An August 22 ruling by a county judge that will allow the Canadian TransCanada corporation to seize land by eminent domain for the controversial Keystone Pipeline sparked immediate outrage among a small group of environmentalists and activists, including several from Dallas, Arlington and Denton counties. The activists, who quickly took the name The Tar Sands Blockade, staged a blockade at the entrance to a pipeline yard in Livingston, TX on August 28. Livingston, about 250 miles southeast of Fort Worth, is near a staging ground for the southern leg of the Keystone Pipeline, that will run from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX.
In all, seven protesters were arrested, at least four of them for having chained themselves to the undercarriage of an 18-wheeler loaded with 36” pipes destined for the Keystone Pipeline. The blockade halted pipeline delivery for an entire day.
The Tar sands Blockade, whose ranks have swelled from about a dozen to over 200 in the last several days, are planning to hold a rally in front of the TransCanada offices in Houston on September 5.
What triggered the direct, nonviolent protest was a 15 word decision—following a six-month court proceeding—by Lamar County Court Judge Bill Harris sent by iPhone that will allow TransCanada to take 50-foot swath of an East Texas ranch by eminent domain. If it stands, the decision will also allow TransCanada to take any other private land they need for their pipeline by eminent domain.
The Red d’Arc ranch, owned by the Crawford family of Paris, and managed by Julia Trigg Crawford, has been a lightning rod in the battle over the Keystone pipeline, which will carry Canadian tar sands bitumen across the United States to Houston refineries, from where it will be shipped to China. TransCanada, the pipeline company, has secured permits for the section from Oklahoma to Houston but not for the rest of the United States segment, runing all the way to North Dakota.
The Crawfords, who own several hundred acres of working farmland, had sued TransCanada over the company’s use of eminent domain to claim use of a portion of a horse pasture, the soil of which covers a rich trove of Caddo Indian artifacts. Julia Trigg Crawford became the face for the fight against eminent domain for the pipeline, and her story has been covered in a host of magazines, newspapers and news stories in the last year, including in the Weekly.
At issue in the lawsuit was whether TransCanada was planning to operate as a “common carrier” pipeline — transporting oil and related products on a first-come, first-served basis — or as a private pipeline carrying only a single product from a single company. In Texas, common carrier pipelines have the right to take land via eminent domain. Private pipelines do not. The Crawfords sued in large part because there are no apparent plans for the pipeline to carry anything other than tar sands bitumen for TransCanada. Tar sands bitumen is a very heavy sludge that is extremely poisonous and nearly impossible to remove from the environment in the event of leakage.
The entire text of Judge Harris’ decision was: “TransCanada’s MSJ is GRANTED. TransCanada’s NEMSJ is GRANTED. Crawford’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is DENIED.”
The MSJ refers to “motion for summary judgment.” The NEMSJ refers to “no evidence motion for summary judgment”. Translation: Despite what many people saw as a strong case for the Crawfords, Judge Harris agreed with TransCanada that there was no need to proceed any further with the case.
Crawford said that she was sad that her family had lost the case but that the fight is not over. “Whether we appeal, which we probably will, I now know that I have a job to do, which to fight for property rights.”
Crawford said she finds it unbelievable that a Canadian company can seize private property for profit while not even meeting the basic requirements for common-carrier status. “We asked them for their tariff rate schedule” — the fees the pipeline would be charging to carry other company’s oil products — “and TransCanada’s attorney refused to provide anything, responding in court that tariffs will be provided ‘about the time it gets ready to transport product on the line,’ ” she wrote in a release shortly after the decision.
“What’s more,” she told Fort Worth Weekly, “we were served with a writ of possession by TransCanada the morning before the judge’s ruling came down. And TransCanada has now marked off where they intend to put their driveway onto our land, so I assume they can come in and start laying their pipe whenever they want.”
The Crawfords’ suit was based largely on a case involving a private pipeline company using eminent domain against a South Texas landowner. The case was decided in the landowner’s favor, with the judge ruling that since the pipeline company was only planning to transport its own product through the pipeline, it had no right to employ eminent domain. The pipeline company has since appealed that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court three times in the last year, with the court upholding the initial ruling each time.
“So that ruling means that a pipeline company, when challenged by a landowner, has to prove that it is a common carrier. And certainly TransCanada did not do that in this case,” said Crawford.
“What TransCanada will do now, I don’t know,” she said. “What I do know that I’m not folding up my tent any time soon.”