TransCanada security workers have been putting the pressure on tree sitters to come down from their leafy perches in East Texas, but two holdouts remain.
The Canadian pipeline company, which is building the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, opted to change its route to move around the protesters after a standoff and several disruptions from other pipeline opponents.
But as the pipeline work moved around the protesters, who have set up a network of platforms, tarp, rope and buckets more than 40 feet above the ground, private security workers have surrounded the area and piled pressure on the tree sitters.
They have offered the protesters a “get out of jail free card,” saying they would not have them arrested for trespassing on the construction zone if they came down during a brief window. The landowner of the property on which TransCanada’s construction right of way passes initially gave the protesters permission to stage their blockade there, but the owner has since told them they are trespassing.
Although TransCanada says the protesters are trespassing, the company gave the Houston Chronicle access to its construction area to observe work and speak with the tree sitters.
Many exchanges with security workers have ended in anger, with protesters condemning pipeline work and contractors on the ground arguing that discarded cans and other waste thrown from trees are damaging the environment.
“That’s a pretty absurd statement,” said one of the protesters, who identified himself only by the name Chickadee, fearing legal action from TransCanada.
He argued that any waste thrown from the trees could easily be picked up when protesters descend, but environmental damage from oil production or from an oil pipeline leak could cause serious and possibly irreparable harm.
“If your entire day they try to either entice me to come down, treat me like some kid who is trying to play some game, it wears on a person,” the protester said. He added, however, that he planned to continue his demonstration in an attempt to encourage others to help stop pipeline work.
“I’m not an adventure seeker,” he said. “I’m not doing this for some kind of thrill. I’m really just trying to do the right thing.”
The Keystone XL pipeline’s southern leg will extend from the oil transport hub of Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast. It is planned to eventually link with a northern portion that will extend to oil fields producing heavy crude from oil sands in Canada.
The project’s total cost was initially estimated at $12 billion, but it has been delayed because a cross-border permit was denied by the Obama administration.
TransCanada has moved ahead with the $2.3 billion southern portion, but has had to make changes because of protesters that could cost the company more than $500,000, according to court records.