Populists Battle Plutocrats Over Pipeline’s Path

By Mark Anderson

The extension of the Keystone XL “Tar Sands” Oil Pipeline—envisioned to eventually snake all the way from Canada, through the heart of the U.S., to Texas gulf-coast refineries—is meeting considerable resistance, especially in Texas, where land owner and farmer Julia Trigg Crawford is appealing the land-condemnation plan of the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada, to run the pipeline through a section of her family’s 600 acres in upper-northeast Texas.

Mrs. Crawford and two property rights groups have launched the website Stand With Julia to help her raise funds for her legal fight against TransCanada, including an April 30 jury trial at the Lamar County Courthouse in Paris, Texas. Those groups are We Texans, and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF).

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TURF, having neutralized the Trans-Texas Corridor by deleting it from state law as a formal, unified project—because this toll-way, rail and utility network was part of the larger NAFTA Superhighway for the North American Union—has re-tooled to help fight the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mrs. Crawford’s case is considered pivotal to achieve more victories against TransCanada and its backers, who sing a soothing song about creating jobs and energy independence with this pipeline.

Evidence shows they exaggerate job creation and appear willing to sacrifice residential and agricultural property rights along the way. Moreover, if the pipeline is fully extended, most of the oil traveling through it, upon being refined, would reportedly leave the U.S., en route to China and elsewhere—contradicting claims it would foster U.S. energy independence.

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President Obama recently halted extending the pipeline, at least in theory, but TransCanada has been busy charting the pipeline’s southern leg in Texas and taking those who object to court. Mrs. Crawford decided to fight back.

“We know TransCanada sees my property as a key battleground and they’re going to come at us with ‘guns blazing,’ so we have to be ready to defend ourselves,” she said.

Speaking with this writer from her corn, wheat and soybean farm in a small Texas town called Direct, she specified that TransCanada’s pipeline, by way of a horizontal drill, would go directly under the Bois D’Arc Creek within a 30-acre portion in the southwest section of her property.

And any contamination that may erupt would flow north toward the Red River [bordering Oklahoma] some 400 yards away. When she asked her insurance agent whether she would be covered from damages from the pipeline under her crop insurance policy, he replied, “No, you’re not.” She would have to go after TransCanada with any insurance claims.

Mrs. Crawford has achieved some victories but it’s hard to make them stick. The 6th District Texas Appellate Court in Texarkana on March 2 issued a temporary restraining order against TransCanada, yet the court vacated it one week later. And a restraining order issued by a county court lasted from Feb. 13 to Feb. 24.

The land-rights groups maintain that TransCanada has yet to prove its own “common carrier” status in Texas, in this case.

TransCanada claims its T-4 permit issued by the Texas Railroad Commission makes it a common carrier, but the groups point to comments from the commission itself saying it lacks the authority to grant common-carrier status. Such a status means TransCanada’s pipeline must be “for hire, for the public good, and that the product can be safely hauled under the Texas Natural Resources Code,” said Mrs. Crawford, who noted TransCanada would have to farm out the pipeline to Texas oil producers to be “for hire.” She has not seen evidence of that, at least not yet.

The overall Pipeline starts in Alberta, Canada and is being built in several phases. And the ultra-thick “tar sand” being mined, known as “diluted bitumen,” is like asphalt and has to be heated and crushed with hazardous chemicals just to make it flow through the pipe—at three times the pressure of regular crude oil. “The pipe will be 140 degrees on the outside,” she said, “due to the internal friction.”

A Cornell University study obtained by AFP, “Pipe Dreams,” says TransCanada will spend $3 billion to $4 billion on Keystone XL, not $7 billion as claimed, and that the pipeline’s extension would create 2,500 to 4,650 construction jobs. Moreover “most [of the jobs] will be temporary and non-local,” even while the steel for the pipeline will be “manufactured outside the United States,” says the study.

Furthermore, the study says spills and environmental damage from Keystone XL [called KXL] already are happening:

In 2010, pipeline spills and explosions in the U.S. killed 22 people, released more than 170,000 barrels of petroleum, and caused $1 billion dollars in damage. The history of other pipelines indicates that spills from KXL are inevitable. Over thirty spills have occurred with the Keystone pipeline (Phase 1 and 2) in its first year of operation in Canada and the United States. According to the [State Department], Keystone has experienced 14 leaks on U.S. territory in just its first year of operation. This is despite the fact that the Keystone pipeline was described as meeting or exceeding “world-class safety and environmental standards.”

Mrs. Crawford understands that perhaps 500 of those jobs would actually be for Americans. The rest would be filled by workers coming down from Canada. “These 500 U.S. jobs . . . these local hires . . . would be over the entire length of the pipeline over six states,” she said. “And when asked to put it on paper about the oil staying in this country [instead of being exported], TransCanada CEO Russ Girling refused.”


Interestingly, her farm “is [a] well-documented Caddo Indian site,” where settlements, bodily remains, arrowheads, pottery and other items have been unearthed. The outer perimeter of one spot, known as the Sanders Site, overlaps with where TransCanada’s pipeline would pass through.

“We hired our own [archeologist], Dr. Tim Pertulla. And of 15 holes, we found five ‘positives’ where TransCanada [that hired its own diggers] says it found nothing,” she said.

“Texans don’t like foreign companies coming into our state and taking our land for private profiteering. We didn’t like it with the Trans Texas Corridor, which we defeated, and we don’t like it now. We’ll continue to stand with the Crawfords, as they will have their day in court to challenge TransCanada’s use of eminent domain in April,” stated a news release from We Texans and TURF.


Mark Anderson is a longtime newsman now working as the roving editor for AFP. He and his wife Angie provide photographs and video of the events they cover for AFP. Listen to Mark’s radio show at republicbroadcasting.org, weekdays at 8 p.m. central. Email him at at [email protected].