New Keystone XL tree protesters descend

Two protesters who climbed onto tree platforms late Wednesday to block work on the Keystone XL pipeline have descended, a spokesman for the activists confirmed Friday.

The protesters were in platforms connected to surrounding trees as far as 100 feet away, according to the activist group Tar Sands Blockade. If the connecting lines were disturbed, they would have have dropped the protesters from their perches more than 50 feet off the ground, the group said.

The activists were in positions along the construction route of the pipeline, which is owned by TransCanada and is planned to eventually transport oil sands crude from Canada to the Texas coast.

While the platforms and lines were intended to prevent clearing of trees in advance of pipeline construction, since such work would have triggered the “dump” mechanism on the protesters’ positions, the effort lasted only one day. A prior effort to block work on the Keystone XL pipeline involved activists perched in trees for 85 days. Early on in that standoff, TransCanada opted to swiftly alter its route and cut a pathway around the protest site.

In the latest effort, no such maneuver was required.

One of the protesters opted to come out of a perch more than 50 feet off the ground after law enforcement officials moved a large cherry picker into position, allowing the activist to step into it and forfeit the position, said Ron Seifert, a spokesman for the group Tar Sands Blockade.

“Trying to escape or evade the police would be very dangerous (from the platform) and I imagine they elected not to do so,” Seifert said.

The other protester “descended voluntarily during the night,” TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said.

Seifert confirmed that the second remaining protester was no longer in his elevated position by morning, but he did not know the details of how the platform came to be vacated.

“The point that still stands and is still valid is that these folks were willing to risk their lives and put everything on the line because they felt so strongly about stopping this pipeline and that, we hope, will resonate with people out there who understand that this pipeline is dangerous,” Seifert said.

Environmentalists have opposed the pipeline because it will transport diluted bitumen produced from oil sands in Canada. Keystone XL will also move oil produced from shale plays throughout the nation.

TransCanada argues that the pipeline will create jobs and reduce reliance on overseas oil by increasing imports from Canadian oil sands that would otherwise go elsewhere.

Bitumen is a solid, hydrocarbon-bearing material that has to be heated and diluted to allow it to move through pipelines easily.

Keystone XL opponents say it can be especially damaging to the environment because it is difficult to clean up when spilled. A 2010 spill of diluted bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River has become the most expensive onshore oil cleanup in U.S. history, costing more than $800 million.

TransCanada considers diluted bitumen to be the same as any other heavy crude that already moves through pipelines. Several courts have upheld the definition of diluted bitumen as a heavy crude, the company said.

Texas refineries already process heavy crudes of similar composition imported from South America.