***UPDATE 1:10pm: TransCanada has just lifted condemnation on Doris and Sue’s property. This is a big win for landowners all along the Keystone XL route. If you’re a landowner along the route or know someone who is, please pass on the good news.***
From August 20th to September 2nd, I will be on the road on the Stop the Pipeline Tour, a group of landowners and individuals traveling from Texas to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Tar Sands Action, a campaign of civil disobedience at the White House to raise awareness on the Keystone XL pipeline issue and to call for President Obama to deny TransCanada’s permit for the project. I am a fourth-generation rancher from the Nebraska Sandhills. My family raises organic, grass-fed beef and dairy on native prairie, and we and our cattle drink from the Ogallala aquifer. The Keystone pipeline threatens the land we love and our way of life. It could damage a fragile, unique ecosystem and destroy our livelihood, which is producing great-tasting, nutritious food without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides and with minimal fossil fuel use. I am traveling with four other folks, among them David Daniel, a Texas landowner who has been involved in fighting the pipeline since 2008:
I will be blogging about the trip along the way, posting photos and videos of the people and places along the way that will be affected by the pipeline.
Day Two: Oklahoma
Winnsboro, TX. The second day began early, again at 5:00 to pack the RV and prepare for our trip north. During the night we added another member to our group, Adrian Van Dellen, a retired military veterinarian (yes, a vet who was a vet) who is now a nature photographer.
As the sun rose in the east Texas sky, we picked up Eleanor Fairchild, David Daniel’s neighbor whose land would be crossed by the proposed Keystone XL and who has refused to sign an easement with TransCanada, then headed for Dallas to pick up Blake Hodges, our videographer for the trip. Carry-on bags, camera cases and tripods loaded, we headed north for the Red River and the Oklahoma border.
Our first stop was outside Bennington, OK, where we met with sisters Doris Lynn and Sue Kelso outside a modest brick home with livestock pens behind. Beneath the shade of a black walnut tree in the yard, a litter of half a dozen orphaned kittens played at our feet and crawled up our pantlegs as we listened to the women tell us stories of this place where their father, who was blinded by a lightning strike, built an underground storm shelter to provide safety from tornadoes. The subterranean concrete structure also served as cool storage for canned fruits and vegetables that the family of nine grew in their garden and canned in the heat of the kitchen.
Now the only surviving children to reside on the family homestead, Doris and Sue still attempt to raise their own food in the garden plot, which this summer was little more than bare dirt and weeds, as southern Oklahoma remains in the death-grip of a devastating drought.
Adequate water supply in this part of the country is critical even in a normal year, since summers can be quite hot and rainfall sporadic, causing pastures and crops to dry up quickly. Along the highway I saw more than a few skinny cattle standing at the banks of shrunken ponds. Water supply, and more importantly, water quality, was the main concern for Doris and Sue regarding the construction of Keystone XL on their property.
Sue told us of her frustrations in dealing with TransCanada’s bullying and dishonesty during the easement negotiation process, but what bothered her most was finding out (not from TransCanada) the difference between tar sands oil and regular crude oil, and the specific risks involved with transporting diluted bitumen through a pipeline. Sue and Doris are not strangers to easement negotiations, nor are they opposed to pipelines; in fact, they already have four natural gas pipelines crossing their 180-acre property. Keystone XL will be the fifth pipeline to cut through the farm, but it will be the first to carry not just regular crude oil, but tarsands diluted bitumen.
Sue cites the contents of the pipeline as well as TransCanada’s lack of respect for her family, their land, and their water as the biggest reasons for her refusal to sign any contracts with TransCanada. The negotiation process could be summed up as follows: They had one meeting with TransCanada, who asked them to sign an easement; when they didn’t sign, TransCanada filed for condemnation of the family’s property. None of the family’s concerns or suggested contract changes were acknowledged, TransCanada filed for eminent domain condemnation, and now Sue and Doris are involved in what could be a costly legal battle to protect their property rights.
Stories like this are nothing new; in fact, TransCanada has displayed a consistent pattern of bullying landowners from Montana to Texas. I’ve spoken first-hand with farmers and ranchers (some of whom are my friends and family) in Nebraska and the Dakotas along both the Keystone I pipeline and the proposed Keystone XL route who have had similar experiences dealing with TransCanada’s corporate strong-arming tactics.
The bottom line is that these landowners care about the safety of their families’ drinking water supplies as well as the integrity of their property, homes, and livelihood. Sadly, TransCanada disregards these legitimate concerns and ignores the basic needs of landowners, instead choosing to focus on bulldozing their way through the easement process with out considering compromise or fair compensation.
After we said goodbye to Doris and Sue, as we drove the bus north, a few raindrops began to sprinkle the windshield of the bus. Soon, we were driving through a steady rain shower that I hoped would bring at least a little bit of relief to the thirsty soil, plants and animals of southern Oklahoma. Our next destination: Abilene, Kansas, where David will be debating a TransCanada rep at Eisenhower Presidential library. Keep watching for more updates from the Stop the Pipeline Tour as we make our way to D.C. to join in the action against tar sands oil production and the Keystone XL pipeline.