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Protesting The Keystone XL Pipeline – One Man's Account Shows Us How Being Arrested Is Not Only Frightening – It Can Also Be An Awakening


By Theodora Filis and Brian Hicks


In June 2010 TransCanada commenced commercial operation of the first phase of the $13 billion Keystone Pipeline System. Keystone's first phase was the conversion of natural gas pipeline to crude oil pipeline and construction of an innovative bullet line that brings the crude oil from Canada to the US Midwest.


 Brian Hicks, Keystone XL Protester 


The proposed Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project is an approximate 2,673-kilometre (1,661-mile), 36-inch crude oil pipeline that would begin at Hardisty, Alberta, Canada and extend southeast through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. It would incorporate a portion of the Keystone Pipeline through Nebraska and Kansas to serve markets at Cushing, Oklahoma before continuing through Oklahoma to a delivery point near existing terminals in Nederland, Texas to serve the Port Arthur, Texas marketplace.

“The officer held my upper arm and led me toward the processing tent and vehicles, saying “Watch your step”, as we came to the edge of the sidewalk. I said thank you. We stood like that for a few minutes, his hand on my arm, until he handed me off to another officer, a regular park police officer. Someone was holding me at all times throughout the process, until I was in the police van. I suppose that’s standard procedure when a suspect is in custody – you wouldn’t want them running away – but mostly it felt to me that they were there for my safety, because you are quite vulnerable when your hands are lashed behind your back.” Brian Hicks, Keystone XL Protester

Refining tar sands oil is dirtier than refining conventional oil, and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. These emissions cause smog and acid rain and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma.

Communities near the refineries where the Keystone XL pipeline would terminate, many of them low-income and communities, already live with dangerously high levels of air pollution. 


Investing in tar sands oil now will delay investments in clean and safe alternatives to oil, such as better fuel economy requirements, plug-in electric cars fueled by solar power, and smart growth and public transportation infrastructure that give Americans choices other than cars.

TransCanada, and its allies, know the US hopes to be less dependent of foreign oil and plays on those hopes by presenting the pipeline as a solution. Please don't be fooled. The Keystone XL pipeline would only serve to perpetuate dependence on oil and will not make the US more secure.


“Over the course of the two-week sit-in 1,252 people were arrested, including top climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers, First Nations leaders from Canada, and notable individuals including Bill McKibben, former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox, and author Naomi Klein
…and me.” said Hicks

When pipeline advocates talk about rising demand, they ignore the fact that US oil consumption is on a steady decline. According to the Department of Energy, gasoline demand in the US will decline through 2030, because of efficiency standards. The US could reduce that by another 4 million barrels a day by requiring more efficient heavy trucks, airplanes, and buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the reduction could be up to 7 million barrels a day.

You would be wrong to believe the Keystone XL pipeline will alleviate oil market fluctuations, or reduce the cost of oil. OPEC controls most of the world’s oil, and sets oil prices. Construction of the pipeline – a drop in the bucket of the world's oil market - will not change that.

“I thought often - as I endured my gentle and respectful treatment by the police, my mild deprivations, my inconveniences and moderate expenses - of those others, elsewhere and in other times, who have risked and too often suffered a nightmare version of what we were going through. And I am in awe. Still, what I did was out of the ordinary. It crossed the line into sacrifice.” wrote Hicks

The International Energy Agency shows that if we reduce our demand for oil in line with stabilizing climate change, OPEC revenues would be $5 trillion less over the next two decades. 

In 2007, CNA Corporation, a defense analysis operation, wrote, "climate change is a threat multiplier in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states -- the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism."

In 2010, the Pentagon followed suit, writing in its Quadrennial Defense Review that global warming impacts and disasters will "act as an accelerant of instability or conflict."



Environment, Economy at Heart of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate 



"I responded to Bill McKibben’s invitation because of my deep concern about climate change. Wouldn’t you know it, that the day I am to participate, the focus turns out not to be on climate change but on indigenous rights, and on the harm being done to a small group of First Nations people in remote Alberta.

But wait, I came as an environmentalist, what does this have to do with indigenous rights? I think maybe the answer is that I came on the right day.
Bill quoted us this: “If you're comfortable with everybody at the table, your coalition is too small.

Friday morning, the day I was going to be arrested, I awoke from a dream in which I was late and disorganized. I showed up at the protest location without something essential and said I had to go back for it. But there was no time. The person I was explaining to gave me a stern and doubtful look, and asked in a patronizing tone, “What makes you think you are ready to cross the line?”

I guess I crossed the line.” Brian Hicks, Keystone XL Protester




Both mining and processing of tar sands involve a variety of environmental impacts, such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, disturbance of mined land, impacts on wildlife and air and water quality. 

You can read all of Brian Hicks Account Here:

Suggested reading for all protesters: 
Exercising Your Rights Of Political Protest In Washington, DC
Prepared by the Washington, DC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild:

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