Eleanor Fairchild recently spent a night in jail. The 78-year-old grandmother was arrested after she stood with "eco-anarchists" against the Keystone XL pipeline's construction in East Texas.
Fairchild's contribution to eco-anarchy? Trespassing — on a piece of her own farm a Texas court condemned at pipeline builder TransCanada's request.
The Keystone pipeline controversy has attracted environmental activists and celebrities such as actress Daryl Hannah to the fight against it, and, sure, sometimes these activists harm their cause more than they help it.
Perhaps it was Hannah who Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson had in mind when he wrote, "I've recently learned that a bunch of out-of-state, self-appointed 'eco-anarchists' think they know better than Texans and have arrived to save us from ourselves. They're trying to block the Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project, the pipeline that's under construction in East Texas that will create thousands of jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil."
But lumped in with Patterson's "eco-anarchists" are numerous Texas landowners like Fairchild who feel bullied by TransCanada and fear losing access to parts of their land. They say they are defending property rights threatened by a private, foreign company.
Many of these landowners have allowed pipelines on their property in the past and have welcomed the often generous checks that follow an agreement between pipeline company and landowner. But TransCanada is different, landowners say.
In a story published by The Associated Press, landowners cited TransCanada's failure to offer fair value for their land as one thing separating it from other pipeline companies. Rather than negotiate a fair price, the company frequently is going to court to claim eminent domain or force landowners to agree to the pipeline at prices below fair value.
The Keystone XL pipeline, if fully completed, will stretch from Alberta in western Canada to refineries and ports in Houston and Port Arthur. While it waits for Nebraska to approve a new route around that state's porous Sandhills region, under which lies the Ogallala Aquifer, TransCanada is building the pipeline's 485-mile southern section from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The White House also must approve the pipeline's construction, since it crosses an international border. President Barack Obama, reacting in part to Nebraska's objections, delayed granting approval last fall.
The pipeline's southern segment doesn't require an international permit. It crosses about 800 tracts of land in Texas. According to AP, TransCanada has claimed eminent domain to condemn more than 100 of those tracts — an unusually high condemnation percentage (about 12.5 percent) for a pipeline project in Texas.
The Keystone pipeline came up during the second presidential debate between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The simple rhetoric of presidential debates and political campaigns, like Patterson's eco-anarchist slam, fails the complexity of the issue.
The process requires a tremendous amount of energy and water.
The Keystone XL pipeline will be built. Still, there is no right more sacred to Texas landowners than the right to control their property as they see fit.
— Austin American-Statesman