by Priscila Mosqueda Published on Wednesday, January 22, 2014, at 1:30 CST
More than a year after TransCanada crews started felling trees and digging trenches in East Texas, the southern segment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline—known as the Gulf Coast Project—will start delivering oil to Texas refineries today. The full Keystone XL line, which requires the administration’s approval because it crosses an international border, has met sustained opposition since it was first proposed in 2008. But when President Obama rejected the full project and fast-tracked its Oklahoma-to-Texas segment, conservative landowners formed an unlikely alliance with environmental activists and started a battle that continues today.
In Texas, pipeline opponents didn’t stop at holding signs and marching in major cities. Elderly landowners joined young protesters and locked themselves to TransCanada’s construction equipment or stood in front of machinery in rural East Texas where the pipeline was being built. In a three-month standoff with TransCanada, members of the Tar Sands Blockade built a “tree village” directly on the path of the pipeline route and lived on platforms 80 feet in the air. They documented their actions at every step, bringing national attention to the resistance against the pipeline in East Texas.
Meanwhile, two Texas landowners sued TransCanada for what they say is an abuse of its eminent domain power. One of the landowners, Mike Bishop, got a temporary injunction against TransCanada that prevented the company from building on his property. But it was a short-lived victory; days later, the injunction was overturned. Julia Trigg Crawford, a landowner near Paris, has gone through a series of appeals, and will potentially make her case before the Texas Supreme Court. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court directed TransCanada to turn in the information requested by Crawford by Feb. 6 so it can decide whether to hear the case.
Crawford participated in a press call this morning with other landowners and activists who are part of the Texas Pipeline Watch. The group has vowed to watch the Keystone XL pipeline “like a hawk” and document everything landowners and advocates see on the group’s Facebook page.
“I’m going to walk my land every day, as I know other landowners will do, because we all know it’s not the fancy detection systems that locate leaks; it’s the landowners walking their land,” Crawford said. “I stand with everybody in Texas, who’s going to be the biggest neighborhood watch ever.”
TransCanada started filling the 485-mile pipeline with oil in early December and will start pumping that oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast today. According to TransCanada, the pipeline is meant to relieve the bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma and get backed-up oil to Texas refineries. But critics contend that TransCanada’s interest lies in getting tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to foreign markets via Gulf Coast ports. The U.S. State Department’s draft environmental review of the project conceded most of the oil would be exported. The southern segment of the pipeline can currently carry 700,000 barrels per day, but the company says it has the capacity to carry 830,000 barrels per day. That expansion will likely only happen if the full Keystone XL pipeline is approved by the Obama administration.
Priscila Mosqueda is a frequent contributor to the Observer, where she previously interned for what everyone agreed was far too long. She grew up in San Antonio and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. Her work has been published in the San Antonio Express-News, The Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Magazine and "Forty Acres of Fun," a book about the unique culture and traditions of the University of Texas.