A Thorn for Trans-Canada

Damage to her creek has only hardened one woman’s opposition to the tar sands pipeline.
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Posted March 27, 2013 by PETER GORMAN in News
Eleanor Fairchild stands inside the new gulley in her land — courtesy of the Keystone XL pipeline. Kathy Da SilvaEleanor Fairchild stands inside the new gulley in her land — courtesy of the Keystone XL pipeline. Kathy Da Silva

TransCanada, the giant energy firm building a pipeline from Oklahoma to the Texas coast as part of a project that would carry tar sands bitumen all the way from Canada, is finding more fight in some Texas landowners than the company probably expected.

Among them is Eleanor Fairchild, who lost part of her 350 acres in Winnsboro to the Canadian company. Fairchild, a 78-year-old great-grandmother, has become a thorn in TransCanada’s mammoth side.

The lengthy fight came to a head in January when TransCanada put its pipeline across one of several creeks on Fairchild’s property. At the top of a tall hill, the pipeline crews removed topsoil and cut down the trees. Not long after that, heavy rains dislodged tons of the underlying sand into one of the creeks, leaving a gaping crevice that the company still has not been able to remediate.

“I’ve never been involved with anything like this,” Fairchild told Fort Worth Weekly. “I’m not involved with any group, and yet TransCanada has called me an ‘environmental terrorist’ in one of their two lawsuits against me. That’s ridiculous. But I am out there fighting for everybody.”

Her newfound activism has led her to be arrested twice, once with actress Daryl Hannah, and to be threatened with arrest several other times.

Fairchild wasn’t opposed to allowing TransCanada an easement when the company first approached her in 2009. Her late husband Ray was a petroleum geologist for Hunt Oil for decades, including as a senior vice president.

“We made our living on oil, and I thought this pipeline was going to be carrying regular oil,” she said.

But by March 2010, she was chafing under the pressure from TransCanada. “They said I’d have to sign [to give them the easement] because they were coming. Period.” She didn’t sign.

A month later, at a U.S. State Department-hosted meeting in Tyler, she learned that the company would not be replanting vegetation on the easements. She also learned that the easement, which runs nearly a mile down her property, could not have a road put across it, a condition that would cut her off from her 90 acres on the other side.

“I just got mad that this was all their way, that people had no say in things,” Fairchild said. “So I started learning about tar sands.”

She learned, for instance, that tar sands spills are nearly impossible to clean up because the material sinks into the ground. And she didn’t like the fact that the easement TransCanada wanted would cross a spring-fed creek, one of several that help create about 25 acres of wetlands on her property. The springs combine to produce about 400 gallons of water per minute, which feed into a series of creeks and then into Cypress Lake.

Fairchild feared that a leak of the heavy, toxic hydrocarbons could ruin the springs. “I was also afraid of erosion because of the deep sand base, but they didn’t want to hear it,” she said.

The energy giant was adamant about the route, solidifying her opposition to the pipeline. “I saw a sign on a road one day calling for a stop to the pipeline and called the number on it,” she said, “and that’s how I got involved.”

The number was for David Daniel, a nearby landowner who wound up helping build the tree stands occupied for months by the Tar Sands Blockade (“Drawing a Line in the [Tar] Sand,” Oct. 17, 2012) that temporarily stymied pipeline construction.

Though she never joined the Blockade group, Fairchild learned about protesting. She began writing letters, talking to county commissioners and anyone who would listen about the dangers of the tar sands.

TransCanada was still pushing for the easement. The company first offered $42,000, then $60,000. When she still refused, the company used eminent domain law to force a settlement in May 2011. She was awarded $23,426, and TransCanada got permission to cut down her trees and lay pipe.

“I still refused to sign the papers, and I never touched that money,” Fairchild said. “It’s still in the courthouse.”

In August 2011 she joined a two-week sit-in at the White House to heighten public awareness about what the Keystone XL would be carrying. Along with 1,200 others, she was arrested.

But she kept speaking out, and when TransCanada began to work on the pipeline in the Winnsboro area last summer, she allowed a documentary crew to use her guesthouse. Over the next two months the crew filmed the Blockade tree-sitters as TransCanada cleared a swath of land several miles long.

One day, the film crew introduced Fairchild to Hannah. Then last Oct. 4, Fairchild said, “When the tree cutters were working on my land, ruining my property, they asked if I’d stand in front of the equipment to stop them. Daryl came too.”

Hannah was quickly arrested. Sheriff’s deputies told Fairchild to go home. “I told them it was my land, and I had a right to be on it,” she recalled. “Then I asked them what was going to happen with Daryl, and when they wouldn’t tell me, I told them they’d have to arrest me too. And they did.”

Both women were released within a few hours.

A week later, TransCanada sued Fairchild twice, once as part of a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) action filed against everyone arrested during the Tar Sands Blockade protests and in a second action to force her to sign the contract for the land they’d already taken.

In January, storms dropped four inches of rain in Winnsboro and one of Fairchild’s fears became a reality. A crevice nearly eight feet deep, five feet wide, and 12 feet long opened up at the point where the pipe crossed her stream, sending tons of sand into the creek, threatening the spring flow.

“It was just awful,” said Kathy Da Silva, a founding member of NacStop.org, an organization dedicated to stopping the Keystone XL.

TransCanada tried to mitigate the problem with only partial success. Fairchild decided to reach out to government agencies for help.

“I called the soil conservation people at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they said they had no jurisdiction. I called TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), and they said they couldn’t do anything about erosion. I called the Railroad Commission, and they said they only gave out pipeline permits but have no jurisdiction over them. I called everybody — the Department of Transportation pipeline safety people, the Army Corps of Engineers — who gave the permit to TransCanada to cross my creek and got no response. Even the EPA said they couldn’t do anything until there is a spill.”

It’s been an education, she said. “I keep telling these people they work for us, but then we can’t get any help? That’s just crazy.”

In the latest go-round, TransCanada’s lawyers offered to drop the suits if Fairchild would just sign the contract. “I told them the lawsuits are the least of my worries,” she said.

In the last few weeks, TransCanada has agreed to a couple of Fairchild’s demands, primarily that she not be prevented from protesting the pipeline if she signs.

“I’ve learned that our government is not there to help us — not when you’re fighting the big guys,” she said. “I think I’ll be an activist for the rest of my life so that others don’t have to go through the same thing.”


10 Comments


  1.  
    David

    As a Canadian I am ashamed… of the unethical, underhanded, unprincipled, improper, disrespectful, and in the strongest of Canadian terms… downright not very nice… actions of TransCanada pipelines.

    You have all my support in your fight against these megalomaniacs and the product they want to transport. We are fighting the same battle here in British Columbia against a similar pipeline carrying tar sands to our coast for shipping overseas. These companies claim to respect and follow what’s best for the environment and peoples located on along their desired path… then have their lawyers cut a path through logic, balance, and respect.

    And the second something goes wrong the pipeline and oil company responses have been historically… pathetic.

    I’m not even going to start about them suing her. That’s a full-on “wait… what?”

    Fight the good fight… as you are. Want to add to your army of rightfully-indignant supporters? Get this posted on Reddit!




    •  

      First i would like to thank David for his comment to my mother.

      As her son i realize that i have a suportive role in her life. In this case it goes way beyond just suporting my mother. This is about all you people out there in the world, and not only in the United States. We have to make a difference not for our selvs, but for our children and there childrens children.

      This erisponsable erosion of not only my mothers land but of the very earth we all depend on keeping us healthy and free of all kinds of illnesses, all due to the fossil fuels being so important for our future is all a bunch of BS.
      We have the means and ability to reduce our use of oil, especially the Tarsands butemin produkt.

      It is by far the most toxic and devistatingly worst way to get oil from our earth.

      Please take the time and look at the evidence occumulating on the internet about this project of Keystone XL Tarsands. There is a lot of information to be found on how much it is destroying our world in every way.

      Greenhouse effects are have margenally increased since they started. they have consant spills in all there pipelines and are hardly paying the US government anything to help the people involved.

      I hope and pray for a better world where we can enjoy the beauty and joys of breathing fresh air and drinking clean water with our fresh vegitables taken strait from our land we live on.

      Please!!!! Please help the good fight for you and your grand childrens sake.

      Kindest regards

      The youngest son of Eleanor Faith Fairchild

      Gary Len Hargett
      Vangede Bygade 115 st. tv.
      2820 Gentofte
      Denmark
      glh62@hotmail.com

      Please excuse my spelling. I have lived in Europe for a long time now. :O)




  2.  

    TransCanada is clearly parasitic entity, run under criminal-minded intent that will receive its due justice. These pricipals and bureaucrats will squirm and hide, however there will be no escape. They are certainly marked here in Nova Scotia!

    If an honest person wishing to live voluntarily as an authentic human being were even merely to own stock in such an destructive force for anti-civilization, s/he would clearly not be able to sleep peacefully at night.

    Egads!! What a life sentence … ~ to bequeath such subhuman vacuum of indebtedness off on the shoulders of one’s own progeny!

    Here’s to the fast-coming Prime Law of Individual Protection which finally sets all honest individuals free!!

    http://bit.ly/3000yoSecret
    http://www.twelvevisionscanada.com/
    http://tvpnc.org/relevance
    http://tvpnc.org/state/tx

    Love of life to us all!!
    8^>!




  3.  
    Robin H.

    Keystone XL is the boondoggle this country has ever had pulled on them. Since when does another country have eminent domain on US soil? Our government has screwed us, Canada has screwed us, and if they are not careful, they will be facing landowners with loaded guns. Like I told an oilman who sees nothing wrong with this project, I would not have a problem if they hauled the tar sands in railroad tank cars. The cars are there, the tracks are there, they would not have to destroy land and people’s lives and livelihoods, and the railroads would make money and have to hire people to make sure that track is sound and to load and unload the cars. Who the hell does Canada think they are, anyway? We the people did not sign on for this and DO NOT WANT THIS IN OUR BACK YARDS!!!! GO HOME CANADA AND KEEP YOUR POLLUTION TO YOURSELVES!!!!




  4.  
    mair

    “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [the people's] unalienable rights to [Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [that government] and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to [the people] shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”
    – Declaration of American Independence




  5.  

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  6.  
    Michelle

    I still cry knowing that I will not be able to have a child of my own….and still wonder why until I come across the horror that I either read, see in person or learn about.

    My heart is weeping more now.

    In 1662 the Dodo bird knew why. The American Indian knew before the invention of the car that progress was destructive and we did not stop. The oceans greatest mammals have lost in the numbers and they know why. The Texas Horned toad knows why.

    Yet progress and the mighty coin continues??? Why?




  7.  
    HotPoint

    Listen to the people that were in America before we were! In the video linked below,
    Oglala Lakota matriarch Regina Brave describes her people’s treaty stand (Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868) against Keystone XL. Regina warns that contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer will destroy the future of our children and grandchildren.

    I found what she said completely spot on. She said “..at some point in time when the earth starts moving and this pipeline is broken and it contaminates our water base, we would have destroyed the future of our own children and their grandchildren”.

    Plate tectonics state that the plates move and drift, we have earthquakes, small tremors and such all the time. I would submit to everyone that the pipeline breaking is an inevitability. I’m not sure who was involved in performing the ‘risk analysis’ on the impact of the pipeline, but I suspect that the dollars of profit to be made was weighted too highly, thus skewing the end results of the analysis. Big corporations win yet again for the almighty dollar. Sad, really.

    Video (YouTube): http://bit.ly/YWlIHO

    ~HotPoint




  8.  
    Brian

    Welcome to one nation under obama.




  9.  
    music man

    Good luck Granny, but you’ve been sold down the river, by your reps in Washington, years ago.





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