Keystone XL protests swell in Texas

Protests against the Keystone XL pipeline in northeast Texas swelled today as three demonstrators chained themselves to equipment while more than 60 gathered to denounce the project.

The activists have chained themselves to heavy machinery on the southern and northern sides of a portion of land that has been central to demonstrations in recent weeks.

A group of less than 10 protesters, whose activities have been documented on their website www.tarsandsblockade.org, have been holding out on tree platforms for weeks in an attempt to block TransCanada’s work to build the southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The number of activists surrounding the “tree village,” as protesters call it, surged Monday as they attempted to draw more attention to the pipeline’s construction and the brief detention last week of New York Times journalists attempting to cover the demonstrations, according to the group’s website.

More than 60 have now gathered around the area of the tree village, although it was not clear how many had trespassed onto TransCanada’s construction right of way, said David Dodson, a company spokesman.

TransCanada contractors working to clear trees and foliage in advance of pipeline construction near Winnsboro, Texas, have been frequently disrupted by protesters who have often descended from trees and placed themselves in front of heavy machinery.

Because of the tree protests, the company decided to make a slight adjustment to its pipeline route to move around the village and bypass any potential standoff with tree-sitters refusing to move.

Today’s protests would not be a factor, Dodson said.

“There is virtually no impact on construction today,” he said.

TransCanada is working to make way for the pipeline on a route that cuts through private land, but is a part of their construction right of way that the company has the right to work on, similar to an easement used by a utility or city.

The company has previously reported to law enforcement incidents of trespassing by protesters on the right of way, even though they may be present with the permission of landowners.

But when the company’s private security workers approached journalists last week about being on the right of way, an action that preceded their brief detention, they were clearly outside of that zone, said Ron Seifert, a spokesman for the protesters.

“That’s simply false,” Seifert said. “They were not even within 60 feet of the boundary of the easement. They were not even within many body lengths of that caution tape when they were stopped and detained.”

The journalists identified themselves as media and were released, but told that they risked arrest of they remained in the area.