NORMAN — Earlier this month a retired teacher from Norman sat down, chained herself to construction equipment with bike locks and protested the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Elisabeth Leja, 74, was arrested for the incident in Okfuskee County and is facing trespassing charges but, it’s not something she regrets, she said.
“I thought, that since I’m at the age that I am, if someone’s got to do this and somebody’s got to be arrested, it might as well be people who aren’t going to be looking for a job later,” Leja said. “If someone’s going to be arrested, it might as well be older people.”
Authorities had to cut the cable lock she used to chain herslef to the equipment being that is being used to construct the 485-mile pipeline.
Leja is a part of a coalition that protested on Highway 62 in between Paden and Boley, Okla. on Feb. 4 where TransCanada crews were working on the project. A week later, eight others were arrested for protesting at a site near Schoolton, Okla.
Leja, and many others involved in the coalition, are concerned for Oklahoma’s waterways and the health of future generations. When the $7 billion project is completed, it will transport diluted bitumen from Canada’s oil sands through the Great Plains. It is slated to transport it from Cushing, Okla. through east Texas to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur.
“The North Canadian river, which the Keystone XL crosses just south of here, isn’t something that we can compromise,” Leja said. “These two years of drought have made our waterways even more sacred, and the dilbit they want to put in that pipeline is just crazy, it isn’t safe.”
A press release sent out by the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance coalition group stated that the corrosive nature of diluted bitimen makes pipelines prone to leaks and when spills occur, the heavier diluted bitumen sinks into the water table.
The Keystone XL cuts through the heartland of North America and not only crosses through numerous major rivers, but also the Ogalala Aquifer, which provides drinking and agricultural water for huge sections of the American Midwest.
The release also stated that tar sands have a “horrendous track record”. The Keystone 1 pipeline leaked 12 times in its first year, and at least thirty times to date. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B of pipeline spilled over a million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
“The Kalamazoo Tar Sands spill is the costliest inland spill in United States history, draining the oil spill coffers and placing the $800 million and rising price tag onto the backs of local and federal taxpayers,” the release stated.
“But it is not the monetary burden that weighs heaviest; the toll on human life, health and local ecosystems is immeasurable, and in the immidiate, the toxicity of the diluted bitumen and undisclosed proprietary chemicals has proven devastating.”
Not helping the local economy
Leja and her daughter, Jeni Lucas, said aside from the health risks the pipeline could cause, it has also been misrepresented economically. Leja and Lucas said no part of this project is benefitting Oklahomans.
The two women said that while people are being told it will provide more jobs, people living in the states where the pipeline is being constructed aren’t even working on the project.
“There’s 4,000 people that are employed on this but they’re from states that don’t have a pipeline through them,” Leja said. “Or from Canada.”
Not only that, but while it is presumed it will make the price of oil cheaper, it will still increase gas prices, they said.
“Despite TransCanada and the State Department’s rehtoric of energy independece, the diluted bitumen transported by the Keystone XL is destined for export to foreign markets after being refined in Gulf Coast refineries, and the National Resources Defense Council asserts that the KXL will increase domestic gas prices,” the press release stated.
Leja’s incident did not affect construction and is the pipeline is still expected to be completed by the middle of this year.
“We did hear that TransCanada is getting fed up with the protesters, which is good. That’s more reason to go out and protest even more,” Lucas said.
Leja’s protest was one of the first in Oklahoma since TransCanda reached a settlement with some protesters, including three groups and 19 people. The settlement barred those groups and people from interfering with the protest. However, it is only applicable to those who agreed to the settlement.
The 74-year-old said while she doesn’t plan on getting arrested again, she does plan on continuing to support the protest and support the people involved.
“This is a beautiful state so why ruin it?” Leja said.
“We agree with the Native American concept that we owe the planet and future generations,” Lucas said.
For more information about the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance coalition visit http://gptarsandsresistance.org/.