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Toxic Tar Sands Protest In Texas

Toxic tar sands oil has not been in the news lately in the Northwest, but a blockade against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry the crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. has drawn Eugene-based activists down to Texas to oppose the pipeline’s construction. Ben Jones, a member of the Cascadia Forest Defenders who is in east Texas with the Tar Sands Blockade, calls the Keystone XL is one of the largest and most destructive infrastructure projects in the world.

Johannes Pedersen, a Eugene activist who recently returned from a 10-day trip in September to support the anti-pipeline action, says, “I don’t think this country or any other country has any business” participating in a project as destructive as the oil extraction in the Canadian tar sands. 

Tar sands oil extraction takes place in massive open-pit mines in Canada that remove boreal forests and leave behind toxic mine tailings. The crude, which is said to be dirtier than sweet crude extracted through conventional oil drilling, is then piped to the U.S. for processing. The Keystone XL is a planned route for shipping the crude oil. Construction of the northern portion of the pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb., going through wetlands and aquifers, was held up when President Obama rejected the permit for the pipeline in January and asked for more review. The pipeline was then split into a northern and southern portion, and Obama fast-tracked the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion in what Pedersen calls an act of “political duplicitousness.” 

Jones calls the protest “an amazing conglomerate of environmental movement and grassroots organizers.” He says local landowners are supportive of the protest and have invited protesters onto private land to conduct actions against the pipeline. Many landowners object to the government using eminent domain to seize portions of their land to build the pipeline. Jones says some of the landowners got involved over the land issue, but then became aware of the environmental concerns as well, such as increased CO2 emissions. 

Awareness of the Texas protest has grown since actress Daryl Hannah was arrested alongside 78-year-old great-grandmother Eleanor Fairchild as they attempted to block pipeline construction on Fairchild’s farm last week. Jones says in addition, two nonviolent protesters were subjected to “pain compliance,” pepper sprayed and Tased while locked down to construction equipment in late September. 

Jones, Pedersen and the other Eugene- and Oregon-based activists who traveled to Texas for the treesit and blockade are not new to the tar sands issue. They protested the megaloads of tar sands equipment that were being brought through Oregon, Idaho and Montana and the Keystone XL pipeline last summer at the Montana state capitol in Helena. Pedersen was arrested while practicing nonviolent civil disobedience locking down in the capitol building. 

Pedersen says people “need to get involved in whatever way they can work out.” He adds, “People need to embrace the fact that were all going to have to make some sacrifices.” More information on the blockade and on an action camp that runs Oct. 12-14 can be found at tarsandsblockade.org