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Keystone XL Tree Protesters Call It Quits After Pipeline Rerouted Around Them

Activists say their tree blockade may soon be over as construction on the Texas property wraps up. But their efforts to stop the pipeline are not.

Dec 17, 2012
(Page 2 of 2 )
Protester perched at the top of an 80-foot tree in a patch of old-growth forest

He explained that raising the money has been a challenge, in part because the group doesn't have any big donors. National environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council previously told InsideClimate News they can't directly support the Tar Sands Blockade because their bylaws prohibit them from taking part in acts of civil disobedience.

"We depend on everyday people making $5, $10, $15 contributions. You can only go to those folks so much," Seifert said. "It's no secret that a small grassroots organization like this will have fundraising issues."

Lawsuit Over Dilbit

Anti-pipeline activists are waging legal battles as well, and one could land a victory on Wednesday.

Michael Bishop, a 64-year-old landowner who isn't part of the Tar Sands Blockade, filed a lawsuit against TransCanada accusing the firm of lying to him and other landowners about the type of oil the Keystone XL would carry.

According to Bishop, the company said the pipeline would transport crude oil but didn't specify that it would eventually carry dilbit, a blend of heavy tar sands crude diluted with liquid chemicals. Dilbit is much harder to clean up than conventional oil when it spills into water.

Bishop signed an easement agreement allowing TransCanada to build the pipeline on his 20-acre property in Douglass, 160 miles north of Houston. In an interview, he said he made the deal under "duress and coercion" after TransCanada threatened to condemn his property.  He said the pipeline would cross land that he's leasing to an alternative fuels firm and "effectively shut down" plans to harvest grasses and refine them into biodiesel on the property.

TransCanada has denied claims of coercing property owners. The company "always treats landowners with respect," Dodson previously told InsideClimate News.

On Dec. 11, a county judge issued a temporary restraining order against TransCanada to stop building on Bishop's land. The next morning the judge vacated his decision, allowing the company to press ahead.

On Wednesday, the judge will decide whether to issue a temporary injunction against TransCanada, which would keep the pipeline company off Bishop's land until the lawsuit is resolved over months.

Dodson said Bishop and his attorney knew what type of oil the pipeline would carry when he signed the agreement and accepted payment for his land. He explained that the southern portion would deliver mostly conventional, domestic oil when it opens in late 2013—and that "there's a high probability" that the northern segment, which would start in Alberta, would transport heavy Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast.

The northern leg still needs approval from the State Department because it crosses an international border. The two segments would connect via an existing pipeline that runs from Nebraska to Oklahoma.

Bishop said the ordeal is "a little overwhelming" because he's representing himself and he isn't a lawyer.

"It's David and Goliath, and I'm not afraid of them."

Bishop filed a separate, related suit against the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that oversees pipelines. He claims the commission approved the pipeline on false grounds that it would only carry conventional crude. At a hearing this week, Bishop was told to refile his suit if he wants to proceed because he hadn't followed proper legal procedure.

Ramsey Sprague, a Texas native and another spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade, said Bishop "speaks to the heart of what a lot of Texas landowners are going through right now."

"We support him and his lawsuit, and his voice is a powerful one."

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