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In Texas Pipeline Fight, People Step In as Green Groups Step Aside

Eleanor Fairchild, 78, is among more than 30 activists arrested since August for using nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the Keystone XL in Texas.

Nov 14, 2012
(Page 2 of 4 )
Landowner Eleanor Fairchild (right) and actress Daryl Hannah (left) were arreste

The Sierra Club lost its motion for a preliminary injunction in August and has appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver. "We're not throwing in the towel," said Sierra Club spokesman Eddie Scher. "We're going to stop every one of these [pipelines]."

Supporting the Blockade

As the national groups have become less prominent in Texas, local residents are stepping in. Ron Seifert, another spokesman for the Tar Sands Blockade, said people have held benefit concerts in Houston and food drives in Austin, Nacogdoches and Dallas-Fort Worth. Stores in Wood County, where Fairchild lives, have given the protestors free coffee and eggs and discounted produce.

Kathy DaSilva, a retired teacher from Nacogdoches, said hundreds of volunteers are working behind the scenes. Some belong to environmental groups that don't endorse civil disobedience, she said, so they are acting as individuals, not as representatives of their organizations.

DaSilva understands the dilemma some national groups face as they try to support the blockade's goals without endorsing its actions. She said she appreciates what they've done to publicize the blockade through social media and is pleased with the letter of solidarity signed by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity and dozens of other groups.

Still, she wants the mainstream organizations to do more. "I think at this point we're pretty much doing our own thing," she said. "We still have hope, we're still working hard, and it would be nice to have more support from the large groups."

Many of those groups are calling for a major Keystone XL protest before the White House on Nov. 18. In an open letter posted last week, they urged their supporters to "resume the battle to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline."

The letter briefly mentions the southern leg, "where many of our colleagues are waging a remarkable fight against its construction," but it doesn't refer to the Tar Sands Blockade by name.

"It's been a great source of frustration," DaSilva said. "It's almost like the attitude is, 'Texas is a blow-off state because it's an oil and gas [state].' But when you talk to people [here], that image is not really accurate…If groups like the Sierra Club would come out a little stronger in favor of the nonviolent action, it would really help out."

DaSilva said the national groups could also help by offering legal aid to Texas landowners who are fighting TransCanada—the company behind the Keystone XL—in court.

But Scher of the Sierra Club said his group has sunk its legal resources into the Army Corps lawsuit, and doesn't have the resources for individual landowner cases.

DaSilva and her husband Steve are Sierra Club members who support the blockade "as private citizens…We've been at almost all of [the blockade's] actions, not as participants but as documenters trying to keep everybody a little bit safer."

They take photos and videos of blockade events, and run Nacstop.org, a website for pipeline opponents in east Texas.

DaSilva has met blockaders and supporters of all backgrounds. Most are native Texans, she said, and some of those who risked arrest are in their 50s and 60s.

Fairchild began fighting the pipeline in early 2010, months before it became a flagship environmental cause. She sees the blockaders as individuals: the schoolteachers from Nacogdoches, the 60-year old grandmother, the "kids" fresh out of college who spent a night in her farmhouse.

They are not—as some critics have labeled them—"'terrorists,'" she said. "They're making a statement and hoping people will listen to what they'll say."

Fairchild never expected to become an activist. "I'm not a person who likes to be in the limelight," she said. "I just pull my weeds and run my farm. But I decided I wouldn't like myself if I didn't do something about it, and I think it's very important to like myself."

Her main objection to the Keystone XL is the presence of dilbit. While the northern segment is the key link for bringing more dilbit into the United States, the southern leg will also transport some dilbit. TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmens said the company couldn't provide specific figures, but said U.S. oil will account for "most" of the southern segment's initial capacity of 700,000 barrels per day.

Fairchild isn't against oil pipelines. Her husband Raymond was a petroleum geologist whose last job was senior vice president of international exploration at Hunt Oil. She said he focused on light, sweet crude from the Middle East and never worked with tar sands.

Raymond Fairchild passed away in March of 2009, just nine days after TransCanada first approached Eleanor Fairchild about passing the pipeline through their property. The company initially offered $42,000 for a six-acre easement. Fairchild said she needed time to think.

She was worried, she said, because TransCanada's representatives told her the company wouldn't replace the trees cut down during construction. A year later, when she brought up the issue at a Keystone XL public hearing, State Department officials said TransCanada was required to replant trees and grass.

"That made me mad that they lied to me," she said. "And I started finding out [about] tar sands."

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