By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — How much would you be willing to sacrifice to fight for what you believe in?
Some sacrifice the comfort of home, the stability of a job and steady income and even face getting arrested for civil disobedience — all to educate others about what they believe is not only detrimental to the land but also the people inhabiting it.
Those involved with the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance (GPTSR) group are trying to put a stop to pipelines, including the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Some of those involved in the GPTSR group visited Norman’s Red Earth Group Sierra Club recently to discuss the Keystone XL Pipeline, other pipeline projects and their ongoing efforts to halt construction through direct action and civil disobedience.
Part of the Keystone XL Pipeline cuts through portions of Oklahoma and will transport diluted bitumen — a sludgy type of crude oil — from Canada. The project has drawn protest from environmental activists and Native American groups around the state and the nation.
The Keystone XL is a $7 billion project that will run through the heartland of North America. The portion of pipeline in Oklahoma will run from the oil storage hub in Cushing through east Texas, down to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur.
During the GPTSR presentation, Sierra Club members discussed some of the information TransCanada has “put out there” that they said was misleading.
“Two points; one is jobs,” said Mary Francis, Sierra Club member. “The other is about the price of oil.”
Francis said TransCanada wants to get the oil out of Illinois and move it to Houston and Port Arthur refineries so they can get $30 per barrel more for it. Francis said part of moving it to Houston has to deal with TransCanada not having to pay taxes because it is a “duty-free” refinery.
“Duty-free” refineries are in Foreign Trade Zones, which will give tax benefits to the refineries importing the oil. The companies will still pay taxes when selling the refined oil in the U.S., but when importing and exporting from foreign trade zones, the companies don’t have to pay tax on the product sales.
As far as jobs go, while original estimates may have been that the pipeline project would offer around 20,000 jobs, Francis said when the state department looked into it, the pipeline would actually only provide around 4,000 to 6,000 jobs.
Furthermore, a Freedom of Information Act was filed and one of the things Trans-Canada was asked was when they went through South Dakota to get to Illinois, how many jobs were actually created in that state.
“It turns out it was only around 270,” Francis said. “And then the question was, how many of those 270 odd jobs were Americans? 11 percent.”
Oklahomans protesting: Some Oklahomans have been trying to make a difference, including Elisabeth Leja, 74, of Norman, who was arrested last month for protesting the pipeline. Leja chained herself to equipment used to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline near Highway 62 in Okfuskee County.
An Oklahoma youth pastor, Stefan Warner, also was arrested after he locked himself to machinery near Schoolton. In a statement released by the GPTSR, Warner said he didn’t want the North Canadian River become another Kalamazoo.
“I figure folks have to take action to stop our beautiful Oklahoma from being marred by a foreign corporation and stand up to fight big corporations who think poisoning people and stealing land is acceptable so long as they make a profit,” Warner said.
Warner attended the meeting in Norman last week when members of the GPTSR group spoke to the Sierra Club and members of the public.
GPTSR member J. Morris said, in reference to the protesters’ actions, that if one person could stop a piece of 40-foot-tall equipment for one day, imagine if there were enough people to stop it for a week.
In regard to the number of people that showed up to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington, Morris said “imagine that many people going to Cushing.”
“I wish the government were doing something, but they’re not,” another GPTSR member said. “The truth is right now, they’re not protecting the land, they’re not protecting the people. People are dying today.”
History of pipeline spills: The first Keystone pipeline leaked 12 times in its first year and at least 30 times to date. It was originally only predicted to spill once every seven years, a GPTSR member said.
In 2010, Enbridge’s pipeline spilled more than 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 backs of local and federal taxpayers,” a GPTSR press 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 immediate, the toxicity of the diluted bitumen and undisclosed proprietary chemicals has proven devastating.”
During the meeting last week, Morris said the clean-up from the Kalamazoo spill has been an ongoing process for a long time. Thirty-seven miles of river still has “sludge” at the bottom of it, he said. Not only has it damaged the river, but it has affected the health of those in surrounding communities.
“As they’re trying to clean it up, they’re agitating the bitumen at the bottom of the river,” Morris said. “It’s interesting because they’re actually building another pipeline right alongside it.”
“And Michigan’s allowing that?” a Sierra Club member said.
“Yep,” Morris said. “There’s some resistance, but not on a level that will amount to anything in terms of legislative changes.”
Environmental and health impacts: According to the GPTSR group, the tar sands mining project in northern Alberta is the “largest industrial project in the history of humankind” and is capable of destroying an area of pristine boreal forest the size of Florida.
“The corrosive nature of tar sands makes pipelines much more prone to leaks than transporting crude oils, and when spills occur, the heavier diluted bitumen sinks into the water table,” a GPTSR release stated.
The Keystone XL Pipeline will not only cross major watersheds but also the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking and agricultural water for huge sections of the American Midwest, the press release stated.
During the meeting last week, a GPTSR member said one of the main reasons for protesting is to stand up for the people in Canada who are dying of cancer because of the project.
“One of the main reasons I’m doing this, personally, is because the same system that’s been exploiting this earth, and this continent, and the people who lived here first, the same system is continuing the genocide of 500 years of indigenous people,” the member said.
While oftentimes we tend to focus on “our state” and “our backyard,” the tar sands resistance member said this is a system that affects the whole planet.
“Together, we will either be annihilated or we’ll find the strength to come together,” the member said.
Upcoming GPTSR events: The Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance group will have a training camp March 18-22 in Ponca City for those wanting to protest the pipeline. Those interested are encouraged to be prepared to camp out and bring warm clothing, sleeping bags or blankets and tents. Meals will be provided. Donations will be accepted.
A concert and educational event regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline will be from noon to 6 p.m. March 24 in Andrews Park in Norman and will feature a Buffy Sainte-Marie concert, tar sands teach-in and civil disobedience training. Donations of $5 are suggested.
For more information, visit gptarsandsresistance.org.
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.