Lone Star Standoff: Texan Landowners and Climate Activists Unite to Block Keystone XL


Updated 10/29: It’s been exactly one month since eight protesters climbed into tree scaffolding some 80-feet high in the path of TransCanada’s tree-clearing troops. That acorn of an action has grown into a full-blown forest of resistance – with local landowners and climate activists joining hands (and sharing jail cells) to block the unwelcome southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The blockaders have been holding ground on privately-owned land that was seized by TransCanada through threats of eminent domain. The tree-sitters and many allies on the ground have endured violent, malicious treatment by both TransCanada employees and members of local law enforcement who seem to be standing up only for the company’s interests. A month into the resistance, however, the blockade is still in place and, according to organizers, TransCanada is now planning on rerouting the pipeline around the original easement. It is not yet clear how they legally will be able to execute such a plan.

In short: the blockade has thus far been successful in stopping construction of Keystone XL, but the battle is far from over.

Over the past month, at least 16 32 protesters have been arrested (including a 78 year old great-grandmother on her own land), members of the press have been intimidated and apprehended (including two New York Times reporters), and brutal, violent tactics have been used by police on the protestors, all of whom have taken an oath of peaceful, non-violent protest.

Some highlights (or lowlights) from the past month of action:

Monday, September 24

Eight protestors climbed into tree scaffolding some 80 feet high in the path of TransCanada’s tree-clearing troops. Over the course of the day, company surveyors approached the blockaders as heavy machinery drew steadily closer.

Tuesday, September 25

Two young Texans – Shannon Beebe, 26, from Lake Dallas, and Benjamin Franklin, 34, from Houston – handcuffed themselves to a TransCanada excavator with the stated intent of protecting the tree-sitting blockaders.

As TreeHugger’s Brian Merchant put it: “Are these the faces of hardened, dangerous criminals? When you look at that image above, do you see the very portraiture of a menace to society? East Texas police officers evidently did.”

According to local organizers, “police began using aggressive pain compliance tactics when a senior TransCanada supervisor named John arrived and actively encouraged it. Torture tactics included; sustained chokeholds, violent arm-twisting, pepper spray, and multiple uses of Tasers, all while blockaders were in handcuffs.”

The full account is chilling. Check it out if you want to get angry.

Beebe and Franklin were arrested and jailed, and eventually bailed out for $2,000 each.

That same day, while making their way through the woods to the tree platforms, some other blockaders were threatened by TransCanada workers and one was nearly hit by a tree that was brazenly – or threateningly – dropped by a tree-feller right next to him. There’s video:


Monday, October 1

A young Texan, Alejandro de la Torre, locked himself in the pathway of the pipeline to defend a family farm. Police cover him with a tarp (see the photo below) so that nobody can see how they remove him. He is arrested and released on $10,000 bail.

Friday, October 5

Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year old great-grandmother and local farmer is arrested on her own private property. Standing in solidarity with her is actress Daryl Hannah, who is also arrested. Fairchild is charged with trespassing…on her own land.

A face of Keystone XL resistance.

Tuesday, October 9

Two journalists are arrested by off-duty police officers working for TransCanada. The journalists had been embedded with the blockade, and despite their credentials and First Amendment claims, they are charged with criminal trespassing.

Thursday, October 11

Two journalists from the New York Times are handcuffed and detained while reporting from private property.

Friday, October 12-Monday, October 15

Close to 100 activists participate in a Direct Action Training Camp. On Monday the 15th, over 50 of them enter into the construction zone to supply the tree-bound blockaders with food and water supplies. Eight are arrested, and construction operations are stalled for the entire day. TransCanada in turn filed a restraining order – or SLAPP suit – against all participants in the blockade and affiliated actions.

Tuesday, October 16

Jerry Patterson, the Texas Land Commissioner, publishes an Op-Ed in the Dallas Morning News that calls the blockaders “eco-anarchists” and neglects the very real demands and desires of very real Texas landowners who don’t want this toxic pipeline running through their private land. Dozens of Letters to the Editor flood the newspaper in support of the blockaders.

Over the past week, all but two of the tree-bound blockaders have climbed down to coordinate actions on the ground. The two that remain are sitting steadfast and “wish to remain in the path of Keystone XL’s destruction long enough for their actions to strategically prevent its construction and demonstrate to the world the threat of this dirty, dangerous pipeline to our communities.”

Update: Wednesday, October 24

One month into the protest, a 40 year old mother of six, Cherri Foytlin, chained herself to a gate and blocked the entrance of TransCanada trucks for hours before she was removed and arrested. Foytlin, whose husband is an offshore rig oil worker, has been an outspoken environmental justice advocate for years. 

The blockaders are reiterating their intention to continue the protests to ensure that the “toxic TransCanada pipeline” is not completed. 

To get involved – join the blockade, donate funds or equipment, or show your support – follow along at Tar Sands Blockade. And we’ll keep you posted with any further developments. 

All photos: Tar Sands Blockade

Ben Jervey is a Senior Fellow for DeSmog and directs the KochvsClean.com project. He is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher, specializing in climate change and energy systems and policy. Ben is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He has also contributed regularly to National Geographic News, Grist, and OnEarth Magazine. He has published three books—on eco-friendly living in New York City, an Energy 101 primer, and, most recently, “The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low Carbon Future.” He graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Middlebury College, and earned a Master’s in Energy Regulation and Law at Vermont Law School. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

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