NYT journalists detained at Keystone pipeline protest

Two New York Times journalists were detained briefly by law enforcement officers while reporting on demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline in northeast Texas, the newspaper said Thursday.

The journalists were on private property Wednesday with the permission of the landowner to report on protesters there, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said. The journalists were reporter Dan Frosch and Brandon Thibodeaux, a freelance photographer who was on assignment for the Times, Murphy said.

Demonstrators near Winnsboro in northeast Texas have for weeks taken up residence in trees in the path of contractors for TransCanada, the company building the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

While reporting on the protests Wednesday, the journalists were approached by a private security worker and a law enforcement official and were detained, Murphy said.

They identified themselves as media and were subsequently released, she said.

“They were released and told that they were risking arrest for trespassing if they stayed where they were, so they left the location,” Murphy said.

TransCanada, in a statement, said the company did not direct law enforcement “about how to carry out their duties,” but added that the journalists were illegally on the right of way where construction was occurring.

“The right-of-way is an active construction site, and only authorized personnel are able to go on this area,” the statement said.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency involved, did not respond to a request for comment.

TransCanada has authority to operate on private property through an easement, usually with the agreement of  landowners. Governments and utilities use similar arrangements  for their work on private property.

TransCanada said several activists have claimed to be journalists while attempting to demonstrate in front of company contractors.

“Producing valid credentials to be on private property is not asking too much, especially when these activist groups seem more focused on breaking the law and preventing thousands of hard-working Americans from building this pipeline and providing for their families than they do in respecting the fact that TransCanada has the legal authority to build this pipeline,” the company statement said.

TransCanada had been thwarted by the demonstrators in recent weeks, so the company decided to move around what the protesters call their “tree village” with a slight diversion of its previously planned pipeline route.

The protesters have been camped on platforms  40-80 feet above the ground, they said. They  repeatedly have confronted contractors, placing themselves in front of crews on the ground in an attempt to stop work.