Protesters occupy Keystone XL offices in Houston

More than 100 protesters stormed the lobby of TransCanada's Keystone XL office in Houston the morning of Jan. 7, dancing, releasing a cascade of black balloons to represent tar sands oil, and hanging neon orange hazard tape. After being forced out of the lobby by police, the protesters gathered on the sidewalk and performed street theatre in which a "pipe dragon" puppet destroyed homes and poisoned water until being slain by knights representing the grassroots coalition of the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More, Earth First and others. The protest was the first held in Houston to oppose the pipeline project, which follows a campaign of tree-sits to actually block pipeline construction in rural areas of Texas. "From the Texas backwoods to the corporate boardrooms, the fight to defend our homes from toxic tar sands will not be ignored," said Ramsey Sprague, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. "We're here today to directly confront the TransCanada executives who’re continuing on with business as usual while making our communities sacrifice zones." (Your Houston News, Jan. 7)

A new tree-sit occupation was established Jan. 3 in the town of Diboll, with the support of local land-owners who oppose the pipeline project. This new tree blockade comes just a couple weeks after the end of Tar Sands Blockade's 85-day tree-sit near Winnsboro, TX. TransCanada rerouted the tar sands pipeline to go around the Winnsboro tree-sit, despite having told countless landowners that the route was set in stone and could not be altered to avoid bulldozing their cropland.

"Institutional methods of addressing climate change have failed us," said Ron Seifert, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperon. "Rising up to defend our homes against corporate exploitation is our best and only hope to preserve life on this planet. We must normalize and embrace direct, organized resistance to the death machine of industrial extraction and stand with those like Idle No More who take extraordinary risk to defend their families and livelihoods." (ENews Park Forest, Jan. 3)

  1. Nuclear-powered tar sands
    We wish we were joking. From Daily Yomiuri, Jan. 16:

    Toshiba Corp. has been developing a small nuclear reactor for mining oil sands at the request of a firm engaged in such mining projects in Alberta Province, Canada, and aims to begin operating the reactor by 2020, it has been learned.

    As the situation regarding the construction of new nuclear power plants and reactors in Japan remains unclear, Toshiba’s move will likely attract attention as an effort toward utilizing the nation’s nuclear technology in fields other than power generation…

    Steam generated in the reactor will be sent to strata located at a depth of about 300 meters, where oil sands are found, to turn the sand into slurry. The slurry will then be extracted from the strata using a separate pipe.

    To ensure the reactor’s safety, Toshiba reportedly plans to construct a nuclear reactor building underground, while the building itself will be equipped with an earthquake-absorbing structure.

    The firm has completed a basic design for the reactor and has already started approval procedures for construction in the United States. After getting the official go-ahead from the U.S. government, Toshiba will then undergo safety checks in Canada.

    And they keep squawking about how nuclear power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels. Yet another one to file under “Aw Shut Up Already, Will Ya?”

  2. Obama schmoozes petro-oligarchs
    From Huffington Post, Feb. 20:

    On the same weekend that 40,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline — to its critics, a monument to carbon-based folly — President Obama was golfing in Florida with a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players…

    [O]n his first “guys weekend” away since he was reelected, the president chose to spend his free time with Jim Crane and Milton Carroll, leading figures in the Texas oil and gas industry, along with other men who run companies that deal in the same kinds of carbon-based services that Keystone would enlarge. They hit the links at the Floridian Yacht and Golf Club, which is owned by Crane and located on the Treasure Coast in Palm City, Fla.

    Carroll is the chairman of CenterPoint Energy, a public utility company based in Houston, Texas. He is not a major donor to political candidates, having given just $5,800 since 2007, including a $2,300 donation to Obama’s first presidential campaign. CenterPoint Energy benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus law signed by Obama through its receipt of $200 million in federal grant money to upgrade its system to a Smart Grid.

    CenterPoint is not Carroll’s only connection to the energy industry. Both Carroll and Crane are directors at Western Gas Holdings, the managing partner of Western Gas Partners, a midstream energy provider created by Anadarko Petroleum, one of the largest publicly traded oil and gas companies. Western Gas Partners’ main investment is in the booming field of natural gas exploration, transportation and manufacture in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming.

    Unlike Carroll, Crane has been more active in campaign funding circles. In 2012, he gave the maximum $5,000 to the Obama campaign and $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In 2010, he gave big to Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White, with $125,297 in contributions. Crane’s donations have exclusively flowed to Democrats since 2002. Before that, he made a few contributions to Republicans, including $5,000 to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2000, and to candidates such as former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

    Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, reemphasized the president’s commitment to confronting climate change in a statement Wednesday morning.

    The next day, Bloomberg notes that the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has upped its estimate for what the tax break enjoyed by oil and gas pipeline companies will cost the US government to $7 billion through 2016, about four times the previous assessment. With the looming “sequester.” Cute, eh?

    A post-election tilt to the petro-oligarchs is disappointing but not surprising. We hope that readers have noted the role of golf as a cultural signifier here. Did Obama golf before becoming prez? Or is this like skeet-shooting?

  3. Oil-funded pro-nuke wonk for Energy Secretary
    President Obama has chosen Dr. Ernest Moniz, the director of MIT’s Big Oil-sponsored Energy Institute, to head the Energy Department. The Energy Institute is sponsored by the likes of BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco. Moniz is an aggressive advocate of fracking as a “bridge” to low-carbon sources of energy. And what low-carbon sources? In a 2011 essay in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “Why We Still Need Nuclear Power,” Moniz wrote gave a big wet kiss to the industry: “It would be a mistake…to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits.”

    The alarm on this guys is raised by Credo Action and Karl Grossman in Huffington Post, who also reminds us that in his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama said “the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

    Given that Big Oil put more money on Romney than Obama, we were hoping maybe he would buck the petro-oligarchs in his second term, at least a little. No such luck, it appears.