Protests in Texas just a taste of pipeline battles to come – by Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – December 12, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY — For more than 70 days now, protesters have holed up in trees in Texas, trying to block construction of the southern leg of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline. They have barricaded themselves inside long stretches of welded pipe, facing police mace in a bid to slow construction. They have locked themselves to equipment, and formed human chains. They have staged hunger strikes from jail cells.

“There’s a lot of resistance and animosity toward the project,” said Ron Seifert, who comes from Montana and is now a spokesman for Tar Sands Blockade, a group created earlier this year to co-ordinate civil disobedience. More than 40 people have been arrested. Tar Sands Blockade said half were Texan; TransCanada says all but one were out-of-state.

What’s happening deep in the U.S. South, however, is likely a precursor of what it is to come for other controversial pipelines. Texas is not a place that is generally opposed to oil. Yet protesters have converged on the state in hopes of interfering with construction of a project that has stoked an angry debate about the future of energy development.

If such conflict can happen in Texas, there is a strong likelihood it will happen again, and in greater force, in Nebraska – the state where opposition delayed a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – in British Columbia and other areas of North America where new pipelines are planned.

“It seems to me that the Texas leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is the least controversial of these pipelines,” said George Hoberg, a University of British Columbia professor who specializes in environmental and natural resource policy and governance. “So the closer you get to the oil sands, and the closer you get to the B.C. coast, the more controversial it’s going to get.”

On Tuesday, a Texas court ordered TransCanada to temporarily halt work on part of the pipeline pending a hearing on a property owner’s claim that the bitumen to be carried through the pipe doesn’t meet the definition of crude oil under Texas law.

TransCanada said that, under Texas law, it has been granted authority to build the pipeline, and insists the ruling, and the protests, will not derail the company’s construction plan. To get around the tree protesters, it just diverted course: The pipeline now avoids the copse they are occupying. TransCanada says the $2.3-billion, 780-kilometre pipeline, which will carry oil from Cushing, Okla., to Gulf Coast refineries, will be built by late 2013.

But the picture of tree dwellers in Texas is a picture of the arduous road ahead for other projects, which stand to face much more difficult obstacles to actually building pipelines, if they manage to secure government approval to do so.

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