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?

When Bishop balked, TransCanada took him to court again and won the right to take possession of a strip through his land. He appealed and eventually the two parties entered mediation. They finally arrived at a number he could stomach in November. "I had to get the best deal for my family I could get," says Bishop, who has a 16-year-old daughter.

But the more he dwelt on it, the madder he got. A powerful foreign corporation had taken by force what belonged to him, Bishop figured, so Canadians could get a better price for their crude. Now he flies his American flag upside down in a symbol of distress. He believes he is under siege, and as he looks out toward the county road, it is hard for him to forget it; two off-duty sheriff's deputies pulling guard duty for TransCanada are sitting in idling sheriff's office SUVs.

"Why are they here?" he asks. "Did you see any worker vehicles or equipment?"

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 it all seems a tad theatrical, he says, come see his land when TransCanada starts burying pipe. "Far as I'm concerned, I'm being invaded by a Canadian corporation."

Bishop isn't the kind of guy who knows when to quit. Even after he'd already taken TransCanada's money, he sued the Texas Railroad Commission in an Austin federal court in November, challenging the agency's certification of the pipeline's common carrier status, which allowed the company to condemn land.

And in December, he sued TransCanada itself, alleging the company misled him about the pipeline's contents. For two years, he says, he's been asking for a list of the chemical compounds that will move beneath his land, but has received nothing. That's probably because federal regulations don't require operators to disclose what kind of petroleum is moving through their lines.

On December 7, Nacogdoches County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz granted Bishop a temporary restraining order against TransCanada. Bishop was elated. The fight was on, he told me. But within days, TransCanada got an emergency hearing before the judge. At around 8 a.m., December 13, Bishop bent over the plaintiff's table in an empty courtroom, nervously thumbing through his notes. His rumpled blazer dangled from a chair. James Freeman, a Houston lawyer representing TransCanada, entered the courtroom in a sharp dark gray suit.

As the often testy hearing got under way, Freeman introduced what he believed was the only document that counted: a settlement agreement the company and Bishop had signed just over a month before. It was for $65,000 — $35,000 to pay off what Bishop owed the Texas Veterans Land Board for 14 acres of his 20-acre tract. The rest went to Bishop and his lawyer.

"He owns [the 14 acres] courtesy of Keystone," Freeman told the judge, whom he seemed to be equally irritated with. Sinz, in fact, allowed TransCanada to condemn Bishop's land. "I've got a writ from you giving me possession. I don't know that you've actually restrained us from building anything."

But did it give him the right to transport diluted bitumen? the judge asked.

"It would be a refined crude petroleum," Freeman responded. "It's a catch-all for everything."

The Texas Legislature had defined crude oil clearly, Bishop interjected, and diluted bitumen does not qualify.

Whatever fears he held, Freeman responded, were no longer relevant once he settled with TransCanada. "That's what was negotiated, that's what was granted, and that's what he has to live with."

"I've got the truth on my side," Bishop said, his voice rising. "There's been so much malarkey shoveled in this courtroom, I can't sort through it." He talked about the diluted bitumen spill on the Keystone I line in North Dakota, and about the million gallons that issued from the Enbridge line in Michigan.

When, the judged asked him, did he realize the pipeline would carry diluted bitumen?

"I started doing research when they started condemnation proceedings," Bishop replied. "He's come and done everything to me except kill my animals and rape my wife! The legal documents are saying crude oil when it's not crude oil."

"But did you know it was bitumen when you settled?" the judge pressed.

"I did know when I settled."

"So how can you claim fraud?"

"If someone put a 9 mm to your head, what would you do?"

"But where was the 9 mm?"

"They've lied to everybody. They lied to me. I was compelled to settle. I was forced to settle. ... I'll give him his money back. I don't like him. I don't like his company."

"I feel like I have no choice ..." the judge said. Construction of the pipeline, he ruled, could continue across Bishop's land. Bishop gathered up his notes and exited the courtroom, looking dazed. In the coming weeks, Sinz will decide whether he even has jurisdiction in Bishop's case. It may be left up to the local district court to decide whether this case is about a contract breached or about land condemned legally or fraudulently. Before I left him that day, Bishop asked, "How do you fight a multibillion-dollar corporation?"


A few hundred feet from the banks of the Angelina River, protesters were suspended from the trees. They perched atop platforms anchored to heavy equipment. If the machinery moved, or if the tethers were cut, they would fall. Deputies and police officers with the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, the Rusk Police and the Alto Police, clutched zip-cuffs and fanned out in the woods to keep other protesters at bay.

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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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