There Will Be Tar Sand

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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

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."

There is an unmoving ocean of oil in the north, the largest in the world outside Saudi Arabia. Canada's oil was always going to find an outlet; it was only a matter of where. By 2011, producers invested nearly $20 billion developing the oil sands, which shipped out 1.6 million barrels per day. In another 25 years, the industry plans to extract 5 million barrels per day from beneath the boreal forest — or roughly the same amount Gulf Coast refiners import from Mexico and South America.

The truth is, there isn't anywhere else it can go right now. Proposed pipelines west, to the British Columbia coast, are tied up by the same NIMBY resistance seen in the Nebraska Sandhills and the Texas pine country against the Keystone XL. Canada's First Nation aboriginal people have vowed to stop Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline through their territories. The path south, on the other hand, is already well-beaten.

In 2010, the Keystone XL's predecessor, Keystone I, connected Alberta to Illinois refineries, but its market was already contracting. Recession and improved vehicle fuel economy sapped oil demand. Meanwhile, hydraulic fracturing unleashed a flood of unconventional crude in North Dakota and South Texas. Canada's crude was piling up in the Midwest along with an American glut, driving the price per barrel in the heartland as much as $40 below the global market price. That was a boon for Midwestern refineries, which were running at full tilt, selling their refined gasoline and diesel at roughly the going rate while paying bargain prices for the unrefined feedstock.

For Canadian producers, this was a disaster. Because Western Canada crude is so expensive to extract and refine, the break-even price for a barrel of the stuff can be as high as $100. At the moment, Canadian producers are getting $45. Industry experts use the word "crisis."

Keystone XL is the salvation of the oil sands, able to carry massive volumes of oil and providing access to a vast Gulf Coast refinery complex.

Like other refining regions, gasoline production on the Gulf Coast declined by half since the recession. Yet it was replaced with an even more valuable fuel: diesel exported to Latin America and Asia. Exports of diesel from this region have grown by 60 percent since 2006, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. In 2011, for the first time in more than half a century, the United States became a net exporter of petroleum products, largely thanks to the Gulf Coast refineries.

Crude supplies from Mexico, South America and the Middle East, meanwhile, are waning. Valero, the largest refiner in the country, believes Canadian crude will fill the void. It recently installed two $1.5 billion hydrocracker units designed to process the diluted bitumen and extract high diesel yields at its refineries in Port Arthur and Norco, Louisiana. They'll pay less for the heavy Canadian stuff and sell the diesel it produces at a premium in the developing world.

"Other parts of the world, South America and Asia are taking up that distillate [diesel] demand," Valero spokesman Bill Day says. "The Gulf Coast refineries used to ship gasoline to the Northeast and middle parts of the country. Now they can also send products for export to other countries. That's becoming increasingly important. It keeps refineries open, and it keeps workers on the job."

Canada's National Energy Board is betting the pipeline will raise the price of Canadian crude in the United States, netting an additional $4 billion annually for producers. The weight and expectations of a Canadian industry worth trillions is bearing down on a single 36-inch pipeline.

Because the pipeline is international, the State Department was left to determine whether the project serves the national interest. "The indication was that the pipeline was headed toward approval," says former Energy Information Administration chief Richard Newell, who retired in 2011 to take a position at Duke University. "There was some pretty clear signaling that went on at that time," most notably from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The pipeline ran into resistance from the Environmental Protection Agency, however, which characterized the State Department's environmental assessment as "inadequate." The pipeline would cross the Nebraska Sandhills, a 20,000-square-mile sand dune blanketed in native grasses and underlain by the Ogallala aquifer, the source of more than 80 percent of the country's irrigation water. As far as the EPA was concerned, the State Department hadn't weighed the threat to water supplies posed by a large-scale diluted bitumen spill.

Its fears were not without justification. At around 6 p.m., July 25, 2010, a pipeline owned by Enbridge, another Canadian company, shut down automatically because of a sudden drop in pressure. Within hours, callers flooded the Marshall, Michigan, 911 dispatch, complaining of a nauseating petroleum odor. Three times Enbridge stopped and restarted the pipeline because of pressure alarms. It was nearly noon the next day when oil was sighted by a utility worker in Talmadge Creek, which feeds the Kalamazoo River. By then, the operator had pumped diluted bitumen through an 80-inch-long gash in the pipeline for two hours. More than a million gallons of it had gushed into the creek before moving downstream to foul some 30 miles of river. The spill was finally contained 80 miles upriver from Lake Michigan.

Nearly 150 people were sickened. Many along the river were told it was not safe for them to remain in their homes. Enbridge bought out 130 homeowners in a cleanup that has cost some $725 million and continues to climb. The largest onshore spill in history didn't receive that much attention, though, because BP had only just sealed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In October, the EPA sent Enbridge notification that it would need to continue dredging the bottom of the river. Two years later, an oil sheen still coated the surface.

From TransCanada's perspective, comparing Keystone XL, a brand-new, largely uncompleted line, to the aging Enbridge line is unfair. "It's like saying a 1960 Toyota had an accident, so don't buy a 2015 Ford," says spokesman David Dodson.

Yet even TransCanada's Keystone I, placed into service in 2010, had a rough first year, with 21 spills in Canada and the United States. Most were small, but one resulted in the loss of 400 barrels in North Dakota. Fifty barrels constitutes a "significant" spill in federal regulators' eyes. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut it down temporarily.

Because TransCanada predicted 1.4 significant spills per decade for that line, its first year doesn't leave much room for error for the rest of the decade. In fact, some experts are wary of the company's spill estimate for Keystone XL, too: 10 spills of 50 barrels or more over its 50-year lifespan. Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska researcher who consults for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, believes TransCanada is underestimating both the number of potential spills and their volumes. Using a methodology similar to Keystone I's calculations, Stansbury believes Keystone XL will suffer 91 major spills over its lifetime. What's more, TransCanada estimates that in the case of a spill, it could shut down the flow of bitumen in 11.5 minutes. Stansbury estimates it could take as long as two hours.

A larger pipeline, Keystone XL could release in 42 minutes as much diluted bitumen as Enbridge did over the course of hours in Michigan.

TransCanada's Dodson points out that Keystone XL will be the most advanced pipeline ever constructed. Pipeline operators monitoring sensitive telemetric equipment can operate valves along its course, capable of isolating sections of pipe should they rupture. But such features come standard on any oil pipeline. Keystone XL will not, for example, have hydrocarbon-detecting cables that identify small leaks, preventing them from becoming large spills.

And if Enbridge taught us anything, it is that the most sophisticated monitoring equipment in the world cannot overcome human error. For this reason, even Nebraska Governor David Heineman, a Republican, pleaded with TransCanada to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills.

The pipeline company was doing that very thing when the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives handed President Obama a broad payroll tax cut package in December 2011. Included in the bill was a provision forcing the president to render a decision on the Keystone XL within 60 days of its passage. But pipeline route negotiations were still under way, and the State Department had not completed its national interest assessment. The president had no choice but to deny the Keystone XL. He urged TransCanada to reapply for the northern segment.

On the other hand, the southern segment, Obama assured the company, would be expedited. He signed an executive order cutting through any red tape along its trail through the East Texas pines to the Gulf Coast. The stage was set for a battle that was lost before it began.

Outside the tiny chapel in Reklaw, Texas, an elderly gentleman in overalls gave me directions to the mayor's house. You couldn't miss it. Just look for the big school bus. I pulled past a small green section of hay field along the narrow road leading to Mayor Harlan Crawford's white farmhouse. Parked along the side of the house was the Rusk County bus. Crawford has ferried generations of Reklaw children to and from the school for decades, almost as long as he's been mayor. His small pickup sat in front of the house, affixed with an "Impeach Obama" bumper sticker. A liberal environmentalist, I concluded, did not live here.

Crawford, 77, a 23-year Air Force veteran with vivid blue eyes and cropped white hair, stepped out onto the front porch. He was sturdy and tanned and gave the impression of a man whom folks look to for leadership. And so this whole pipeline debate, which had become so political, was anything but for Crawford. He was just watching out for his own.

The Keystone XL isn't some abstraction to him; it is two miles away, crossing the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which provides all of Reklaw's water and portions of municipal water supplies to Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Tyler and College Station.

Reklaw, population 379, was founded in 1902 with a grant from a local landowner named Margaret Walker. Since a Walker, Texas, already existed, they simply spelled the name backward for the new town. Like most small East Texas towns, the young people don't stay here. Its aging population, often below the poverty line, can't afford to buy up surface water rights like the bigger cities.

"If something does happen, where are we going to get our water?" Crawford wonders.

Tiny Reklaw itself couldn't get so much as an audience with the state and federal entities pulling the pipeline's strings, so Crawford pitched town leaders in nearby Gallatin and Alto on joining with Reklaw to form a sub-regional planning commission, a governmental entity both the state and feds would have no choice but to recognize, even if it represented a population of only some 2,000. He found a sympathetic ear in Roberta Colkin, a nurse and member of the Gallatin town council.

"Nobody knows what's in this diluted bitumen. It is proprietary information," she told me on a recent afternoon at her home, built in a clearing in the pine woods. "We're close enough that if something happens, our local volunteer fire department will be called in." They don't have the training or the equipment to handle a spill, she says.

A response crew, the pipeline company says, should arrive at the scene of a spill within two hours, but Crawford and Colkin had seen no spill plan from the company.

The problem is, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules dictating how extensive a pipeline's spill-response assets should be, and no laws outlining what kinds of leak detection and prevention measures pipeline operators should take. The Texas Railroad Commission, the state regulator, doesn't have that kind of authority over interstate pipelines. And the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, which does, uses only "performance-based" guidelines. That means it is all left largely to TransCanada's good judgment. PHMSA's guidelines are the pipeline-safety equivalent of a "smiley face that says drive safely" in place of speed limits, says Carl Weimer of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The National Transportation Safety Board called PHMSA regulations "weak," "giving too much authority to the regulated."

What's more, diluted bitumen has never been piped in the volumes Keystone XL will import, yet no study has been completed on the potential wear and tear of the substance on pipelines. The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a review of existing literature, but it won't research diluted bitumen's toxicity or its behavior in water when spilled. The industry disputes the idea that diluted bitumen is any different than other heavy crude oils, yet it is apparently distinct enough that it isn't subject to an excise tax like conventional crude.

Even if the odds of a spill were small, there were simply too many unanswered questions, too much that could not be replaced, and too much at hazard. The Keystone XL will cross the nearby Angelina River twice. Something, town leaders said, had to be done.

But none of them had the money to mount a legal challenge to TransCanada, a corporation with assets valued at nearly $50 billion. Instead, they joined Sierra Club in a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would issue permits for the southern section through Oklahoma and Texas. In June, they filed suit in an Oklahoma federal court. The streamlined approval process could not account for the East Texas wetlands that would be irrevocably altered by the pipeline, they argued. The EPA had said as much the year before. The agency sought to coordinate with the corps to minimize the pipeline's footprint, but was apparently rebuffed. The president's executive order authorizing a speedy approval process had clearly been heeded.

The judge refused to grant an injunction. As the litigation continues in a federal appeals court, the machinery is already in motion, the pipeline's forward progress inexorable. Michel's, a pipeline construction company from Wisconsin, has set up a compound not far from Reklaw, down State Highway 204. Some 800 workers, half of them from Wisconsin, had 120 miles of pipe left to lay in early November. They expect to finish by summer 2013. Crawford's case hasn't even been scheduled yet.

"We just keep on fighting it," he said wearily. "That is all we can do."

A diluted bitumen highway will bisect 64-year-old Mike Bishop's 20 acres in Douglass, a town of 500 bordered by the Angelina River in Nacogdoches County. The enthusiastically profane ex-Marine and retired chemist stalked across his property on a recent evening, smoldering. He gestured to the assorted scars his land bore — the partially bulldozed cane he was hoping to turn into biofuel; the fruit trees he's had to dig up; the clear-cut woods behind his tiny cabin. He still remembers waking up one night to a glowing in his back pasture. Piles of bulldozed wood, he said, were doused with diesel and still burning.

Since the day in 2008 when surveyors first showed up on his property unannounced, he says, impotent rage has eaten at him. "It's like something is happening to you, and you have no control over it." He ran the first surveyors off. TransCanada succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against him. The surveyors, he says, returned the same day, this time with a Houston lawyer and a sheriff's deputy. When they left, he didn't hear from them again for another year. Then they made him a low-ball offer to compensate him for the 36-inch pipeline they would soon bury through the middle of his land. "It was a fucking slap in the face."

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?"

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.

I met a 75-year-old Nacogdoches woman named Jeanette Singleton. She's lived there since 1956. "They've been really thuggish," she said of TransCanada. "I'm not anti-energy. But we have wells. If it pollutes the aquifer, there goes our country water."

Before long, an 18-wheeler bearing a cherry picker to pluck protesters out of trees slowed as it approached a shouting, sign-wielding crowd. Several young men leaped in its path. One fell beneath the truck. The others screamed and pounded the hood with their fists. A deputy rounded the front of the truck and drove the protesters back, loosing clouds of pepper spray. Singleton, standing off to the side of the road, caught a gust of the burning mist. She clutched at her face and sank to her knees. Several young women rushed to her and gently poured bottled water over her eyes and cheeks.

Others shouted at the deputies pacing the road, crying, "Shame!"

It looked as though every law enforcement officer within a two- to three-county radius had deployed to the pipeline's right-of-way. In some counties, the court system has dealt with them harshly. For three protesters accused of misdemeanors in Smith County, bail was set at $65,000. It was lowered only after Judge Thomas Dunn recused himself over a conflict of interest. The judge had been paid some $40,000 by TransCanada for an easement across land he recently sold. In East Texas, it isn't difficult to find people who've been touched by — or who have profited from — the pipeline. To them, the Keystone XL is in some way almost always personal.

TransCanada's approach to the resistance has been to discount it as out-of-town, not from around here. "Despite their claims that they're standing up for Texas, these aren't Texans," says TransCanada spokesman Dodson. "Look at the people arrested in Nacogdoches. One of them was from Texas, and he wasn't even from that area."

Of course, neither is Dodson's company.

Nevertheless, many of the protesters weren't Texans. That's one way to look at them. Another is to see them as a generation bequeathed a warming planet. NASA says the North Pole has lost sea ice roughly equivalent to the size of the United States. Arctic permafrost, which contains vast stores of carbon dioxide and methane — potent greenhouse gases — is beginning to thaw. The United Nations Environment Programme warns the window in which to prevent global temperatures from reaching a crisis point is quickly closing. It is simply unlucky that Canada is unlocking one of the largest stores of carbon in the world as the climate is balanced on a knife edge.

Yet the protesters can't stop development of the Canadian oil sands any more than they can stop a pipeline through a state that owes its relative prosperity to minerals. Enbridge, the Canadian pipeline corporation responsible for the Kalamazoo River spill, is reversing the flow of 36-year-old pipeline that will carry crude and diluted bitumen from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast. Even without the Keystone XL, it will find its way through Texas.

Asian investors have funneled tens of billions of dollars into oil sands development. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently approved China National Offshore Oil Corp.'s $15 billion bid to purchase Calgary-based oil sands producer Nexen. Harper says it was necessary to increase the pace of oil sands development and to diversify Canada's exports away from the slower-growing U.S. market. With or without us, Canada's oil sands will flow.

As law enforcement brought young people down from the trees, I spotted a local man whom I'd noticed at the last protest site. His name was Chris Myers, 36, from nearby Wells. He works for a phone company. He wasn't a part of the protest, but he was curious. "I've heard different things about what's going on here," he said. He'd heard the Keystone XL would reduce our dependency on Middle Eastern oil. He heard it would bring jobs, which this area badly needs. But that's just what he's been told, he added. Myers turned toward the Angelina River, a few hundred feet away from the pipeline right of way. "I should research it more," he said. "I didn't see that. It's a big strip of land close to the river. That is concerning."

If Myers ended up doing any research, he might have learned that in October the National Energy Board, the Canadian government's regulatory watchdog, sent the company a strongly worded letter. A whistle-blower had come forward, complaining that the company was putting budgetary and scheduling considerations above quality. An initial investigation by the NEB bore this out. The agency announced a sweeping audit of TransCanada's pipelines, including the Canadian portion of Keystone I.

The protesters were loading up and heading out at the end of a long day spent battling with a $7 billion pipeline, bound for skirmish points farther on down the line. I walked over to the pipeline right of way. Four hundred yards distant, a backhoe was starting up. The construction company had a schedule to keep. Before long, the backhoe was an indistinct shape moving in a dust cloud.

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