Grass-Roots Movement Attempts to Block Path of Keystone Pipeline

By Smith, Mitch | International New York Times, May 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Grass-Roots Movement Attempts to Block Path of Keystone Pipeline


Smith, Mitch, International New York Times


A new round of hearings on a state permit for the Keystone XL project is expected to pit South Dakota activists against pipeline supporters.

In early 2010, the South Dakota government gave its blessing to a Canadian company seeking to move crude oil in a pipeline beneath the American heartland. Opposition had been minimal.

"We didn't know about it," said Faith Spotted Eagle, the chairwoman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe's treaty council. "It was real swift and quiet."

But in the years since, the proposed pipeline, known as Keystone XL, has become the object of a national debate, and Ms. Spotted Eagle has emerged as a leader of an increasingly organized coalition of Native Americans, landowners and grass-roots groups seeking to block its construction in this state and elsewhere. So much time has elapsed that the 2010 construction permit is now up for recertification, requiring a new round of hearings expected to pit South Dakota activists against pipeline supporters eager for construction to begin.

"These kinds of things in history have been more procedural in nature," said Mark Cooper, a spokesman for Trans- Canada, the company proposing Keystone XL. "But I think the new reality is that opponents of the pipeline will do anything they can do to slow progress."

The process in South Dakota is playing out amid a much broader debate about Keystone XL, which would run 1,179 miles from Alberta's vast fields of oil sands, with the capacity to carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of oil per day to southern Nebraska, connecting to existing pipelines. The project has stoked passions on both sides. Many Republicans in Congress and business groups see it as an economic necessity. Opponents fear the possibility of a leak, an influx of temporary workers into their communities, and the environmental consequences of petroleum use. Now, more than six years after it was proposed, the project remains hobbled by bureaucratic hurdles and legal challenges.

In Nebraska, long a hotbed of pipeline opposition, some landowners along the proposed route have gone to court to challenge eminent domain proceedings. On the federal level, President Obama's permission is required because the pipeline would cross a national border. Mr. Obama has put off making a decision until the State Department finishes its review of the project, and he infuriated conservatives by vetoing legislation to approve it.

For years, South Dakota had been mostly an afterthought in the permit battle. But emboldened by the coming hearing and the success of protesters elsewhere, some South Dakotans say their state could be another barrier to construction. That goal has frustrated many pipeline supporters in the state, including all three members of its congressional delegation, who say they are satisfied with TransCanada's assurances that the pipeline would be safe.

"Keystone XL has allowed this conversation, this resistance against oil development, tar sands development, to take place on a national scale, on a scale that hasn't happened before," said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a group opposed to Keystone XL that works with tribal governments.

Among the most consistent and vocal opponents here have been Native Americans, by far the largest minority group in the state, with about 9 percent of the population. …

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