Along the Pipeline, Texas part 2 – July 27-28, 2012

Hello friends:

This posting wraps up my trek from The Dakotas to Texas.  I leave for Alberta on Friday

Once again, I have censored out a lot out of this posting – the exciting part, I’m afraid.  I just don’t want to compromise anything the folks are doing down there in Texas.  You will know about it soon enough if it makes the kind of news they hope it will, or you’ll just have to wait until next spring and buy a copy of the book.

There are a couple of interesting interviews in here: a post-tea party couple, and a union business agent.  It’s worth reading!

More later from Canada.

Along the Pipeline

July 27, 2012

Becky and Sam McCoy

“We’re not tree huggers by any means.”  They laughed together, as if sharing another of many light moments at the expense of long-haired environmentalists.  Becky and Sam live next door to David and Clara Daniel.  The pipeline will come down from the north and cut cross their land too.  

“But we’re being run over.”  Becky quickly added.  “Our fears, our concerns are just laughed off.  You say to them, ‘Please, give emergency contact numbers, please let me know what first responders need to know,’ and we’re told, ‘We can’t tell you that because it’s against homeland security’ and I quote that.  How are we supposed to live with that thing next to our house?  A pipeline’s one thing – if you live in Texas, you’ve got a pipeline across your backyard if you’ve got more than and acre and a half.”

“Or an oil well,” Sam added.  “That’s understood.  But this tar sands crap they’re trying to shove down our throats – why don’t they run this stuff across their own country?  I don’t like the president we have now, but I respect him because he put a stop to most of this.”  (The northern leg.)

Becky is more firmly anti-Obama.  “We don’t expect Canada to care about us.  What we do expect is everyone from the local little guy, right straight up to the man who sits in the President’s chair to protect us.  We’re the ones they’re supposed to protect first, not the 15 million dollars John Boehner’s stands to gain form this.  He’s not representing us.”

“Are you opposed to Obama’s approach to this?” I asked Sam.

“I’m opposed to Obama, thank you!”  Becky interrupted.

“He’s a post turtle,” Sam added.

“Post turtle?”

“Yeah: You’re walking along the side of your property and on the fencepost you see a turtle just sitting there.  His legs are flopping every which way and he doesn’t know what to do.  He couldn’t have gotten up there on his own, and he can’t do nothing once he gets there.  He’s a post turtle.”  But they he added,  “We’ll vote against Romney, too.  He’s all about big money.”

“I think the government is too big for itself.”  Becky began.  “They all need to go, and government needs to get pared back down to what the country needs so that something can get done that benefits everyone, from the top to the bottom.”

The surveyors trespassed on Sam and Becky’s land four years ago, the same time they first came to David’s land.  It was Becky who called next door and reported it to David.  “Our dog ran one of them up a tree!”  They both laughed again, but then became serious.  “There are some beautiful hundred-plus year old oak trees in there.”  Becky reported.  “Big beautiful trees here.”

“Do you feel attached to them?”

“Oh!  You bet!”

The McCoys are Republicans but often vote independently.  “We lean to the conservative side.  We’re far from liberal,” they giggled.  They supported the Tea Party in its early stages, “But they’ve lost their way.”

I asked Sam what he thought of environmentalists.  He laughed in a friendly way.  “I think of what they used to call in the sixties dirty hippies.  That’s all I think about any more even though I know for the most part they’re educated people trying to do good.  You got your fringe group out there, you know, the bare foot hairy arm pit guy.”   (Laughs.) 

“Are any of your neighbors Gung Ho for the pipeline?”

“I don’t know anybody in favor of it, except the politicians.”

“Have you heard about what they’re doing up north of Calgary?” Becky interjected.  “It’s just unbelievable!”  With the thought of tar sands soon flowing across her own property just outside the back door, Becky has researched the mining in Alberta.  With what she has learned of tar sands, she has become worried about leaks and airborne chemicals, as well as loss of financial value to their land.  It’s constantly on her mind.  She says she will feel obligated to tell visitors to her home that the pipeline is nearby, in case something happens. 

”And it goes right over the aquifer that feeds our water system – your drinking it right now.”  I took a long look at my water glass.  “We don’t begrudge them doing business to make money, but when you hide information about your product, you lose faith, trust, and believability.”

Then I asked her if she expected resistance.  “I expect a lot of people to stand up and resist.”  Becky said.  “We’re going to put up notices.  We don’t have a plan when they come.  You don’t know what you need to do until you see what they’re going to do.”

“I think it’s more of an individual thing,” Sam said.  “Because trying to organize people is like trying to herd cats.”

Becky stared off across the room, as if thinking what it would be like.  “Not knowing when for sure, where for sure, and how for sure they’re going to act against your property…”

Becky is concerned about a mating pair of black panthers on the back part of their land.  She has never seen them, but often sees their footprints.  “With all of the commotion with this pipeline coming in, I think they’ll leave.  And we have deer out here, too – they’re beautiful.  I’d hate to lose that.” 

“Well, I won’t call that an environmental point of view –(they both laughed), but you definitely feel a sense of stewardship.”

“Oh yeah!  Oh Lord yes!” They answered together.

Becky followed up.  “I hadn’t been here but s month or so when a timber man came out and wanted to clear cut our whole property.  Now, those trees serve a vital purpose on this Earth to every one of us.  That’s not a tree hugger viewpoint – that’s just reality.  I look out there and I see nature’s beauty.”

“It’s stewardship, ” Sam assured me.

“Do you think there’s any climate dimension to the tar sands question?”

Becky was ready for that one.  “A lot of people have convinced themselves – with Al Gore’s help – that every bit of the warming going on is strictly because of things we’ve done and shouldn’t have done.  I don’t agree with that.  Climate change around the world has been cyclical and has been recorded.  500 years ago you’ve got the Mini Ice Age, and 250 years ago you have that slow but definite warming.  I’m not saying that anything we’ve done has not accelerated or affected it.  What we do has on affect on other things.  I don’t believe it’s the sole cause.”  Then she answered her own questions.

“Would we be on a warming trend without all this?  Yeah, I believe so.”   

“Do I believe it is a normal cyclical cycle?  Yes.”

“Do I believe we have contributed some to it?  Yes.”

“Are we the sole factor of it?  No.” 

I gave them my usual pitch about the 40% increase in carbon since the industrial revolution.  “If you’re going to change the atmosphere that much, you’re going to change how it works.”

“In those same 150 years, have there been and volcanoes… or forest fires?  Anything independent of man?”  Sam asked with a ironic lift in his voice

I was ready for this one, ever since Curt tripped me up on it.  “There are natural cycles in atmospheric carbon.  Some, like volcanoes and forest fires, put carbon into the air, and others, like limestone formation – calcium carbonate – take it out.  And there’s the natural carbon cycle between plants and animals.  What’s different is that in a very short period of time we have contributed not just a marginal difference, but a huge difference to the atmosphere.  The natural balance is out of balance.”

“In the media, the human factor is always elevated.”  Becky observed.

“Yes.”  I agreed.  “Why do you think that is?”

“Because we think too much of ourselves.”  Sam said.

“Do you think people have a need to ring the alarm?”

“Yes.  Why do you think Al Gore did what he did?”  Becky was speaking.  “Money.  Money.  Money.  We don’t think mankind and mankind alone has done all this.  We don’t think everybody has to go back and live in a tent or a teepee.” 

“I don’t think we can go backwards.”  I agreed.  “But we have to go forward in a different direction.  I’m a solar installer.”

“Oh!  We’d love to have it!  What about wind power?”

I didn’t want to go there just then, so I changed the subject.  “What I’ve been hearing in my own research on the Keystone XL is that this tar sand deposit is so huge that it may increase the carbon level somewhere around 100 ppm, maybe more.”

“Something that large would definitely do some global climate change,” Sam said thoughtfully.

“And the only way now that the carbon is going to get to the atmosphere is through the Keystone pipeline.  That, I think is dangerous for….”

 “Ev-e-ry-body.”  Becky finished my sentence.

She thought for a minute about what she had just said.  “We just feel powerless to what is being driven into our ground.  These people come in here and think the laws of the land don’t apply to them.  I can’t see where that should be tolerated.”

“I think this is more than a local issue.  It’s a global issue.”  I said.

“It’s a good theory.”  Sam said.  “With the numbers you have it’s a very good theory.”     

Black Schroeder

I have been trying for several days to find and interview people who will be constructing on the pipeline.  David assures me there are pipeline workers all over the place around Winnsboro, but they are mostly non-union, and the Keystone is supposed to be a union job.  The work has not yet begun, so most workers are not here, but I have been hoping the find someone already signed up to work on the Keystone XL when the time comes.  I’ve made quite a few calls and asked around town, but nobody seems to have a direct connection to the jobs the pipeline will offer. 

But I did find Black Schroeder, a union business agent for the Pipeliners local 798.  Black was in his office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so we talked over the phone.  The Union has 7000 members around the country, and Black will be representing those working the Keystone XL throughout Texas. 

“Everybody understood it to be a project-labor agreement, but they (TransCanada) turned around; they wanted to do the whole state of Texas non-union.  About 112 miles will be non-union.  My boss started that project-labor agreement here in Tulsa.  He gave them a reduction in wages; they froze prices to do the whole project and all the stations, but they were determined to do the last 112 miles non-union.  The non-union has just about taken us over.  They work so cheap.  We make decent wages, but they kind of knocked the bottom out of the work.” 

According to Black, everything north of Lufkin TX (about 200 miles) will be union, but south of Lufkin (112 miles) will be non-union.  The Texas union crew will warehouse in Mt Pleasant, Texas and begin construction around Aug 20th.  (To this point I have been hearing August 1, which is this Wednesday.)  There will be around two hundred union jobs, including welders, fitters, and apprentices.  Union wages will be about $30 more per hour higher than non-union, including health care, pension plan, and 401Ks.  Union workers will use mechanized welding, where non-union workers will use stick rods that will take more people and more time.  Laying the pipe will take four to five months total.  The union workers will come from all over, but mostly from within Texas. 

“Keystone’s done pretty much everything they can do to make sure this thing’s going to be safe.  What worries me is the last part of it.  It’s kind of like a chain; you don’t take the last link of the chain and weaken it.  The last 112 miles (The non-union section) is going to be a weak link.  They do not put the money into training that we do.  There’s a double standard out there.  They say it isn’t, but it always is.”

“If there are problems, you expect they will be on that section.”


“Is this pipeline, from your point of view, any different from other crude oil pipelines?

“No…. Maybe a little bit… They might be taking a few extra precautions.”

“For a lot of people in Texas, this is not a conventional pipeline because of what will be running through it.  Tar sand is abrasive, corrosive, and pumped hot under high pressure.  What have you heard about that?”

“I’ll be able to tell you more about that after this project is completed.  They talk about using lower pressure and adding more valves, but what they say they’re going to do and what they end up doing will be two different things.  Just like with the non-union workers – they say they’re going to hold them to the same standards as they hold us, but they don’t never do it.  Nobody’s done it yet.”

“The non-union part of this is going within three miles of my house.”  The pitch and tempo of Black’s voice moved up a notch as he said this.  “I have friends it’s going through and I’ll be going out there and looking at it.  I’ll be looking to see if they’re holding them to the same standards as us.”

“Are you and your neighbors looking at this as just another conventional pipeline?”

“They pipeline everybody down here.  They pay them to go across their land, and it’s money in their pocket.  So they don’t mind.  But there are people in Texas concerned about it.  But all the leaks on the first Keystone pipeline where on sections built by non-union labor.  Later, Keystone actually hired our 798 welders and to go fix all their mess-ups up there.  There was no leaks on any of the union work.”

“We preach this to our members: we make more money – we’ve got health care and pension – so we have to do higher quality work.  We’ve got a product to sell, and it’s got to be a better product.”  Then he took his voice up another notch.  “Robert Jones, and I want to quote this on tape, Robert Jones – a vice president of Keystone – stood in Danny Kindrick’s office – a business manager for local 798 – and said, ‘The reason we want to do this non-union is that we want to take advantage of cheap, abundant labor.’  That’s what he said.”

“Do you or anyone you know working on this have any environmental concerns?”

“I would say the majority of our contractors are ‘green contractors;’ they deal with this environment every day.  They build these things to be environmental safe.  The non-union contractors don’t have the opportunity to work on these great big projects; they’re not trained.  Six years ago there was a big project here for energy transfer and they hired a non-union contractor.  They drained wetlands, … they had no …remorse for the environment… There was silt running in all the streams and creeks.”

“Their less accountable.”

“Our people want to take care of the environment.”

“What is your understanding of the climate situation?”

“I do have an opinion on it.  I do believe there is global warming.  There’s something going on.  I’m fifty-six years old and I’ve seen the change.  Denver Colorado set a record for the hottest July on record, and there’s draught.  I don’t know how the tar sands is going to affect it.  The only thing I know is Keystone was saying they were going to ship this oil to China.  There’s one ozone up there, and they’ve got less regulation in China than we have here.  If it’s going to be refined, it’s better to have it refined here.”

“It’s only one atmosphere we’re dealing with here.”

“I agree on that.”  Black thought for a while, as if trying to summarize his feelings on the project.  His voice went back down a notch.  “You know, it’s going to be built as safe as it can be built.  I think it was a good idea to re-route it around the aquifer in Nebraska.”

But then he added, “It’s not going to bring the price of gas down.  They’re going to export it out of Port Arthur.  The number one export out of this country is gasoline.  It’s a free trade zone down there where they’re going to export it.” 

“Here’s something, too,” he went on.  “That pipeline is the safest way to transport anything, even if you were transferring groceries through it.  But it’s got to be built right.”

“It’s been my experience that that’s a big concern for landowners.”  I said.  “They’re seeing a big difference between tar sands and conventional crude oil, and they’re worried about the quality of the construction.”

“Most every one down here in Texas thought this was going to be done with union labor.  And then they find out it’s not going to be done that way.  They throwed it out there like it was going to be all union.  But then they wanted to do the whole thing non-union.  We helped them from the beginning – we went to all these meetings and there was no one from the non-union contractors – union labor was the only one there in favor of this thing.  We were trying to help out – speaking in favor of it.  You’d think TransCanada would do the right thing and let us have that last 112 miles.  But they never intended to do that.”

“And you know all these long term jobs they talk about?”  Black voice was back in high gear.  “These pumping stations have maybe two people each, and there’s 30 of them total.  Even if you have the maximum of three people on these stations, you’re talking only 90 jobs in the whole country.  Where’s all these jobs?”

July 28

An article in yesterdays’ DeSmogBlog reports that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional the pro-fracking bill I mentioned earlier that would have prevented localities from passing zoning against gas wells in residential areas.  The Court ruled that the bill  “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”[i]

I can’t imagine how a bill like that could have made it through the legislature in the first place.

The Tar Sands Barricade

It’s been either side of a hundred degrees every day since I arrived in Texas nearly a week ago.  There is no relief in sight, and no rain for the foreseeable future. 

A large armadillo passed through my campsite late last night, seemingly on his way to a more important engagement.  He paid me little mind, and I returned the favor.  A few hours later I was awake and participating in the Tar Sands Barricade training session at Susan and Gabriel’s farm just outside Winnsboro Texas.  About sixty people are here to learn about how to construct a non-violent barricade and use it to delay the pipeline construction.  It’s so hot that some of the training will have to be held indoors. 

There is the usual mix here of organizations, actions, and agencies.  STOP stands for Stop Tar sands Oil Pipelines.  It’s the group local to Winnsboro that David Daniel founded several years ago.  Rising Tide North Texas is a group of students and recent graduates from the University of North Texas in Denton.  This is the core group that will be manning and womanning the

[i] DeSmogBlog July 27, 2012.

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