 40 years. God creates more carbon than you, me, and the neighbor creates with coal, and oil… Even if we burn all the coal and oil, there are more trees in the continental U.S. than there were in 1650, or whenever. We’ve got more green now than we did then.”
“The pipeline will bring jobs. We’re running refineries at 70% capacity now. If we run another 30%, that means more jobs and more refined product. And it’s national security. If they shut down the Straits of Hormuz, we’ve got Canadian oil.”
“Yeah. It’s not ours, but it’s from a friendly neighbor.”
“And it wouldn’t be real hard for us to make it ours, if you know what I mean. And I don’t mean to say we would do that. The other thing is, do you want TransCanada building a pipeline to the east coast? We’d rather have it through here.”
I thought it was time to try my usual climate pitch. “When we first started burning coal, gas, and petroleum 150 years ago, there was about 280 ppm. Now its around 393. That’s 40% more carbon in the whole planetary system than we had before. That can’t help but change the way the atmosphere works.”
“Yeah, but take Mt St Helens. That put more carbon, ash, and soot into the air than since the beginning of the industrial age back in the 1880, 1890s. And these people who talk about carbon: they get in their cars and drive around, they get in their private jets...”
“There’s a lot of hypocrisy out there.”
“Yeah, and I don’t think carbon’s the problem. The pipeline doesn’t have anything to do with the amount of carbon. Now, look at that pivot (irrigator) over there. If you want to eat, we’ve got to generate the energy for that.”
“You can generate electricity without fossil fuel. I’m not just talking off the top of my head. I’m a solar installer.”
“Not at night, you can’t”
“Right. You’d need an energy storage system, or a backup.
“Come over here; look at this.” He led me to a shed out back and pointed to an inverter and charge controller mounted on the inside wall. “Oh, I know all about solar. This is a pure sine-wave inverter, only 600 watts. I’m just playing with it here until I find what I want to do later.” Back outside he showed me a south-facing roof with the right pitch for a solar installation. “I’ll get around to it. But right now it’s not economically here.”
“It could be if we invested in it. Pipelines and coalmines don’t make jobs; investment makes jobs. If we invested in renewable energy we would have the jobs and the energy without the pollution and climate change.”
“Yeah, but Obama tried that already with Solyndra. He dumped billions of our dollars into…”
“That was because the federal government made a stupid investment. That’s not because the industry is bad.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, when it’s there, it will happen, and the government won’t have anything to do with it.”
“I would hope so. But the government is subsidizing fossil fuels. Over a hundred billion dollars in the next ten years.”
“They lost that much with Solyndra.”
“If they didn’t subsidize fossil fuels at all, I could compete with coal and natural gas, even petroleum. I could install systems that would be cheaper in the long run.”
“But the price of food would go way up... Till somebody figures out to make hydrogen cheap.”
It was time to change the subject. “Do you have any concern about local environmental effects of the pipeline? Are you worried about spills?
“No.” He answered quickly. “There are already 200,000 miles of pipelines and gas lines criss-crossing all over the aquifer. One more little pipeline isn’t gonna make any difference. They’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
“Has TransCanada treated you right?
“Yes. They’re paying a fair price for easements. I met the president of TransCanada. Everybody’s been nice. I went out there one time and there was a crew digging around in one of my springs. I said, ‘You can come through here, but you’re not going through my spring.’”
“Did they listen?
“Uh Huh.” One of the engineers told me they were going to need 40 people right off the bat.”
“No: for Maintenance. They need people to drive the line, manage the station, welders: the whole nine yards.”
“What do you think about this weather we’re having now? Is this just a normal trend?” We were still standing outside, and he was sweating profusely.
“It happened in 1988.”
“I remember it well.”
“We’ve had ups and downs. Three years ago we had so much snow we didn’t know where to put it. What people don’t realize is that God is in control – they’re not. God created this place. People are trying to humanize this world and if they can say man is in control, then there’s no God and they can justify their actions. Until they get their arms around God they will be fighting everything He created. He created us. We didn’t create this,” He said as he looked up into the midday Nebraska sky, raising both arms above his shoulders. I thought he had forgotten me for a moment, but when he looked back my way his face said that I was in his world. “God didn’t put us hear so we could screw it up, too bad… but we might.”
“They’re atheists, and through this global warming and everything, they gotta say… they got to strangle out God so they can justify their homosexuality. They’re a bunch of guilty little suckers. 9-11 was a shot across the bow, just like what He did to the people of Israel before He sent them into captivity. God was warning us to turn from our evil ways.”
“Do you think we could have some ways that we’re not seeing? Maybe not evil, but things we’re doing that are destructive of the creation God has given us?”
“He gave us dominion over the world.”
“But dominion has responsibility. It doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. I feel like we are in God’s garden and we have to take care of it.”
“That’s why I’m satisfied with what TransCanada did. They had bug-ologists, geologists – I’m not really all that miffed if we lose another species – I hunt them and I eat them… Let me show you something over here…” We went to the barn to look at his horses. “Got some thoroughbred in ‘em.”
As I headed back toward my car he said, “It’s all about control. They want to control food, control oil. If they control food they control you.”
“Part of it’s the UN, part the Democratic Party. It’s an international deal.”
As I opened the car door, Curt picked up a small gray kitten and stooped to look behind the tires. “There are two of them, twins.” He said. “I just saw the other one around here a minute ago. They’re not smart enough yet to stay away from cars.”
I closed the door without getting in. “Let me see that little thing. I’m a cat person.” Curt grinned and handed her to me. She was strong and bright-eyed, and soon relaxed in my arms. “This cat’s well taken care of.” I said. She was already purring.
“Yeah, I really like ‘em. Let me check under the car again.”
“I’ll go slow,” I said, handing back the kitten. “Thanks for your time.”
“Thank you. Have a safe trip.”
Grand Island, Nebraska
I’m back out on the road, west of Lincoln: fewer trees, more prairies. And more irrigation: the ban on watering applies only to surface water. The aquifer is getting low, but there’s plenty of water left. Days like this bring into focus the vital importance of Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer.
I’m camping for the most part on this trip, if you can call it camping. No tent, no RV: I just fold down the seat and curl up in the back of my old Volvo wagon. This car’s a real camping machine: I have all I need: mat, sleeping bag, cooler, food, beer. I even have a little inverter and power strip hooked up to the battery with all kinds of WiFis, cell phones, computers and camera batteries plugged into it. I’ve driven this car through 280,000 miles of interstates, gravel roads, puddles and potholes, (Eleven times around the planet) and it still drives like a new Lexus. It has a few dents here and there, but no broken handles and no holes in the upholstery. I just hope it falls apart in time to get my plug-in hybrid. I’d hate to miss the solar age because my Volvo wouldn’t bow out gracefully.
The park attendant came by this morning to water the grass near my campsite. “Any relief in the weather today? I asked.
“Nope. Gonna be around a hundred again. No rain till Monday or Tuesday, and that’s only 20%. This draught’s everywhere now, all over the country. I haven’t seen anything like it for 37 years.”
“Do you think the climate’s changing?” I ask this of just about everybody I meet, to pass the time and to see what’s floating through the public mind.
“Yup, I do. Ever since we started flying up around the moon, and so on.” He waved a hand in the air over his head. “We messed up the atmosphere up there.”
“They gonna build this pipeline through here?”
“We, I dunno. Haven’t heard anything lately. I don’t see why they don’t just put the refinery up in Canada instead of moving all that oil down to Texas and then moving it all back here again. It’s all politics.”
If Randy is the face, Jane is the muscle of Bold Nebraska. She’s been in Nebraska less than five years, which counts against you in these parts. “The Republicans – well not Republicans, but the Republican Party – doesn’t like me here. There are blogs against me; they call me ‘Insane Jane.’ I had no environmental background, no energy background. I founded Bold Nebraska in March 2010, focusing on Healthcare reform.”
In May of last year (2011) a friend of hers, Duane Kavorka from the Nebraska Wildlife Fund, (who was at the meeting at Mary’s), told her about a tar sands pipeline coming across the sand hills and asked if she wanted to help organize against it. There would be a lot of local and national attention around it, and a hearing was coming up in York, Nebraska the following month.
“I was thinking ‘who’s going to go to a State Department hearing on a pipeline nobody had heard of?’ But 150 people showed up, and every who came up to the microphone was against it: farmers, ranchers, moms, grandmoms. That’s where I met Ben (Goschall – a current co-worker) and several others. We kind of huddled after the meeting and said ‘We’ve got to do something about this; this is crazy.’ We didn’t know what tar sands were. We didn’t even know there was already a tar sands pipeline in our state. (Keystone 1) When we started talking to landowners we found out they didn’t know what was going through the pipe on their land. Many of them thought it was gas. Some of the landowners along Keystone 1 had concerns about granting easements, but they had no one to turn to. They felt alone and powerless.”
“Was the initial opposition just for landowner’s rights? Or were there any environment concerns?”
“The initial concern was the aquifer. That’s an environmental issue, of course, but folks don’t immediately talk about it that way. They talk of protecting the land and water that is their family heritage. They don’t think of it as ‘environmental.’ They know it’s environmental, but they don’t use that word.”
“But the primary fear is of a leakage?”
“Yes. And of the construction process itself.”
“So maybe we just need a new word. Sometimes I feel the label environmentalist is getting in our way.”
“Yeah. It has a different meaning here. Nebraskans consider themselves stewards of the land, or conservationists.”
“But do you feel your environmental awareness has opened up as a result of this issue?”
“It has. I knew about global warming before – I was kind of your typical progressive – but it really means something to me now. There’s a story about a rancher who was bullied by some politicians when he came to testify in the legislature. They were asking him things like, ‘Who’s paying you to be here?’ He called me up on the way home and said, ‘Ya know, I just pulled over and hugged a tree!’ So I felt myself doing that, too. Instead of running away from being called a tree hugger, I’m proud of protecting our environment and our community. I mean, Good Lord! If you don’t protect the environment there’s nothing to pass on to our kids and our kids can’t grow up healthy.”
When I asked her about the status of the approval process, she said that the route would be finalized and easements acquired by early 2013, which means that if Romney wins, construction will be likely soon thereafter. “What if Obama wins?” I asked, expecting the usual cynical answer.
“I think he will say tar sands is environmentally safe, but that the pipeline is not in our national interest because of all the new oil discoveries in North Dakota and elsewhere. He’s likely to say we have our own oil to move – they won’t let our oil in the XL.”
“Huh, I have been thinking Obama would approve it with the new route.”
“Another interesting thing about this issue is you see folks talking about connection to native Americans and tribal communities, how we took their land away from them, and now we’re seeing it happen to us. Ranchers seem to have deep connections to American Indians.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about that today. Something Randy said about the American Indian experience made me think how what we did to them was not unique –genocide is a regular feature of human history – what’s unique is that now we have reached a level of maturity as a society where we can look back and see how wrong what we did was. Now we’re beginning to identify with indigenous people – they’re us! We feel great pain for what they went through. That makes me proud to be American.”
“Yup. Me too.”
Then I asked Jane my usual question about what was likely to happen here if and when construction begins.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that folks will lay in front of bull dozers, just like in the rain forests. I think you’ll have the same images. Instead of native people walking in front of the bulldozers, it will be ranchers and farmers, with the urban moms and grandmoms standing right next to them. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
“What about outsiders coming in? People like me? What would you think of that/”
“I don’t see you as outsiders. I think the landowners and ranchers would feel the same way.”
“I’ve gotten a variety of answers on that one. I’m an outsider to Nebraska, but I’m not an outsider to the atmosphere.”
I’m leaving Nebraska tomorrow to see what people are up to in Oklahoma and Texas. This trip is different for me; instead of going through the Great Plains the usual east-west route, I’m going north-south. I’m beginning to feel a little more at home here – a little less like an outsider.
Along the Pipeline
July 21, 2012 Oklahoma
It’s drier down this way. The wheat crop is in, and has probably done well. A cutting or two of pre-draught hay has been raked and baled into huge plastic-covered rolls, scattered like giant Rollos across the gently heaving prairie. Un-irrigated corn looks bad – real bad – especially at the edges of fields and corners where pivot irrigation system don’t reach. I saw some totally browned-out fields that looked like corn in a Halloween decoration. The rice goes up every day. Randy Thompson told me the other day he sold some partially irrigated corn for $ 7.45 a bushel, and Curt Carlson said he expects the price to go up to $8, maybe $9. That’s good news, for people who have something to sell.
I visited today with Harlan Hentges of the Center for Energy Matters in Edmond, Oklahoma just north of Oklahoma City. The Center was originally organized around a drive to stop a coal-fired power plant at Shady Point on the Arkansas border. It has a five-member board and two staff: Harlan and Rosemary Crawford, whom I met later in the day. The organization is grant-funded and its mission is purely legal assistance; it is not a membership organization. So far it has been involved in stopping three coal-fired plants in Oklahoma.
Harlan is a round-faced, robust, big-hearted man with a big Oklahoma smile. He is progressive and open-minded, with a strong conservative streak. His background is in farming and ranching. He is especially concerned with the state legislature’s grant of eminent domain to TransCanada. “The Keystone XL is not a public use facility, and eminent domain in this case is unconstitutional.” I asked him whom he contacts in his everyday work.
“Whenever it’s eminent domain, I team up with radical right-wing property groups; whenever it’s the environment, I team up with radical left-wing environmental groups. As near as I can tell, they have the same set of values. The distinctions between those two, and the knee-jerk reactions in opposition on an ideological basis, I think is all divisive and fictional. I don’t think that division has any merit. If you look at what’s going on and say ‘Is this good? Is it just? And if it’s not, why are we doing it?”
“Environmentalists want to protect the environment generally and landowners want to protect the environment specifically. They want to protect a particular piece of the environment, and I think that’s how you do it. If you can’t get those people to protect their land then your attempts to protect the environment generally will be thwarted. If you want the government to protect the environment… well, that isn’t going to happen, because the government is largely influenced by corporate interests. Corporate interests are by law the financial interests of their shareholders.”
“But something like the climate – the atmosphere,” I interjected. “Cannot be specific. It can only be general. Do the climate effects of the XL pipeline ever enter into your conversations with people about the pipeline?”
“As a practical matter, I never talk about climate change… unless I’m doing it to create conflict. I’m somebody who’s relatively concerned and interested in the impact of carbon on the climate, but I don’t talk to anyone about it because there’s nothing to be gained.”
“Do you expect any actions to oppose the pipeline?
“Well, there might be a few people. But, generally speaking, no. Not in Oklahoma. This state is the reddest of the red.”
The question was a conversation stopper. The “environment,” as a state of mind, simply does not exist here. The issue here, to the extent that it exists at all, is the heavy-handed approach of TransCanada in its dealings with landowners.
“They act like they’re from a British Colony,” Harlan said. “They act like the power resides in the sovereign.”
“Didn’t we win that war?”
(Laughs). “Yeah, I thought we settled that! But you let a dispute like this go on long enough and you end up fighting a war over it… Yeah,” he paused, re-thinking, “You are going to have people opposing it. When somebody comes here and tries to take away their rights you’ll have left-leaning people who are well trained in direct action and you’ll have some right-wing people who aren’t. They’re gonna’ have guns. If you’re preparing to do this stuff you ought to understand this possibility.”
“I would tend to say to them ‘Good for you for standing up, now let’s figure out how we can do this effectively.’”
“That’s the ultimate failure. As a lawyer, I have to say that lawyers are the alternative to guts and soldiers. Even direct action or non-violent protest is a failure of the lawyers.”
“I think you’re absolutely right that the legal system is the way we avoid confrontation, yet often it’s through confrontation that consciousness changes, whether that’s violent or non-violent. In the American Revolution, which was violent, we became Americans; we became something different from what we thought we were, and in the civil rights movement, which was accomplished non-violently but through direct action, we changed what America was. I remember thinking at first that civil rights meant we should be nice to colored people, but then, over time, as I watched what people were doing, I started thinking “I’m the same thing as those people sitting at the lunch counter. That’s me sitting there!”
“Exactly. I think I got goose bumps there… That’s exactly right.”
“So sometimes confrontation, even outside of the law – if it’s done properly, and with wisdom as to how to engage, can create a different sense of who we are.”
“I look forward to that, and I think it will happen. We’ve got a real poor concept of who we are.”
I drove east and met Rosemary Crawford at Shawnee. The area east of Oklahoma City is Indian country: Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Kickapoo. With dark, straight hair, but light complexion, I did not at first see Indian in her face. Her mother is Cherokee and Choctaw, while her father is Dutch. She was raised in this area, but spent many years in California. She returned eight years ago for family reasons, but misses California. “People here don’t think outside the box.” She went to work for Harlan in 2010 on the power plant issues, and later on the Keystone XL. “I still try to help him when I can, but I’ve been in respite for a year now because I have not been pleased with the negative side of the fight.”
“The negative side of the pipeline or the opposition to the pipeline?”
“Both sides. I was feeling internally as if I just wanted to escape. I was doing everything at the Center: talking to landowners, talking to media, driving around – there wasn’t anyone else to delegate to.”
“Up in Nebraska, people are bouncing off each other a lot.” I said. “Sort of like my group in Louisville, they have a strong sense of community. They party…”
“And I was never able to form a community. I’m kind of out of my element here, but I believe I was placed back here because there is a need. There’s an awaking that needs to take place.”
We climbed in her SUV and headed for the Red Mound Ranch where the XL will cross some time this fall. Jack Landrum and his wife own a hundred acres or so on either side of Interstate 40 north of Wewoka in the Seminole Nation. Jack is a former oil worker. After retirement he bought the land to start a cattle-breeding business. The pipeline will run diagonally across his land and within 100 feet of his house, with a large equipment yard up by the road. The easement will compromise the utility of the land to the point where he would have to move the operation, which he is too old consider, so he will simply close it down. When I asked if we could talk to him, Rosemary said that he was under a “gag order” by TransCanada. Apparently, as part of the settlement agreement, he was not allowed to speak to anyone about the company or the pipeline. He had made a statement on TV last year opposing the XL, and was reprimanded by company representatives.
“Their dreams are gone, their spirit has been taken.”
Rosemary became emphatic as she recalled Jack’s reaction when he found out they were going to take his land. “He’s in his 80s, and he’s in tears because a private company from a foreign nation has come in and taken away his ability to have free speech in the United States of America. This is what we believed in, this is what we were raised on, and I have seen people shaken with this to the core. This goes against who he is, to the point where he’s not going to choose to be here any more. He was an oil worker; he believed in oil companies. He believed in progress. Jack showed his emotion to me one time when we were standing on a little hill outside his home. He was looking at the cattle. He was talking about his life, about being a steward of the land. I was telling him that this was what it meant to be an environmentalist – loving the little piece of joy and heaven that you have here. ‘You’re a steward; I’m and environmentalist,’ I told him – it’s the same.”
We drove through the Seminole nation and into the dying town of Wewoka. Rosemary. Buildings were boarded up on either side of the main street. Rosemary spoke of her childhood.
“I was raised here. My ancestors walked the Trail of Tears.” Her grandfather was a Choctaw and grandmother a Cherokee. Her great grand mother, Amanda Glass, actually walked the Trail of Tears from Tennessee as a child and arrived in Oklahoma at the age of seven. Not all of the family survived.
“This is the courthouse. This great big tree you see here is called ‘The hanging Tree.’ One time when I was little I walked by here with my grandfather and he kind of shuffled me along past it. Years before a local judge had ordered a lot of Indians hanged right here. He said, ‘Now don’t ever tell anyone you’re an Indian, ‘cause they might hang you.’ I was born with fair skin. His side of the family was dark skinned, but my grandmother was Cherokee so her skin was lighter and her eyes were lighter, and I was born with blue eyes. They paraded me around this town like I was a prize.”
“You were able to pass.”
“I was able to pass.”
On the way back to Shawnee, Rosemary was anxious to say more. She wanted to get her story out.
“We are moving towards a new paradigm,” she began.
“Did you now that word was in the title of my book?”
“No… well, I remember it now in the proposal, but I wasn’t thinking of it.” She was getting pumped up, so I backed off and let her have the floor. “And I believe the shift in our consciousness as a planet is moving us truly into the Age of Aquarius and into a feminine – more masculine-feminine – balance. There has to be a major shock happen in some form for the masses to get it, and this is a part of it.”
“You mean the pipeline?”
“Not just this pipeline, I mean the extraction of fossil fuels as a whole in such mass – tar sands, oil, mountaintop removal, fracking – and that the people who are benefiting financially are in denial. They want to continue to be the rulers of the world. They think they are in control. But nobody’s in control. Our existence on the planet is not going to be any longer controlled by those people who have manifested the largest amount of money. At the end of the day, how much money you have means nothing. To come back into balance on the planet, where this Earth is not screaming at us, and we’re not living in a place of constant duality, this shift has to occur and occur now. It is by design; none of it is by accident. My personal work is to raise the conscious level of the masses – the people who are not of high level wealth and who suffer the consequences of the extraction of fossil fuels, the burning of the coal, the fracking – the people who are suffering and are considered of no value. They are expendable, they’re on a spreadsheet somewhere and their lives don’t count. I believe it’s those people that we awaken and bring into consciousness that they are as important – as a spirit and a soul – as the man with a million dollars who thinks he’s better than they are. By doing so, by waking up and equalizing the male-female energy, we will bring our planet to the place it needs to be. I may be naïve, and I may be the only person who believes this, but that’s what I genuinely believe and that’s what I’m here to do. I believe I was sent back her to do this work.
“Opposing the pipeline – that’s essentially negative, it’s opposing what somebody else wants to do – it’s not really creating any new consciousness. So how do you see a new consciousness – a new paradigm – developing from this struggle against the Keystone XL Pipeline?”
“I don’t. That’s the reason why I was so uncomfortable.”
“I was part of the negative energy. I was attracting negative energy by focusing on the negative side of the problem. By doing so, I was increasing the problem. I became in turmoil. I had this constant frustration and anxiety: all those low-vibration energies just consuming me every day. I was focusing on what I didn’t want, which is what I was attracting. The universal law of attraction says what you focus on is what you get! So I’m attracting the pipeline because I’m out verbally speaking my truth, telling the universe these “n” words and the universe doesn’t know these “n” words, so it’s going to attract what I’m saying I don’t want. The universe is going to read that I do want it.
“What are “n” words?”
“No, not, don’t, can’t… all of that. The universe doesn’t know what they mean. So I needed to shift what I was doing. I felt internally the tipping point has already been crossed – in the 80s – it’s not just tipping, it’s dumping, over the edge.”
“My three grandchildren, as long as they have a body, are going to need food to eat, water to drink, air to breath, and right now that is not possible if we keep going down this road. My great grandparents, when they got to Oklahoma, had no money – they had each other and they had air and water and land. But my grand children won’t have that. The basics of survival on the planet are being destroyed if we don’t make some conscious decisions to change that. As we have a body, we have to feed it, nurture it. Our minds, our bodies, our souls: all are one, and we are all collectively as one.
“Let me go on from there.” I interjected. “I follow what you’re saying – but in your attempt to manifest your awareness of what’s happening to the Earth you’re tapping into some negative energy.”
“Yes. It’s huge.”
“I’m wondering if that has to do with you’re feeling like you’re not doing this in community.”
“Yes, that’s exactly right.”
“You’re feeling it individually; you’ve got your own shield out there, protecting yourself individually, but you don’t have people on either side of you with shields.”
“So I have been doing visualizations – visualizations that the pipeline is not built, that it is stopped, because we have enough Earth energy that shifts to a place where digging a hole in the ground and laying a pipeline is no longer profitable, or conceivable. And I do visualization of going up above the planet and backing myself out from the planet, and seeing the planet spinning clearly with clean water and clean air, and vegetation. I visualize new worlds and new growth and a new spring for the planet, and the people who are still living on the planet understand the needs not only of themselves, but of the Earth, and that the seed – as you put it – continues to grow. Everything goes back to being whole, healthy, and complete. How many thousands of years it takes for her to revert back to the way she was, I have no idea. The duality of male and female energy will cease.”
“The Yin and the Yang.”
“The Yin and the Yang.”
The Texas Barricade: Abridged Version
July 22, 2012
I woke this morning early at Murray Lake State Park is southern Oklahoma. A short run through the campground and quick dip in the lake, and I was ready to move on. I drove south through small trees, low hills, and browning pastures. There are virtually no row crops in this part of the state. The cattle are huddling in patches of shade below cedars and post oaks, refusing their work in the hot open pasture. There are not many of them, and there will not be much for them to eat this winter. The Agriculture Department reports that there are fewer cattle on American soil now than at any time since records have been kept. Beef will be cheap this fall as ranchers consider their winter feedstock, but prices are likely to skyrocket next year.
The low trees and rolling hills made me feel I was arriving back east, but the land soon turned flat and the trees thinned as I crossed the border into Texas. A few scrubby oaks and pines persisted, but I was back on the prairie. Turning east from Denton and traveling across the north Texas plain, I saw the worst crop devastation I have ever seen. Field after field of corn was totally browned out. I saw not one healthy stalk of corn the entire way and many fields were already plowed under. Some north Texas mortgages will not be paid this fall
I met David Daniel, his wife, Clara, and four year old daughter, Naida, at their twenty-acre homestead just south of Winnsboro. The XL will cut their land in half. The southern leg of the pipeline (from Cushing OK to the Gulf of Mexico) has become a separate project from the northern leg through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. It does not cross a U.S. boundary, and therefore does not require State Department approval. It is set to go, while the northern leg waits for presidential permission, and a presidential election. The middle section of the southern leg – through where I am now – needs final approval by the Army Corps of Engineers, but TransCanada has announced that construction will begin in the sections through Oklahoma and south Texas on August first. That’s ten days from now. The north Texas section will be approved any day, and construction soon to follow.
I met Ron at the kitchen tent set up on the Daniel homestead. He’s tall and lean, with a short beard, dark hair, and sharp, handsome eyes. Ron is a triathlon competitor, used to sixty-mile foot races and two-hundred-mile bike races. He met up with Tom Weis when Tom was preparing his bicycle tour last year of the entire XL route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Ron rode most of the route with Tom, and acted as a backup, reconnoitering food and lodging, setting up interviews, and shooting video. When they met David in Texas, Ron stayed on to help David set up the barricade.
Ron was raised in Madison, Wisconsin and Charleston, South Carolina. After college, he to moved to Missoula, Montana, where he was in a graduate program in law and environmental science. But the academic life was not enough. He wanted to be in “front line activism.” He became aware of tar sands mining well before most people in the U. S. due to the shipment of huge 250 ton mining trucks through Montana to Canada. “They wouldn’t fit under bridges or power lines, and took up two lanes of traffic, so they had to shut down roads in both directions to let them through. There were no bonds for highway damage and they didn’t care about inconvenience to locals. They wanted to bring something like 300 of these trucks through – the first one got stuck. So you start to ask, ‘What the hell are they doing up there in Alberta?’”
Ron became aware of the extent of the tar sands issue the same time I did, and responded in the same way. We both got emails from 350 about the D.C. Tar Sands Action in June of last year. “I got on board with that right away. I had a feeling I wanted to be more involved. I was unfulfilled with what I was doing and overwhelmed with this urgency that this has to be stopped.” He went to Washington and was arrested there on the second week. He is now coordinator for the Texas Barricade here in Winnsboro. He will be organizing the opening battles of the struggle against the Pipeline.
When I asked him what motivates him to devote so much of his life to environmental work, he said that he was brought up camping and hiking, and came to love the outdoors, but feels that environmental work is not a choice. “Everyone in my situation ought to be doing what I’m doing – we have to.” He feels it is a “lucky coincidence” that he also has such a passion for the natural world. “The fact that I enjoy it is fortunate for me. I have to do it and I want to do it.”
“Stopping tar sands extraction is a necessary condition for the future of the planet. The science is there. If we don’t stop it, it will be ‘game over for the planet,’ as the cliché goes. With the upgrading, piping, and refining of tar sands, its carbon footprint ends up three times the size of conventional crude. That’s just unacceptable. They’re on track to destroy the planet if all that reserve is exploited. We will reach the thresholds where we won’t be able to rein it back in. It will be too late. We’ll get into a feedback loop that will continue to spiral higher and higher where even if the whole global economy stopped it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.”
“I’m a student of philosophy;” he went on. “I took courses on formal logic. So truly, this is logically a necessary condition for our future. It’s not a sufficient condition – it’s not the only thing we have to do – but it’s a necessary one. It has to be done in concert with a whole host of other things. If we don’t at least stop tar sand exploitation – that’s it.”
“So for someone like me – relatively young, doesn’t have property, doesn’t have a family, isn’t married, doesn’t have debt – that has the ability to go out there and be a defender of this planet: I don’t see that’s really a choice. How many other Americans are like me – that fit those criteria and have the passion and can actually throw themselves into the fray. It’s probably less than one percent, maybe one tenth of one percent. But that’s still 30,000 people! We could stop almost anything with that many people. If you believe we have five years, or at most a decade, to dramatically change the economy that exists – the whole unfettered growth model – you’ve got to break it down into things you have to do, and one of those things is to stop tar sands exploitation.”
“Are you optimistic or hopeful?”
“I call myself a pathological optimist. I will seek out the sunlight and the silver lining, where it exists. But there’s little reason to be optimistic. We have all these public interest lobbies and big NGOs and they’ve done a great job mitigating the rate of loss. But the bottom line is we’re moving toward the destruction of natural systems, we’re not moving toward sustaining those systems.”
“I don’t think we don’t have the worldview to do that.”
“So, what have you and David been working on here?” I had already walked through the woods under the tree houses with David, and promised him and Ron I would not reveal anything about them until after the action. There’s no big security issue, it’s just that they want to delay construction as long as possible, and one way to do that is to
“While they’re busy re-routing easements through Nebraska they don’t want to be aggressively attacking landowners in Texas. That’s in our favor. They will probably just
“When do you expect this all to begin?”
“They say they can lay between two and three miles of pipe a day. If they can, and they actually start near Paris on August first and work south, they will get to Susan’s place on about the 35th to 40th day, and here on the 40th to 45th days. That’s mid September. So we anticipate Susan’s place to be first, and
July 23, 2012
The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a group of environmentally oriented financial analysts, published a new number stating the total amount of carbon in the proven reserves of oil companies and oil states like Kuwait and Venezuela. The amount is 2795 gigatons. This is the carbon that will become available on the world market in coming years. 565 gigatons, one-fifth that amount, is the maximum amount of carbon we can burn to stay within two degrees of global warming.
Bill McKibben writes in Rolling Stone: “Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That's the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.”[ii]
This confirms what I read earlier in Leonardo Maugeri’s The Age of Oil. We will not kick the habit by running out of substances to abuse. We will have to do it through the practical realm of consciousness unique to our kind.
Susan and Gabriel Scott, Winnsboro Texas
“We’re in tune with nature, like a blade of grass has got feelings. That’s kinda how I think.” Susan began. “But I’m not any kind of religion; I’m a free spirit. I’ve always had the feeling that I was part of the Earth. I’ve always been the protector, the giver, the Mother Earth, whatever you call it. God Is infinite… It would take me a lifetime to explain.”
“Well, just take maybe an hour of your lifetime…”
“I think we’re the keepers of the Earth, and this is all we’ve got. This is it. We don’t get to ride on a damn space ship and go to another one and screw it up. We’re supposed to be here to maintain our own self-contained spaceship, OK?”
“Good planets are hard to find,” I added.
“And if we don’t have enough sense to fight for and protect it, we don’t need to be here.”
“We need money, we need an economy, but that comes second,” I agreed.
“Here’s my opinion,” she said. “Money is the means to get what you need: It’s fine if you got it; it’s fine if you don’t. You can’t eat it; you can’t plant it and grow things from it; you can’t breathe it; it doesn’t bring you fresh air like the trees does. It’s a thing you have in your hand to give somebody to get something in return. But this Earth is going to be destroyed because of it. I feel this strongly.”
Susan and I were sitting in rockers on her front porch, enjoying the artificial breeze from an old rusty electric fan. “Bought it at a yard sale from and old man – must have been in his nineties. He said his parents bought it sometime way back before him.” Susan is a collector. Bird feeders and log chains hung from the rafters overhead. Road signs nailed to siding and fence posts said Bridge Out and Authorized Personnel Only. Susan is my age, strong and vibrant, with a friendly smile that says, “You’re just plain folk like me.” Her son Gabriel stepped out from the kitchen to join us. He was in a Signal Corp Battalion in Desert Storm, working at Patriot missile installations. “Scud busters, we called them.” He has two granddaughters.
Ron showed up suddenly in the driveway and rolled down the window. “The truck’s gone. I imagine they headed up to Clearwater Highway.” Susan had seen surveying equipment that morning set up next to her fencerow along route 11. She called David and Ron right away. “I might have to run up there and see if I can find that truck,” Ron continued. “That will give us an idea of where they are.”
“Yeah,” Susan agreed. “If they’re up there you know they’re fixin’ to come down across Youngman.”
David, Ron, Susan, and Gabriel knew they could not stop the surveyors, but they could delay them. They planned to make a stand at the border and challenge the surveyors, firmly but politely, as they tried to cross. The survey crew was just doing its job – they were not the target – but they would have to back off and call the home office, or go into town and get the Sheriff, or a court order, before they could enter. This was not to be a civil action, just a delaying tactic. Nobody was going to risk arrest at this point. “I’ll call if I see anything,” Ron said as he backed around and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
“Ok, we’ll meet you wherever you say.” Gabriel shouted. “David is heading this way, too.”
Gabriel sat down with us as Ron drove off.
“I’ve got this little voice recorder on, Gabe,” I said jokingly. “So be careful what you say. I’m not going to put you on the radio or anything.”
“I don’t care if you put us on TV,” Susan said. “I don’t care if you put us right in front of the President of the U-nited States. He needs to know. I think he’s against it. I think he got bull dogged. He got intimidated or bought out – one of the two. That’s my opinion. He’s wishy-washy.”
“I got goaded into signing by fear alone.” Susan went on. “Pete Porter, the land agent for TransCanada, was a slick talking man. He could talk the horns off a billy goat and sell them back to him. He said they’re coming, they’re going to take my land, and if I do anything they would sue me. I was going to have to pay lawyer’s fees, court costs, and everything else. This farm is a natural land. We have big trees. This is what we live by. We’re grateful to be here.”
“It’s your home – I can relate to that. I have a homestead in Kentucky. I went there to be with nature, and I feel for what you are going through.”
Gabriel sat forward. “I think we are just going to show everybody how peacefully we can tell them we don’t want them here, without violence. We’re not violent people,” he said.
“Your role here is going to be absolutely essential here.” I assured him. “You won’t be the only people the media talk to, but they will want to hear what you, the landowners, think about what is going on.”
“I ain’t real good at talking,” Susan said in a low, dejected tone.
“You should just speak from the heart. People will want to know what you are feeling. How you say it will just come out. But like Gabe was saying, how people understand this will be so important. It’s not about the confrontation; it’s not just us against the cops”
“It’s about the Earth.”
“You take water,” she went on. “They use eight barrels of pure drinking water to clean just one barrel of that stuff. Then they dump it in a tailing pond that birds land in and die.”
“We’re not radicals.” I said. “We’re just trying to let the Earth speak through us. I’m sure you can do that with composure and calm. I know you will be firm.”
“You gotta stand your ground,” added Gabriel. “You know I’m a Desert Storm vet. They sent me to fight for oil; I truly believe that’s what that was about. But when I came back here, I just wanted to relax, to enjoy my life here. We got a two-year old granddaughter we’re raising and I was looking at their map the other day and see this big red line going down through there and I said, ‘What is that?’ It’s what they’re calling a kill zone. Even if there was a pin hole in that pipeline, at 1400 psi, that’s like a bullet.”
“And they won’t be able to detect it,” I said.
“Like the Kalamazoo leak. They thought it was an air bubble in the line; they increased the pressure to push it through.”
“What’s your understand of what’s going to happen with the training this weekend?” I asked.
“My taxes is paying our government to protect us.” Susan answered. “They’ve bailed on us. These politicians come shake your hand, but when you want to talk to them you can’t touch ‘em with a ten-foot pole.”
“These kids coming – I call them kids,” Gabriel said. “I’m forty-six years old – a lot of people would look at them and classify them as misfits, just by their appearance. But there is a lot of knowledge there, a lot of wanting for the Earth to be around for their kids. I see that in them. They’re smart. Every one I’ve talked to is smart.”
“Do you trust them to express your interest?”
“I do. I do trust them.” Gabe assured me. “They’re fact-to-face with you. They’ll look you in the eye. My grandpa said if you shake a man’s hand and he don’t look you in the eye, you need to look the other way.”
“They’re trying to save the Earth.” Susan added. “They’re going to be camping out here.”
“And if they’re doing something you don’t agree with…”
“They’ll have to leave.” Susan said firmly.
“They have to speak for you,” I agreed. “I think this is crucial – what’s going to happen right here. Not only is this whole pipeline critical for the entire Earth system, you guys are going to be the first ones. You will set the tone for what happens elsewhere.”
“You know, I try to talk to people I know about this, I try to get through, and even the trees answer better than they do.” Susan said, looking out over the porch to the woods. The air was hot and still beyond the fan’s range. The birds were silent, and tiny black butterflies fluttered through the weeds along the road in front of us.
“I understand that,” I said, after a long pause.
“And all the dirty air they make burning that stuff. You can’t put it in a sack and tie it up. And the water, too”
“If there’s no water, then there’s no us.” Gabriel added.
The phone rang and Gabe got up to answer it. It was Ron. No sight of the surveyors.
“You know, your heart breaks in two,” Susan was saying in her soft dejected tone. “Literally – I had a heart attack over this. I never took no medicine. Now I have to take pills every day. I don’t like conflict.“
“This is an opportunity for you to get your word out.” I said, looking at her worried face. I’m sure you can handle the conflict peaceably.”
“I’m the most peaceablist person I know on this Earth. I’m plain country.”
“You don’t have to do anything special, but you will be speaking to the world. It’s a time for you to have a voice.”
The three of us walked down toward to the pond where the encampment would be. Two large tents were already pitched and ready for whoever would come. A swarm of large channel catfish boiled the water in front of us as Susan filled a bucket with fish food.
“They can hear us coming,” She laughed, and threw a handful of pellets out to the hungry hoard. The feeding frenzy began.
“Yup,” Gabriel said. “Our granddaughter just loves this lake. We fed the cats yesterday and a big one turned and splashed us all over. She will never forget that!”
July 24, 2012
Susan found the surveyors near her land this morning and called Ron. He jumped in his car and made it to Susan’s place in time to video the encounter and post it on the Stop Tar Sands website. Susan had a tremble in her voice at first, but seemed to gain confidence as spoke to the surveyor. He was polite (the camera might have helped), and agreed to stay off Susan’s land until the situation was clarified. David and I showed up as the discussion ended. She smiled her “just plain folk” smile to the crew chief and seemed to relax. I thought she did very well.
We also heard today that the Army Corps approved the middle section of the southern leg, the section that runs through Winnsboro. It’s full speed ahead now, from Cushing to Port Arthur. If they keep building north to south, they should get to Susan’s land in early September, and the twelve miles south to David’s a week or so later.
It was a few days before I got a chance to speak with David at any length. He’s busy preparing tree houses, caring for Clara and Naida, and coordinating events at the training this weekend. The Keystone pipeline has been a strain on his emotions, his family, and his finances. He is a quiet, shy, soft-spoken man, but utterly determined to make a stand, right here, on his own land. Uncertainty surrounds every aspect of his life, yet he knows exactly what he is doing. I knew, well before I came here, that the early tone of the movement against the pipeline would depend largely on his character, and I was uncertain as to the maturity and seriousness of that character. I did not know how long I would stay here or how involved I might become in the Barricade. But after meeting several times with David, I decided to stay through the training. It will be worth the stay. I will have to hurry back home Monday to catch my plane to Alberta.
We walked to his home just up the hill from the campground where Ron and I are staying. He’s a carpenter, and like me, built his own house. A few unfinished touches remain, as in all owner-built homes, but the space is airy, light, and tidy. Slate and ceramic tiles line the floors, and salvaged tin hamburger roasting pans cover the ceiling in the kitchen. They give a well-sculpted, homemade look to the room. A foot or more of insulation fills the space between ceiling and roof. David began with his legal struggles.
“Eminent domain is a tool industry uses, a big tool, a tool that is the destruction of our rights and our use of the commons. Right now industry has a free-for-all. All companies have to do is go to the Texas Railroad Commission and get the one-page T4 form permit and literally check a box that says ‘Are you private or are you public?’ If they check private they have no right to eminent domain; if they check public, then they have eminent domain.”
“They just have to say they’re public.”
“That’s all they have to do. The Railroad Commission has no oversight to check and see if the company is what it says it is. It’s a self-declaratory process by the industry.”
“So this has never been tried in court. The definition of public use…
“There has been a recent case, the Denbury Green case. The Texas Supreme Court said that the T4 form permit does not prove that a company is a common carrier for public use. So a landowner has the right to make that challenge, but do you have the means to make that challenge? Do you have the million dollars it would take to bring it before the Supreme Court? Ultimately, the way I see it, eminent domain is a big tool that industries can use to begin their destructive projects that threaten our resources… and our rights.”
“You got into this as a landowner.”
“Four years ago this month, July 2008, my neighbor called and said people had been trespassing on the property. I got home and walked the property and saw that it had been fully surveyed and staked, cutting my land in half. There were all these orange stakes through the big hardwoods down by the creek that said XLPL 36 inch. I didn’t know anything about TransCanada, the Keystone XL, or anything about the proposed project.”
“So they came without your permission, or even notice, and staked out your land, trampling right on top of your home.”
“Yes. The PL led me to believe this was for a pipeline. A month and a half later I got a letter from TransCanada. Only then did I know who the stakes belonged to.”
“In that month and a half…
“I had no idea.”
“What were you thinking?”
“My heart sunk. The area that was staked was the reason we bought the twenty acres, because it has the springs and the creeks, and the old-growth hardwoods. That’s where these stakes were. The letter from TransCanada had a phone number, so I called to ask why the surveyors had come on my land without permission, and the guy said ‘They probably got lost!’”
“Ha!” I laughed. “Surveyors don’t get lost. That’s their job!”
“Yeah, with GPS and all – I didn’t buy it.”
“I got another letter in November,” He went on, “They said they had the right to eminent domain, and if I didn’t comply with their requests within ten days, they were taking me to court.”
“Did you talk to your neighbors about it?”
“Nobody knew anything about it – we all thought it was a gas pipeline.”
“Did you know then that they would be cutting down your trees?”
“I assumed they would have to cut some trees, but the scale and scope I had not a clue.”
David thought for a while, as if feeling again what he had gone through. “After I got the letter threatening eminent domain I stayed up into the wee hours of the night composing an email saying who I was and what my concerns were with a series of question about what they intended to do. I got a phone call the next morning from an attorney saying he would forward my questions on to Houston. So he didn’t answer any of my questions. Then he said, ‘All I need to know from you is which pile to put you in: the compliance pile, or the f***ing un-compliance pile.”
“He said that?”
“That’s what he said.”
“Really. So he was already contentious.”
“Yeah, in a you’re-a-peon sort of way – I am a peon up against a multi-national corporation with lawyers that would just eat me alive. I can’t afford an attorney.”
“You never heard back on any of the questions you wrote the company?”
“It was actually two years later.”
“When the surveyors came again, what was your interaction with them?”
“They were just people doing their jobs. They’re not responsible for all this.”
“That’s probably true of the construction people, too.”
“Sure. It’s just trying to keep that in perspective. Those are the faces you see that are doing the trespassing.”
“I think that’s important to keep in mind as we confront this project… to not look at them as the opposition.”
“That’s right. Most of them don’t have a clue of the overall project.”
“At what point did you begin to find out about the tar sands?”
“Four years ago there was not much out there on tar sands. One of the letters said something about oil sands—their PR word for tar sands – so at that point I started researching. In early 09, scouring the internet late at night, I learned about the Keystone 1. At that point I realized the difference between conventional crude oil and tar sands oil. There’s heat involved in a tar sands pipeline, and much higher pressure. The pipe is only .465 inches thick. I’ve done a lot of welding and worked with steel – that’s pretty stinkin’ thin for a high-pressure pipeline… combined with the heat, combined with abrasion from the quartz sand particles. The high pressure has to do with the nature of the bitumen. Tar sands bitumen is virtually a solid at room temperature; conventional crude oil is a liquid – it flows easier. Bitumen has to be pressurized and liquefied with carcinogenic diluents to flow. They pipe it at 140-160 degrees. Originally, I thought they were heating it to make it flow, but it turns out the heat actually comes from the friction.”
“So that’s got to be abrading the inside of the pipe,” I added. “If its producing heat, that’s resistance, and if there’s resistance, that’s got to be abrading that steel.”
“Yeah. To me that seems common sense. Later on, when we had our meetings, (Stop Tar Sands: the Winnsboro group) we’d have oil field workers and pipeliners showing up asking why we were opposing the new pipeline, I gave them the information about the pressures, specific gravities, and heat, and they started saying ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t work!’ So we had people who actually built these things express concern.”
“So, this was not going to be an ordinary pipeline.”
“What was your environmental consciousness before all this happened, and how did it develop as a result of it?”
“After I started reading the environmental impact statements, I began to realize how toxic the bitumen by itself is. And then they add all these other chemicals. As much as 1.7 million gallons a day can leak from the pipeline without triggering any of their leak detection systems, and the leaks will be underground. They could be leaking into our water supplies without anybody knowing about it. The Keystone 1 has had 14 leaks since it became activated – all above ground, where they could be seen. What’s happening below ground, we don’t know. We’re sitting on top of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer which feeds ten to twelve million people in Texas, and on top of that is the Queen City-Sparta aquifer, which is only a few feet underground. I drink out of the springs on my land now, but I won’t be doing that anymore.”
“You don’t know what you’re drinking.”
“And testing your water is expensive. That’s the landowner’s responsibility. After all the negotiations, I got them to agree to test my water one time, and had to fight for that much. And they threatened to take that away from me if I didn’t sign with them. ‘If you don’t take this offer,’ they said. ‘We’ll take you to court; you’ll have to hire an attorney and appraisers; so what’s it gonna be?’”
“I’ve always been concerned about the environment,” he continued. ”But I never did anything about it. I was a boy scout; I’ve always done a lot of camping; but I never belonged to any organization. I never became involved until this thing came along. I guess I had my head in the sand and my fingers in my ears, but that’s no longer the case. What it took for me was to have it come banging on my door. Now I have a front row seat.”
“How did this project change your understanding of human life on Earth?”
“You do the math, and we’re in trouble. When you consider the world’s most expensive, dirtiest and most toxic fossil fuel is considered a viable source, that should be a clear indication that we’re in trouble.”
“I’m a father,” he went on, “And I have a responsibility to my daughter, and that’s not just financial, that includes what kind of environment she’s going to have to live in. The World Bank has stated that the next wars are going to be fought over water, and the climate implications are right here in front of us. Certainly, the Earth goes through cycles, but we’re speeding the climate process along. We have the knowledge as a species to have a positive impact on the environment, but we choose to have a negative impact. This planet we’re floating through space on is all we have. It’s like what I heard a tribal leader say, ‘The Earth is sick and has a fever. It’s a living thing; when something is sick and has a fever, you take care of it.’”
“But you can’t use the word environment around here without, in some cases, risking your safety,” he continued. “What we’ve done here with Stop Tar Sands is learn to speak a language that people around here understand. I can still walk through town and I don’t have to worry about anything.”
“That’s going to become more important,.” I added.
“I believe in the environmental message, but the media still turns that message into the environment versus jobs, and leaves it at that. So I want to come at it through all the other doors that have worked, and get the support of people who normally wouldn’t support an environmental message. I’m a little concerned about other people and other groups getting involved who don’t understand the local culture… people who don’t speak the local language. I’ve heard rumors that people might be sky diving in or do some other sort of showboating that would not go over well here.”
“So the environmental message should be around the periphery of what you’re trying to do. Is that right?” I asked.
“The environmental message is the elephant in the room. Everyone will see it. Every way into the room leads to that message. And people should know that we did not start out with any sort of protest or civil disobedience – we’ve gone through and exhausted every possible avenue that you’re supposed to go through and this is what we’re left with.”
David, it turns out, is a trained gymnast, and “ran away with the circus” at age 28. This will prove important for what follows here in Winnsboro.
TransCanada might just be messing with the wrong Texan.
July 25, 2012
David showed up this morning at the campground and asked if I would like to see
July 26, 2012
I am sitting alone in David and Clara Daniel’s woods, down near the creek. The cicadas are singing their summer song. Squirrels are cackling in the trees and blue jays scolding in the distance. There are tall hardwoods here, like the ones I know back home: oak, hickory, gum, and basswood. A red oak tree, thirty-inch thick, towers a hundred feet overhead. This is the western edge of the great North American deciduous forest that I have come to love, to feel at home in, and to feel called upon to preserve from the biocide of mountaintop removal. This is where I live. It is hot now, but shady; a soft summer breeze stirs the limbs overhead.
Seven feet below is the bottom of the Keystone XL trench, now bedrock and undisturbed soil. This is where the Earth will rise and make her stand.
As I sit, I wonder what I would say if, like Susan, I could speak to the trees. How would I explain to them why I am here, and what we humans are up to? Would they see me in my two-legged uniform – an arm of humanity – or would they distinguish me, with Ron and David, and Susan and Gabriel, from others of my kind? Would they hold me responsible for what is to happen? Do they see with eyeless branches, or only feel the communal presence of my breath? Their days are numbered, yet they let me sit here, undisturbed, under their branches and over their roots. They do not seem to mind. If I could speak to them, would they reply? What would they say to me, and to my kind?
The woodpecker calls.
Do they know they will die? “Trees don’t die; the forest dies,” I hear, but it is in the thoughts and words that hover over breath. In seeing there is separation in space; in breath there is no space. I am trying to listen, but humanity holds me. Words cloud my mind. I am listening through the tangle of English; they speak no English. They breathe: in, out; up, and down. I feel them pushing gently on my lungs – the other side of sensation. The earth pulls down, and holds my body up. Is that for granted? Will it always hold me here? The Earth speaks. Yet, again, I hear no words. There are no words. I listen to breath, to gravity, but do not know what they say. There is no doubt as to their being here, with me. There is no question as to reality. I wish to calm my thoughts and learn their language, but then, could I speak to people? Would they understand me? Are there wordless words for people?
The woodpecker calls from a distance – a quiet trill.
I sense the forest retreating to low places like this. The tall oaks are dying on the hillsides, parched from last year’s draught, and this year’s. The heat and dry Earth are too much for them. The deer, the panther, and the armadillo will have less space to roam. Do the people who build pipelines breathe the quiet call of the Earth? Do they sense the forest? Do they know they are piercing a stronghold whence the trees may one day spread anew? Does the life that is here show on their maps of towns and roads and property lines?
The woodpecker calls again, this time in a loud, raucous squawk. His home is the old trees that have had their life. He lives where I live. I stand, a piece of my heart in David’s woods, waiting for the chainsaws and bulldozers.
[i] “USDA Declares ‘Natural Disaster’ in 26 States as Drought Devastates,”Common Dreams,” July 13, 2012.
[ii] Rolling Stone Politics, July 19, 2012