A standoff between environmentalists in trees and workers clearing the way for a Texas portion of the Keystone XL pipeline has led crews to move around the protesters.
Contractors for TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, have been disrupted several times by protesters near Winnsboro in northeast Texas, some of whom have put themselves in potentially dangerous situations to halt work.
“We are trying to work around them,” TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said. “We’re getting pretty concerned about their escalation of tactics.”
TransCanada has reached new agreements with landowner David Daniel, who owns the property where the protesters have set up in trees, Dodson said.
The agreements allowed TransCanada contractors on Monday to clear a 75-foot-wide corridor to the west of the protesters’ tree village on what will be an altered path for the pipeline that will move around the attempted blockade, Dodson said.
Overnight, however, protesters positioned a 30-foot pole in that cleared area, he said.
“We are examining our options regarding that illegal structure, but it appears to be temporary,” Dodson said.
Tensions between protesters, workers and law enforcement officials have heightened since the blockade effort began two weeks ago.
Protesters have locked arms through the frame of a piece of heavy machinery in an effort to stop work. They were subsequently handcuffed to the equipment and tasered, among other “torture tactics,” said Ron Seifert, a spokesman for the demonstrators.
The Wood County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the incident. Asked about the encounter, Dodson said, “That was a law enforcement matter. That wasn’t us.”
In a separate faceoff, a protester approached heavy machinery – a feller buncher – that was cutting down and dropping trees. The protester placed himself directly in front of the machine as an operator was about to drop the tree, according to a video of the incident posted on the protesters’ website, tarsandsblockade.org.
The operators hesitated, then moved the machine and dropped the tree nearby, which resulted in branches falling toward the protester, who jumped out of the way unharmed, according to the video.
A total of nine protesters are camped out on a network of platforms and living spaces constructed between 40 feet and 80 feet off the ground, Seifert said.
“They are fully stocked and equipped with supplies to last weeks,” he said.
TransCanada crews have not progressed toward the tree platforms, instead cutting their way in an apparently altered path around the site, Seifert said.
In response, a protester has taken up a position in the new path, he said.
“It’s deeply concerning to us that they’re up in the trees,” Dodson said. “They’re provoking operators with heavy equipment. We’re deeply concerned.”
Seifert argued that TransCanada could do more to avoid dangerous encounters with protesters.
“There’s a well-documented, rich American history of similar activities and there’s a whole host of options that TransCanada and law enforcement officers could take to remove blockaders peacefully and safely,” he said. “They are choosing not to do that” because of the project’s timeline, Seifert added.