There Will Be Tar Sand

Tarry Canadian bitumen is barreling its way to Texas via the Keystone XL pipeline. Will it bring energy independence or environmental calamity?

There Will Be Tar Sand
Peter Ryan

One after the other, Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies wearing straw cowboy hats dragged bearded, zip-cuffed young men toward a waiting van. Strands of snot and spit set flowing by doses of pepper spray dangled from their bowed heads. A company man wearing a hardhat trailed them, recording a video of the arrests, for liability reasons.

The deputies had puzzled for hours over how to extricate them from the tracks of the heavy machines used to chew through the East Texas pines. In the early morning darkness of November 19, before work crews arrived, the protesters had fastened themselves to the equipment with lock boxes — mechanisms straight from the civil disobedience toolkit. Take a length of PVC or steel pipe, two lengths of chain, carabiners and two willing arms, and you get a few hours of frustration for law enforcement.

Their intention was to halt the advance of what may soon become the longest pipeline outside of Russia or China. Since construction began in August, protesters have used their bodies to tie up heavy equipment or otherwise obstruct workers clearing the pipeline's path through East Texas. The right of way was secured by TransCanada, the Canadian natural-gas line giant, through an exemption in state law that allows for-profit enterprises to condemn private land if they cannot reach a deal with the landowner.

Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a protester who had tied himself to heavy equipment used to clear the Keystone XL's path through East Texas.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a protester who had tied himself to heavy equipment used to clear the Keystone XL's path through East Texas.
Landowner Mike Bishop is suing TransCanada to prevent it from building the pipeline across his land.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Landowner Mike Bishop is suing TransCanada to prevent it from building the pipeline across his land.

If President Obama signs off on the entire project, the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline will connect the Alberta oil sand mines to the Texas Gulf Coast, home to the largest refinery complex in the world and gateway to a lucrative international market. But it isn't the pipeline itself these protesters most fear, it's what it will carry: as much as 830,000 barrels a day of a form of semi-solid petroleum the consistency of asphalt, called bitumen. To render it liquid, it is blended with natural-gas condensate or synthetic crude oil.

Because it is much thicker than conventional sweet crude, the diluted bitumen will move through the pipeline at pressures of up to 1,300 pounds per square inch and temperatures as high as 150 degrees. Opponents, who are not solely a bunch of young enviros but include a number of dyed-in-the-wool conservative East Texans, say a major spill is inevitable.

In the bigger picture, some climatologists fear that digging up Canada's buried oil sands and burning them will pump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So much, in fact, that it may tip the scales against mankind's stuttering efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

For a number of aging, tiny and poor East Texas towns, the issue hits much closer to home. If the pipeline busts, what's going to happen to the wells they drink from and rivers they fish?

And for landowners in the pipeline's way, bound by the contracts they've signed with TransCanada and now consumed by the specter of a simple country life gone toxic, is there no going back?

Proponents say that whatever minor hardship this may cause for a few is all for the greater good. The Keystone XL will bring jobs, energy security and lower prices at the pump. Under scrutiny, though, the claims don't always hold up. Oil is a fungible commodity traded on a global market. As long as huge sectors of the economy are dependent on it, we'll be subject to the shocks and price fluctuations inflicted by instability and unrest in places like Libya.

The tens of thousands of jobs – and by some industry estimates, more than 100,000 – are largely illusory, the products of studies whose methodologies haven't been open to scrutiny. Even the most liberal estimate from the U.S. State Department puts the number of direct jobs created by the pipeline at 7,000 or so, almost all of them temporary.

The pipeline isn't being constructed to keep America's gas tanks full. The oil that will be sent across rivers and sensitive aquifers in the Lone Star State is bound in ever-increasing percentages for tankers whose ports of call are in Latin America, China and points elsewhere. It is being sent this way because Canadian crude sells at a discount in the Midwest, costing producers billions of dollars every year. This is an economic panacea, to be sure, but not for the United States. Yet it is undeniable that the pipeline will connect us to a stable, friendly source of oil, which will replace crude shipments by sea from troubled African countries, South American dictators and Mexico.

As the last of the blockaders was extricated from the tracks of heavy equipment and loaded into a van headed for the Cherokee County lockup, a man who lives nearby leaned against a John Deere utility vehicle, watching. Terry Burroughs wore a bemused half grin at the procession of hip, environmentally conscious young men incapacitated by a generous dose of pepper spray.

Burroughs' place adjoins this spot. Before him, it belonged to his grandfather, who worked in a saw mill. He grew up hunting these woods, and he will remain long after the protesters move on.

There's one thing these young folks will never understand about this place. Land is income in parts of Texas where there aren't many other sources of it. And pipe has been laid beneath it since before he was born. "This pipeline's coming through," he says, as protesters loaded into cars headed to the other blockade site. "They ain't stopping nothing."


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26 comments
rusknative
rusknative

no one living in Douglas has an IQ greater than 54. especially exjarheads.

rusknative
rusknative

not like the USA doesn't have VAST amounts of OUR OWN CRUDE under public land and offshore to develop and provide for our OWN petroleum products without needing to process Canadian stuff or South American stuff....but NO, the EPA and lib obamabots and the treehuggers are too stupid for solutions...they just want to live on borrowed debt money and smoke dope.

rusknative
rusknative

the Hispanics that are moving into and going to dominate all East Texas Love pepper spray...put it on their food...the hippy wannabe protestors are nannyboys.

fernaldus
fernaldus

Actually, Ozarka has sucked up all the good water.

cesar39nt
cesar39nt

how sad the gov. of Texas has no soul, our beloved state soon will be a dump ground for oil waste, and the conservative base sees nothing wrong with poisoning the water, then the food supply chain, and soon enough they will blame anyone for allowing them, to poison their own families? with the toxins from the project the conservatives sponsor, and our governor or his cronies, stand to make a fortune, just for making a few thousand of their very own constituents children mentally retarded, or physically handicapped, or dying, or all the above! shame on the republicans as long as they get paid they care not for any living thing themselves included.

pooua
pooua

Right, because East Texas isn't the birthplace of the modern U.S. oil industry and doesn't have a speck of petroleum product in any of its pristine, like-mountain-water-quality water! East Texans are the soul of Conservatism, representing the intellect and grace for which Conservatives and Libertarians have become famous; that's why they were targeted with this *monstrosity*! 

I lived in Longview for 5 years, with regular trips to Henderson, Kilgore, Gilmer and Marshall. I began filtering my drinking water for the first time in my life while I lived there, because I suspected that some brain-eating something in the water must explain East Texan behavior. When I expressed my suspicion to an industrial water quality worker, I was surprised that he only nodded his head and said, "It's benzine." Incidentally, the only pure water in Longview (and much of East Texas) is sucked up for use by Texas Eastman for use in chemical manufacturing; they couldn't use the Sabine River water, because it's too polluted! That's the water East Texans drink! 

I was so glad when I finally moved out of East Texas!

lobar
lobar

Another great mess rented Perry has gotten us into,,,disgusting and smelly crap,,,hope it all lands inside his drinking water and as he is washing his corrupt body,,may it stick to his horrible hair. GREED, and more GREED, thats what its all about.

kenneth51
kenneth51

What a great article about this horrible pipeline filled with toxic diluted bitumen, deceit and corruption. Thank you so much for spreading the truth. Our public officials should be so ashamed of themselves !!!!

sidewalkastro
sidewalkastro

You would think there would be a much bigger stink about this pipeline. A foreign country forcing its way across the most conservative part of Texas, tearing up the land and major potential for very toxic spillage. Conservatives are so easily bought and sold. Just wait until the first major spill, there be much hand wringing and kiss your drinking water goodbye.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Around here, we call them the Land Rapists. You ought to see what they have done to some of the most beautiful parts of Texas, and they shit on the property owners to boot.

bifftannen
bifftannen

This will not lower gas prices one iota. You've been fed a load of crap, and cut your own throat for pennies. Even if it did, this isn't worth it no matter what.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

"Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies wearing straw cowboy hat".....you gotta love the deep south!  Betcha none of them "be's" fat either-right?

rusknative
rusknative

@cesar39nt our "beloved state" has had lead smelters, oil wells and slag pits, chemical waste dumps, an army arsenal in Red River filled with unbelievable trash as well as Karnack chemicals, and a Gulf Coast that brought permanent tar balls to the beaches....and the locals infected the water supplies for years with Flourides.


give me a break with the Pristean beloved state of Texas...you live in some kind of la la land.

rusknative
rusknative

@kimfeil thirty people got shot in Chicago yesterday....get rid of guns and bring on oil.

director21
director21

@pak152 Where have you been? We have been expecting you to show up ever since we lambasted Trinity East at the CPC hearing on December 20. Cat get your tongue?

joearpaio
joearpaio

@sidewalkastro It's like the disconnect between the attitude of the crowd who says "don't touch our guns" and who also say "wire tapping American citizens without a warrant in the name of fighting (non-white) terrorists is fine".  Such hypocrisy.  

"TransCanada had "34 eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas"" Nice job, Koch bros.

markzero
markzero

@sidewalkastro I would think true conservatives would be up in arms against this simply because of the "exemption in state law that allows for-profit enterprises to condemn private land if they cannot reach a deal with the landowner," as Brantley put it.

rusknative
rusknative

@PerryMoore most of the property owners are dumb as bricks anyway, and fouled up their own land already....anywhere that hosts the world MUD races is too stupid to need education nor housing.

pak152
pak152

@director21 @pak152 nope busy working. finally realized that the anti-fracking crowd doesnt want to deal with facts that run counter to their beliefs. ad hominem attacks on those who offer a counter view result in shutting down discussion. . anti-frackers are much like the anti-gun crowd.
ttfn

kenneth51
kenneth51

@rusknative LOL - Spoken like a true idiot. So you now know most of the property owners in East Texas. What an ass.

 
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