Tag Archive | "Keystone XL pipeline"

Keystone XL vs lethal Lone Star threat

 

Credit: facebook.com/keystonepipeline

Credit: facebook.com/keystonepipeline

 

Texas Supreme Court poised to save planet. Keystone XL pipeline ruling could avert any choice by Obama

Most of the Keystone XL chatter these days is about the U.S. State Department fantasy that tapping the tar sands of Canada will be a benign blessing for America and the world. But almost no one mentions the Texas Supreme Court case that could shut the pipeline down completely – since a court ruling for the appellant could mean that the pipeline was built on property to which the pipeline owner had no rights.

If completed, the 1,700-mile Keystone pipeline is intended to bring highly-polluting tar sands oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast, where much of it will likely be refined and shipped overseas. There is no dispute that tar sands oil (or dilbit) is a pollutant that contributes exorbitantly to climate change, but there is debate as to whether burning this oil will be more harmful to the planet than the extraction process itself in the oil pits of Northern Alberta (as in “Game Over for the Climate.”).

At issue in the Texas case is the TransCanada southern section of the pipeline, which is already built, but may be located on land to which the TransCanada corporation has no legal right. That’s the argument of the Crawford Family Farm Partnership in its 25-page petition filed with the Texas Supreme Court on November 4, 2013. The first response from TransCanada was to ask the court for a waiver from responding, in effect asking to close the case immediately.

But the Texas Supreme Court did not grant that waiver and, on January 7, 2014, ordered TransCanada to file a response by midnight on February 6 (which it has done).

Julia Trigg Crawford, in a press release for the Crawford Family Farm Partnership, characterized the court’s action as “a clear victory for pipeline opponents and landowners fighting TransCanada’s overreach on property rights.”  As victories go, this one is pretty limited, since all it means is that TransCanada has to make its case to the court. The court could still rule for TransCanada, as lower courts have in the past.

Eminent domain ruling could save the planet, is that ironic?  

This is an eminent domain case, not an environmental case. TransCanada used the state’s eminent domain law to take land from the Crawford Family Farm (and others from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast) to use as the pipeline route. This corporate use of state power by a private, foreign corporation was allowed by the Texas Railroad Commission, which has an unsavory history of its own. Julia Trigg Crawford has been fighting this issue in court since 2012, losing peremptorily at the local trial court in Lamar County and again at the 6th Court of Appeals.

As the Crawford Family Farm press release explained it: “At the heart of Crawford’s case is the ability of TransCanada, a foreign corporation, to use eminent domain under the state’s ‘common carrier’ clause since their pipeline transports 90% Canadian tar sands and 10% North Dakota oil. There is no on ramp for Texas oil therefore violating the definition of a common carrier under Texas law.”

According to Texas custom, all one has to do to become a common carrier – and thereby be able to wield eminent domain power – is to check a box on a form provided by the Texas Railroad Commission, which then says OK, bud go get ‘em! No proof required, no evidence requested, no fact check made, no hearing held, no questions asked. Check the box and you’re it.

The appeal, formally THE CRAWFORD FAMILY FARM PARTNERSHIP v. TRANSCANADA KEYSTONE PIPELINE, L.P., (docket no. 13-0886), argues that: “TransCanada is not a common carrier with statutory eminent domain authority and cannot condemn appellant’s property because it cannot subject itself to the provisions of Texas Natural Resource Code, Chapter 111…. Therefore, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the trial court’s orders denying appellant’s plea to the jurisdiction and granting TransCanada’s motions for summary judgment must be reversed.”

The appeal relies in part on a Texas Supreme Court precedent known as “Denbury” (Officially, TEXAS RICE LAND PARTNERS, LTD. AND MIKE LATTA, PETITIONERS, v. DENBURY GREEN PIPELINE-TEXAS, LLC, RESPONDENT, docket no. 09-0901) decided unanimously on August 26, 2011, in which the entire conclusion stated:

“Private property is constitutionally protected, and a private enterprise cannot acquire condemnation power merely by checking boxes on a one-page form. We reverse the court of appeals’ judgment, and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

State Dept. tilts toward parochial profit, shrugs off global pain 

Meanwhile the 105-day comment period on the State Department’s fraudulent environmental report is running, and it’s not clear whether the Texas court will act within that time.  Wait, “fraudulent” report? Well, based on early reporting, the report is:

Intellectually fraudulent: by assessing just the pipeline element of the tar sands nexus, the report can’t possibly be meaningful. It’s like assessing an elephant based on only its left foot. When the report says, “the proposed Project [pipeline] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios)” – that translates into meaning something like: “Canada’s going to screw the world no matter what, so we might as well get our piece of the action.” In other words it’s an environmental report that takes no full account of the environment.

Procedurally fraudulent: according to Friends of the Earth, “the U.S. Department of State issued its long-awaited environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline. The report was written by a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute that lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form.”

Politically fraudulent: first clue, they released it late on a Friday. The main talking point was “it’s not a decision document,” but it raises no significant barrier to approving the pipeline. And the official reaction of TransCanada:

“We’re very pleased with the release and about being able to move to this next stage of the process. The case for the Keystone XL, in our view, is as strong as ever.”

TransCanada is right, the case for the pipeline is as strong as ever – which in the view of opponents was never very strong in the first place. And last spring, President Obama promised he would only approve Keystone if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”

Well, that’s what the report says. And we’ve seen this shuck and jive before, less than a year ago.  Mission accomplished?

Or will Texas take a cue from Nebraska? 

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Posted in Climate change

Arkansas oil spill won’t stop Keystone XL pipeline

Credit. 350.org

Credit. 350.org

The Arkansas oil spill and the Canadian train carrying crude oil that derailed won’t stop the Obama Administration from ok’ing the Keystone XL pipeline, no matter how much deluded liberal think if they can just get the message to Obama that this time will be different.

So, look at the Arkansas neighborhood. This is what is coming.

“We can see oil running down the road like a river,” explains a Mayflower resident. Crude oil has leaked and this is extremely unfortunate to Mayflower, Arkansas; damaging neighborhoods, and possibly endangering Lake Conrad. The size of the spill remains unclear. Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated the spill at 84,000 gallons. The EPA and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management did not return calls for comment.

Posted in News

Keystone XL pipeline: US pays foxes to assess henhouse as delicious

fox-henhouse

Keystone XL and the State Department: What Is It Called When You Outsource Your Autonomy? 

So it turns out that friends of the oil industry wrote the environmental impact [1]statement[1] issued by the State Department about the Keystone XL pipeline on March 1.  That’s the report that assured people tar sands oil was going to be developed no matter what and anyway, climate change wouldn’t hurt the pipeline.

And it turns out that at least one of the several oil-friendly corporate authors was apparently paid by Trans-Canada, the corporate applicant for — and the owner of — the Keystone pipeline.

And it also turns out that the State Dept., while noting (on page 1.5-1) that as “the lead agency, the Department directed the preparation” of the impact statement, the title page lists only one person, Genevieve Walker, as “Project Manager,” along with more than 14 cooperating and assisting government agencies – and no reference to any other possible direct or indirect report authors.

And it further turns out that the State Dept., without giving credit to specific contributors for specific sections, does include – at the end of volume 2 of 4-volume, 2,000-page report – a “list of preparers,” 58 of them, almost all from three, private oil industry consulting firms.

And it finally turns out that little if any of this has appeared in mainstream media, which may be less of a surprise than it should be, since cynicism about government integrity is so widespread, one might be tempted to ask why the State Dept. made even this much effort at deception just to hide a fundamental conflict of interest that hardly seems unusual.   And news media might cynically ask, what’s the news here?

When the Conclusion Is Predictable, Who Cares Who Wrote It? 

While environmentalists and [2]others[2] promptly characterized the report’s analysis as fraudulent or worse as soon as it came out, mainstream coverage was more like [3]Fox News[3] headlining an Associated Press story the next day, “No major objections to Keystone XL oil pipeline, State Department says.”

On March 4, three days after the Friday release of the report, the Heritage Foundation complained that “Obama Administration Buries Good News on Keystone Pipeline” – basing its claim on the choice of a Friday release.  Based on the same fact of a late Friday release, the Sierra Club made the opposite claim, that the administration was trying to bury bad environmental news.   But Heritage went on to push discredited job-creation numbers, along with the false assertion that the “Keystone pipeline has passed its environmental reviews.”

The current review is not complete.  The March 1 report will be held at least until mid-April, when the 45-day public comment period ends.  Comments on the Draft SEIS [Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement] can be submitted via email to:  keystonecomments@state.gov for the next several weeks, or from the State Dept. website.

Lisa Song of [4]Inside Climate News[4] was apparently the first to write about the State Dept.’s use of highly conflicted providers when State decided not to do the work itself, for whatever reason.   Her March 6 article concentrates on the three main contractors in the report’s list of preparers:

  1. EnSys Energy (3 preparers) – the company’s president, Martin Tallett said “We don’t do advocacy.”  [5]EnSys[5] clients have included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Dept. of Energy,  and State, as well as the World Bank, ExxonMobil, BP, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute.   Tallett refused to discuss the Keystone pipeline.
  1. ICF International  (7 preparers) – the company’s website client list is generic, and all categories are within the oil and gas industry.  [6]ICF[6] recently won an award for its work in “Climate Risk Management and Adaptation” for such clients as coastal cities, the World Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.  ICF has more than 60 offices worldwide, employing more than 4,500 people.  The company refused to talk to a reporter.
  1. ERM, Environmental Resources Management (45 preparers) – [7]the company[7] lists clients from a wide variety of fields, including the oil industry (Chevron, Shell, Statoil, and Total).   ERM’s clients include more than half of all Global Fortune 500 companies.  The company has over 4,700 people working more than 140 offices in 39 different countries.

Wait, TransCanada Assessed the Impact of Its Own Pipeline? 

Also on March 6, Brad Johnson at Grist moved [8]the story[8] from obvious conflict of interest to something that begins to smack of fraud, at least where ERM is involved.  Under the headline “’State Department’ Keystone XL Report Actually Written by TransCanada Contractor,” Johnson links to the [9]contract[9] and [10]supporting documents[10] that lead him to conclude:

The “sustainability consultancy” Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the [environmental impact] statement, which is now an official government document.  The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable…. 

The documents from the ERM-TransCanada agreement are on the State Department’s website, but payment amounts and other clients and past work of ERM are redacted. In the contract documents, ERM partner Steven J. Koster certifies that his company has no conflicts of interest. He also certifies that ERM has no business relationship with TransCanada or “any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work” (notwithstanding the impact statement contract itself)…. 

On March 7, ThinkProgress [11]summarized[11] the stories by Song and Johnson, adding a detail indicating that this kind of deception was not a new pattern for TransCanada or the State Dept.:  “Several years ago, Cardno Entrix, another private consultancy, was contracted by TransCanada to handle the State Department’s initial draft of the environmental impact statement, the Department’s hearings on the pipeline, and even its Keystone XL website.

N.Y. Times Favors Climate Over Pipeline 

Without mentioning the State Dept. report’s shady underpinnings, the New York Times took two strong shots against approval of the Keystone pipeline – first in a [12]column[12] by Thomas Friedman on March 9, “No to Keystone.  Yes to Crazy.” Friedman uncharacteristically urged protestors to “go crazy”

I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change. 

The next day, the Times struck again, this time with an [13]editorial[13] urging President Obama to deny a permit to Keystone:

He should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.

Add the likelihood that the State Dept. report is likely a collusive fraud doesn’t really improve the pipeline’s case.

And guess what?  The State Dept. position today is the same position officially expressed some 18 months ago during a press briefing related to an earlier Keystone report, when Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones [14]told[14] reporters:

I think that the sense is we have that this oil sands is going to be developed and therefore, there’s not going to be any dramatic change in greenhouse gas from this pipeline, or if the pipeline was to go forward or without the pipeline, because the oil sands will continue to be developed and there are alternatives to pipelines to moving that fuel or potential crude around. 

In other words, the government just spent however many million dollars to get oil industry consultants to come to the same conclusion the government already held in August 2011.  No wonder this story is beginning to get some traction.

[1] http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/draftseis/index.htm

[2]  http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/16355-foggy-bottom-shuck-a-jive

[3]  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/02/no-major-objections-to-keystone-xl-oil-pipeline-state-department-says/

[4] http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130306/keystone-xl-eis-state-department-transcanada-oil-tar-sands-industry-ensys-energy-koch-brothers-exxonmobil-bp-obama

[5] http://www.ensysenergy.com/about.php

[6]   http://www.icfi.com/news/2013/03/icf-receives-2012-ccbj-business-achievement-award

[7] http://www.erm.com/en/About-Us/What-we-do/Our-Clients/ 

[8] http://grist.org/article/state-department-keystone-xl-report-actually-written-by-transcanada-contractor/

[9]    http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205731.pdf

[10] http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/admindocs/index.htm

[11]  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/07/1688231/keystone-assessment-conflicts/

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/opinion/sunday/friedman-no-to-keystone-yes-to-crazy.html?_r=2& 

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/opinion/when-to-say-no-to-the-keystone-xl.html

[14] http://www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/remarks/2011/171117.htm

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

Posted in News

Foggy Bottom shuck and jive. Keystone XL pipeline safe

snake-oil

Secretary of State John Kerry promised a “transparent” assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline, and now the State Department has delivered on that promise – with a transparently fraudulent [1]“environmental impact statement”[1] which, according one critic, “makes no mention of the [pipeline’s] impact on the world’s climate.”

After meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on February 8, 2013, Kerry made his first public comments as Secretary of State about the pipeline then under review by his department.  He said, in [2]response to a question[2] about the review:  “I can guarantee you that it will be fair and transparent, accountable, and we hope that we will be able to be in a position to make an announcement in the near term.”

Environmentalist opponents of Keystone XL warned for years, as [3]anyone attentive[3] to the issue would know, that the development of tar sands oil in Canada will increase greenhouse gas emissions beyond the point where there is any hope of mitigating climate change.  Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline would not, in itself, control tar sands development.  But permitting it would mean losing control.

In evaluating the Keystone project, one of the challenges the State Department faced was credibly assessing what effect the pipeline’s operation – or more precisely the effect of burning billions of gallons of the world’s dirtiest oil over a period of 30 years or more would have on the global climate.

The first signal that the State Department report would be bad news for the climate was that it was released on March 1, on a Friday afternoon, a time when news media are often at their least attentive.

Why Would Government Ignore Impact on Climate? 

Two days after the release of the report, investigative [4]historian Eric Zuesse[4] wrote:  “The study does discuss ‘Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project,’ but not the proposed project’s impacts on climate change. It finds that climate change will have no significant impact upon either the construction, or the operation, of the Pipeline.”

The State Department’s environmental impact statement, executive summary section ES.5.5, tiptoes up to the critical question of tar sands oil development:

“Finally, climate change considerations—which are influenced by GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions—could affect the construction and operation of the proposed Project. GHG and climate change issues were the subject of many comments

received during the public scoping process for the proposed Project.”

But there the analysis stops, like a shell game in which none of the shells conceal a pea.

The State Department statement (section E.S.5.5.2) concludes “that approval or denial of the proposes [Keystone] Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.”

In other words, even if there were a pea under one of the shells, there’s nothing to be done about it.

The State Department’s analysis finds that there will be little impact on air quality or noise (sections 3.12 and 4.12) from the construction or operation of the pipeline.  Even better (section 4.14), the “impact of climate change effects… on the construction and operation of the proposed Project itself” are virtually nil.

As the summary section (4.16) puts it:

  • Climate change would have no substantive effects on construction of the proposed Project. 
  • Climate change would have no substantive effects on the operation of the proposed Project…. 

Environmentalists React With Outrage, Disbelief 

So the Project, the Keystone XL pipeline, may be safe from climate change, but the State Department has nothing to say about whether the climate is safe from the Project.

The day the report came out, [5]Sierra Club’s[5] executive director Michael Brune released a statement that said:

“The Sierra Club is outraged by the State Department’s deeply flawed analysis today and what can only be interpreted as lip service to one of the greatest threats to our children’s future: climate disruption. 

“We’re mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the Earth’s dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will ‘not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.’ Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice.” 

A much longer objection came from Bold Nebraska’s executive director Jane Kleeb who argues against the State Department analysis:

“Tarsands does not expand unless Keystone XL is built. The State Department’s assumption that tarsands development does not change with or without this pipeline is wrong and laughable. Why would TransCanada spend billions on building the pipeline and millions on lobbying unless this piece of infrastructure is the–not a–but the lynchpin for the expansion of tarsands. 

“Without this pipeline Canada stays at 2 million barrels a day, with it they get 3 million barrels a day. The President has the ability to keep a million barrels of tarsands in the ground a day. With a stroke of a pen he can protect property rights, water and make a dent in climate change. This report is laughable using the wrong assumption and therefore the wrong science.” 

The public will have 45 days  to comment on the environmental impact report, once the State Department posts a notice in the Federal Register.  As the Department’s March 1 [6]cover letter states[6]: 

“As part of the Department’s process, members of the public, public agencies, and other interested parties are encouraged to submit comments, questions, and concerns about the project via e-mail to keystonecomments@state.gov , at http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov , or mailed to:

U.S. Department of State
Attn: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator
2201 C Street NW, Room 2726
Washington, D.C. 20520

The letter further explains:  “Ultimately, a determination will be made on whether this project serves the national interest. The national interest determination will involve consideration of many factors, including: energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations.”

There is no reference to any global interest or any other interest.

[1] http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/draftseis/index.htm

[2] http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/15955-kerry-promises-keystone-xl-decision-in-near-term

[3] http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/16000-kerry-misses-the-keystone-point

[4]  http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17836-state-department-keystone-xl-study-virtually-ignores-impact-on-climate-change

[5] http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2013/03/01-5

[6] http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205558.pdf

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. 

 

Posted in News

Keystone XL protester interrupts pipeline conference on faulty welds

stop-keystone-xl

Sunlight shines through faulty welds in the pipe of Keystone XL’s Gulf Coast pipeline leg, according to members of the Tar Sands Blockade, who are offering, as proof, photographs they say they took from inside the pipe on December 3.

Ramsey Sprague, a young Texan with the Blockade, dramatically made this claim at a pipeline industryconference in Houston, shortly after it got under way at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel in Houston Thursday morning.  He also promised that whistleblowers inside TransCanada would be coming forward withg further evidence of flaws in the pipeline.

Tom Hamilton of TransCanada is the Manager of quality and compliance for the Keystone Oil Pipeline this currently under construction in East Texas.  He had gotten a few minutes into his presentation, a case study titled “Building an ISO 9001 Pipeline System: TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Project” when he was interrupted by Sprague, who had managed to chain himself to the conference loudspeaker towers.

Wearing a suit and tie and a cowboy hat, Sprague had not drawn attention while he sat through the first part of the program.  As described on the Tar Sands Blockade web page, as described by the cameraman whodocumented the event:

“Ten minutes into Hamilton’s time at the podium, Ramsey stood up and chained himself to the sound equipment positioned next to the projection screen, quickly delving into an impassioned speech on the irony of TransCanada lecturing others on safety and compliance. The audience sat silent, cameras aimed at this impromptu act, as security officials attempted to address the situation without having to clear the room. 

“ As Ramsey spoke against TransCanada’s horrific safety record, as well as its treatment of indigenous communities and others whose land and lives are being adversely affected by tar sands extraction, authorities escorted him out of the assembly and into police custody. After being detained by three Montgomery County sheriffs for documenting the act (and subsequent arrest), I was given a trespass warning and told to leave the property immediately.”

No Public Comment Yet from TransCanada 

TransCanada has not yet publicly responded to questions about the charge that their pipeline in Texas has faulty welds which would make it likely to leak as soon as it’s put into service.

Tom Hamilton’s scheduled case study of the Gulf Coast pipeline project was expected to focus on pipeline safety.  As billed in the conference program,

“Mr. Hamilton has supplied technical consulting services to a wide range of pipeline clients in the fields of quality management systems, welding and NDE, above and below ground protective coatings, cathodic protection system design, specifications, system installation and performance affirmation, corrosion control troubleshooting, and pipeline system integrity management.”  

The bullet points of his talk included:

  • Reviewing the current progress of Keystone’s Gulf Coast segment 
  • How have ISO 9001 requirements impacted pipeline design, construction, and delivery? 
  • Overcoming the challenges associated with bringing new processes into large diameter pipeline projects built by third-party contractors 
  • Right the first time – Highlighting best practices that have seen safety, quality and environmental stewardship improve while remaining on time and on budget 
  • Discussing how ISO 9001 quality management systems aid in managing expectations when engaging and educating stakeholders 

ISO refers to the International Organization for Standardization and ISO 9001 requirement are “generic and are intended to be applicable to all organizations, regardless of type, size and product provided.”

Sprague’s Critique Was Underscored by Dave Brubeck

While he was chained to the speakers, Sprague shouted warnings to the audience about the dangers the pipeline represents, but there was little or no response from the crowd.  He also spoke quietly and politely to a few people who approached him.  The interruption of the conference lasted only a little longer than the eight minutes that were recorded.

While he was talking, Sprague described the events of December 3, 2012, when pipeline opponents blockades themselves inside the pipeline for about a day before they were forced out.  During that time they took pictures from the inside showing light coming through the pipe welds.  According to the Tar Sands Blockade:  “That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.”

For several minutes Sprague had to shout loudly to project his voice over loud music played by the conference, selections by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.   Once organizers  brought bolt cutters and cut Sprague loose, he was escorted from the room as he told people in the hallways, “TransCanada should not be lecturing about pipeline safety.”

Posted in News

Oil over people in Texas – Keystone Pipeline goes forward

tarsandsblockade.org

tarsandsblockade.org

Michael Bishop was ready for his day in court against TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, which is under construction in East Texas and approaching his homestead.  The only trouble was – the court wasn’t ready.

By the time TransCanada attorneys and Bishop, the former Marine representing himself, showed up at the Nacogdoches County Court on December 19 to argue Bishop’s claim that TransCanada’s defrauding landowners like himself was enough to halt construction of the pipeline’s southern leg, Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz was already having second thoughts about his local court taking on a dispute with such large national, international, and global ramifications.

Judge Sinz had already stopped construction once, having granted Bishop an emergency injunction on December 7.  But the judge then rescinded that order on December 13, after TransCanada’s attorneys asked for a special hearing at which to  present additional information.

Over the weekend, apparently, Judge Sinz began to wonder if his court of limited jurisdiction actually had the authority to rule on the issues of property and land rights involved in blocking TransCanada from using its right of way for the pipeline.

At the abbreviated hearing, Sinz invited both sides — TransCanada with its attorneys and Bishop representing himself — to write legal briefs addressing the question of whether the case should be heard by a higher court, and to file those briefs in early January.

No Court Action to Prevent Irreparable Harm

Although he took no evidence at the hearing, Judge Sinz took no action to prevent irreparable harm to Bishop’s property.  The judge allowed TransCanada to continue its pipeline construction unimpeded and Bishop fears that the pipeline will have crossed his 20-acre property before the courts decide whether it’s legal or not:

“They dumped gravel on my property today. They’ve got the pipe. They’re fixin’ to weld the pipe up. It’s about two miles down the road from me, three,” Bishop told StateImpact Texas.

A crowd of supporters gathered at the courthouse and demonstrated in support of Bishop, a trained chemist and paramedic now enrolled in medical school.  He told the group:

“TransCanada may think they can keep delaying while their construction crews destroy my land, but they won’t shake me off so easily. I’ll continue fighting to win this case. And I’m suing the Texas Railroad Commission for letting TransCanada lie about what’s going through this pipe so they could use eminent domain to steal my land and my neighbors’ land.” 

Bishop is seeking a jury trial on the question of TransCanada defrauding landowners and one of his supporters held up a sign saying: “YOUR LAND HAS THE RIGHT TO A JURY” while another supporter’s sign read: “TRANSCAN IS AFRAID OF A TEXAS JURY.”

The same day Bishop didn’t get his day in court, December 19, other Texans were being ignored by most of the members of the Sunset Commission meeting in Austin to consider whether to dissolve the Texas Railroad Commission that regulates oil pipelines and facilitated TransCanada’s eminent domain process when landowners weren’t quick enough to grant a right of way for the pipeline.

The absent Sunset Commissioners missed hearing citizens criticize the railroad commission for taking money from the industries it regulates, abusing the eminent domain process (especially in relation to TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline), and failure to take action against 98% of the violators of the laws the commission was supposed to enforce.

Bishop has also filed suit against the rail road commission on some of these same issues, but his case has not yet been scheduled for hearing.

Posted in News

Keystone XL Pipeline fraud alleged by Texas landowner and former Marine

keystone-pipeline

If it turns out that a court decides that TransCanada defrauded Texas landowners when it was establishing its right of way for the Keystone XL pipeline, legal proceedings in Nacogdoches County Court at Law could stop further construction as early as December 19, but any final resolution of the dispute between TransCanada and pipeline opponents most likely remains a long way off.

Judge Jack Sinz of the County Court at Law has already issued one temporary restraining order and injunction on December 7, ordering TransCanada to halt pipeline construction, pending a hearing on December 19.    The order took effect on December 11.  Then, after granting the Canadian corporation an emergency hearing on December 13, he vacated the initial order and injunction, while leaving the scheduled merits hearing on the docket.

Marine vet and retired chemist Michael Bishop of Douglass, Texas, filed the initial complaint against the Keystone XL pipeline that persuaded Judge Sinz there was sufficient cause to issue an injunction.  Bishop owns land through which the pipeline right of way now passes, a right of way that, Bishop argues, TransCanada acquired by fraud, lying to him and other landowners about the nature of the “oil” the pipeline would carry.

Before Bishop’s case could be heard on the facts, TransCanada petitioned the court to withdraw the injunction, since company had paid Bishop for the use of his land, and he had signed an agreement and cashed their check.

Bishop acknowledged to the judge that he had settled with TransCanada, but only after a prolonged legal struggle in the eminent domain case the company brought against him and which he could no longer afford to fight.  He had rejected TransCanada’s first offer of $8,000.  When he finally settled “under duress,” as he put it, TransCanada paid him $75,000, of which he kept about $3,800.  The rest went mostly to his lawyers, as well as a fee to a Texas land agency.

In the County Court at Law case, Bishop is representing himself without a lawyer.

The Judge Did Not Throw Out the Case

When he vacated the injunction, Judge Sinz explained that decision this way:

“I feel I have no choice but to dissolve the temporary restraining order. You’ve raised some interesting questions but you’ve taken their money and given them an easement. And you knew all this when you did it. The case will proceed and I’ll continue to consider it.”

TransCanada has argued that Bishop is bound by the agreement he signed and for which he was paid, which is a strong contractual argument and the company has a countersuit to that effect.  But Bishop’s argument that TransCanada committed fraud – that the company lied about the pipeline and used coercion to make him give them an easement – could defeat the contractual argument if the judge finds Bishop’s evidence persuasive and credible.

A TransCanada said after the hearing, referring to Bishop: “he agreed to the easement and he knew what would be in the pipe.”  But they will have to prove that  to the judge’s satisfaction.

The fundamental issue underlying the name-calling arguments, is whether the contents of the pipeline will be “crude oil” as defined by law – or not.

There is no question that TransCanada is building the pipeline for tar sands oil – also known diluted bitumen.  There is no question that bitumen is a solid, that it must be treated in an environmentally unfriendly method to become liquid, and that it must be heated to remain liquid as it passes through the pipeline.

Tar Sands Oil, or Diluted Bitumin, Is Toxic

There is no question that even TransCanada acknowledges that tar sands oil is more of an environmental threat that traditional oil that comes out of the ground as a liquid.   Environmentalists point to the 2010 failure of an Enbridge corporation pipeline that dumped about a millions gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, where the clean-up continues after more than two years and a still-rising cost of $800 million.  TransCanada says its pipelines are state of the art in security.

There is no question that Texas crude oil and Canadian tar sands oil are significantly different substances in reality.  But reality won’t matter that much to the court.  What will matter is whether the substance TransCanada wants to ship more than 2,000 miles across the United States fits the legal definition of crude oil in the statute or regulation the court considers most relevant.

Both sides say they have the law on their side in one form or another – state regulations, state court decisions, federal regulations, even an Internal Revenue Service definition.

When Judge Sinz rescinded his injunction, national media responded with a burst of media coverage for the corporate victory, dwarfing the scant coverage of the injunction when it was granted.  But few reports took detailed notice of the reality that the originally scheduled hearing on the facts is still scheduled for December 19.

Bishop Targets Pipeline, Judges, Texas Legislature

Bishop, who is also a paramedic now enrolled in medical school, remained optimistic when he talked to supporters outside the courthouse on December 13:

“Today I got knocked down, but I didn’t get hurt, because I’ve got friends supporting me,…  and I’ve got truth on my side….  I was forced to bring these people into court because they have not only defrauded me and other Texas landowners, they have defrauded the American public since the day this project was conceived and I am sick and tired of legislators, elected officials, county judges, county commissioners, district court judges that will rule in favor of a private foreign corporation carrying a hazardous material….  

“I may lose again in the hearing on the 19th…  [but] when the jury of landowners and taxpayers in this county hear my arguments and sit in that seat in that very courtroom that you all were in, the case is going to run our way, we’re going to be in charge, and then we’re going after the Texas Legislature, we’re going after the county commissioners and county judges, we’re going to get justice.”    

Bishop has also filed suit against the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates pipelines in Texas.  Bishop’s complaint asserts that the commission failed to protect the environment by failing to investigate the contents of the pipeline – tar sands oil – before granting TransCanada a permit.

Also on December 19, the Railroad commission will be the subject of a hearing on whether it should be disbanded.  The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission will meet in Austin to take public comment and pipeline opponents are organizing people to testify against the commission for what they call “eminent domain abuse” and “tar sands fraud.”

Posted in News

Keystone XL: Crime Against Humanity?

BI-PARTISAN SENATORS URGE PRESIDENT TO IGNORE SCIENCE AND SUPPORT KEYSTONE XL

Based on the same publicly available scientific information, the World Bank issues a report calling for prompt action to ward off global warming, a coalition of the world’s largest investors calls on governments to act promptly to ward off global warming, the United Nations reports that greenhouse gas levels reached a new record, and eighteen United States Senators (nine from each party) write a letter to President Obama calling on him to approve expanded fossil fuel exploitation without regard for global warming.

At the same time students at Harvard are voting to divest from fossil fuels, and grassroots groups from British Columbia to Palm Beach, Florida, to London are demonstrating in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade in East Texas, where that two months long non-violent direct action is aimed at stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that is designed to set off “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” (the Canadian tar sands), amplifying the catastrophic impact of global warming.

On November 18, thousands of demonstrators paraded around the White House, calling on the President to block the Keystone XL pipeline, only to get more coverage from Canadian media than American media, where little was heard from the mainstream that was busy pursuing Twinkies, with CNN an exception.

TransCanada Pipeline Imports Canadian Oil

The current focal point for all these activities is the TransCanada construction project in East Texas, where the Tar Sands Blockade has been stepping up its tactics to slow the pipeline’s progress – or as UPI reports it: “Protests mar Keystone XL build in Texas” over a story that makes no effort to sort out facts from claims.

When President Obama put the northern section of the Keystome Pipeline on hold last March, he also signaled his bureaucracy to let the southern leg begin.  TransCanada began construction last August and when the work crossed into Texas in September, the Tar Sands Blockade set up a treehouse network with nine tree-sitters in the right-of-way for the pipeline, vowing to block construction until the pipeline was cancelled.

The White House is expected to decide whether Keystone XL can be built some time in the next month or so, and all it takes to proceed is a Presidential signature.  For President Obama, this decision will be a clear signal defining his real priorities: stopping the rise of the oceans and healing the planet, as he campaigned, or settling for short term economic gains with unknown long term consequences.

Baptist Church Sides With Tar Sands Blockade 

In Nacogdoches, Texas, the current front line between the Tar Sands Blockade and TranaCanada’s construction workers and private police, the blockaders have been surprised by the appearance of a new ally – the Austin Heights Baptist Church that has extended hospitality to the protesters.   The story reported by The Baptist Standard included these passages:
“Our earth-care ministry group has been involved for years in environmental projects—recycling, environmental education discussion groups, looking at how our church can reduce its carbon footprint,” Pastor Kyle Childress said….    

“These are mostly kids in their 20s who are a long way from home. There are a few Texans, but most are from out-of-state—places like New York, California and Chicago. They are urban, secular young people for the most part,” Childress said. “A handful of them are churchgoing Christians, but most aren’t. Most see the church as part of the problem.”… 

During one encounter, Childress talked to a 20-something protester about the pressure many churches feel to incorporate the latest technology into worship in order to appeal to young people.

“He told me, ‘If more churches were on the front lines of things that matter, they wouldn’t have any problem getting young people to church…’”

Biggest Action Yet in Two Month Blockade 

On November 19, over 100 protesters stepped up their non-violent efforts to slow construction, shutting down two sites for most of the day.  Local police also stepped up their violent tactics to remove the protesters  eventually arresting 11.  Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies pepper sprayed and used torture techniques on protesters who chained themselves to heavy equipment.  Deputies violently dragged away those they arrested.  Deputies pepper sprayed protesters who were just holding signs, one of them a 75-year-old woman, as CNN reported.

The following day, responding in part to police violence, local supporters in Nacogdoches joined with blockaders for a rally and candlelight vigil at Cherokee County Jail, where some protesters are still being held with high bail on extreme felony charges.  Combined bail for the 11 arrested is $132,250.

One reason for strong local support from Nacogdoches is that Keystone XL threatens local water resources.  According to a Tar Sands Blockade news release:

Today’s Day of Action [Nov. 19] is in solidarity with local landowners struggling to protect their water and land from TransCanada’s toxic tar sands pipeline. 

Keystone XL would cross 16 large rivers in Texas, including the site of today’s latest tree blockade, the scenic Angelina River. Nestled amongst 50 foot pine trees in forested bottomlands, the tree blockaders have settled in for a long standoff in protection of their fresh drinking and agricultural water. The waters downstream feed into the popular Sam Rayburn Reservoir, the largest lake entirely within the state of Texas, renowned for its angling opportunities and competitions. 

18 U.S. Senators Happy to Risk the Planet  

The White House has not yet responded to the letter from 18 Senators urging the President to approve the Keystone pipeline as soon as possible.  The nine Democrats (left) and nine Republicans are mostly from oil states:

Max Baucus (D-Mont.)                                     John Hoeven (R-N.D.)

Jon Tester (D-Mont.)                                        Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)                                      Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

Mary Landrieu (D-LA)                                    Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)                                        David Vitter (R-La.)

Jim Webb (D-VA)                                              John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)

Mark Begich (D-Alaska)                                  Mike Johanns (R-Neb.

Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)                                          Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

Joe Manchin (D-W.V.)                                    Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Despite on the climate science available to them today, whether they’ve looked at it or not, they’ve decided that it’s in the best interest of the United States to ask the President to commit a crime against humanity.

They’re rationale, as Investors.com puts it, with two false assertions to support the conclusion:

Climate change is an imaginary threat.

The fiscal cliff is not.

It’s time for real job and economic growth.  

Posted in News

TransCanada pipeline faces off against angry Texans, law, politics

The former site of David Hightower's muscadine vineyard, now a desert thanks to the work of TransCanada

TransCanada had a good September in East Texas, relentlessly clear-cutting its way through piney woods and oak groves to make way for the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring hot, pressurized, toxic tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast on its way to market in China. Despite Tar Sands Blockade establishing a tree-house barrier in Wood County, the month ended on a high note for the multi-billion dollar Canadian corporation as it won another round in court and wiped out a resisting vineyard.

Tar Sands Blockade established a tree-house encampment in the path of TransCanada’s earth-stripping equipment on September 24. Although the company encouraged sheriff’s deputies to torture two blockaders who chained themselves to a backhoe the next day, the faceoff remained peaceful but tense the rest of the week with the construction workers some 20 feet away from the trees with nine tree-sitters waiting 80 feet above.

Friday’s court decision in three eminent domain cases gave TransCanada a firmer legal basis for pressing ahead and dislodging the tree-sitters, when Jefferson County Court Judge Tom Rugg, Sr., granted the company the formal right to take possession of the land it had already been clearing. Having required TransCanada to put up more money in the surety bonds it posted, the judge concluded that “The statutory requirements for the issuance of writs of possession are now met.”

Even though the Texas Supreme Court issued a decision in March 2012 that raised the bar for pipeline companies using eminent domain, Judge Rugg denied the landowners’ request to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court to this case. While acknowledging that the Supreme Court case, Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC, was “perhaps the most difficult issue” in the case before him, the judge held, in effect, that even though TransCanada had not established it right to clear the land, it could continue to do so because the bonding would provide compensation to the landowners in the event that it was needed.

The judge did not address the question of how money could be a just compensation to a landowner whose was destroyed in whole or in part.

Earlier the same week, David Hightower of Winnsboro came to the end of his resistance to the pipeline clearing crews. Hightower, who was living in his childhood home after serving 40 years in the Air Force, had planted a muscadine grapevineyard and nurtured it over the years into a home business. He asked TransCanada to shift the pipeline route. TransCanada wiped out his vineyard.

The use and abuse of eminent domain, especially by pipeline companies, has been an increasingly contentious Texas issue for several years. The dispute in Denbury goes back to 2008, but by the time the court ruled in favor of the landowners, the pipelines company had already completed the pipeline.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the Denbury decision twice more this year. Judge Rugg’s reluctance to apply the decision to the cases before him extends the uncertainty surrounding Texas eminent domain law and some observers are saying the Texas legislature may take up the question in its next session in 2013 (the Texas legislature meets every other year).

Judge Rugg, who is serving a one-year fill-in term until a new judge is elected this fall, will eventually return to his former job in the District Attorney’s office where he worked on civil and probate cases. He took an $18,000 cut in salary, to $139,000, to serve as county judge.

Talking about the Denbury decision to local public radio, the judge observed that:

“It’s opened up a real can of worms and I’m not sure how it’s gonna get resolved…. That decision has left a lot of unanswered questions, so there are a lot of legal issues that will have to be sorted through over the next few years.”

Meanwhile it leaves people like the Holland family, who are part of Texas Rice Land Partners, already have some 50 or morepipelines on their property, but this is only the second time they’ve gone to court over the issue of eminent domain. The first time they were plaintiffs in the Denbury case.

TransCanada had offered the Hollands $446,864 for an easement, which the Hollands were prepared to accept on the same terms as their other pipelines. But TransCanada, with a pipeline that would be carrying a far more toxic load than the other pipelines, would not accept the usual terms, but rather wanted to be able to walk away from their pipeline any time, with no liability.

With the court order, the Hollands are to get $20,808, or about 5% of what TransCanada offered, even though a landowners’ compensation is supposed to bear some reasonable relationship to fair market value.

As David Holland put it: “There is something terribly wrong when a private company is allowed to take land for less than 5% of real world prices…. We are willing to grant an easement but we are not willing to assume uncompensated risks to the rest of our property.”

Tar Sands Blockade remains intent on remaining in its tree houses and mounting other actions until TransCanada abandons the pipeline. TransCanada has shown no indication it will do that.Tar Sands Blockade will be training more volunteers in non-violent direct action at an October 12-13 training camp.

Posted in News


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