Pipeline Fighters

By Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director

Ten years ago, I walked with a farmer through his fields threatened by a huge natural gas pipeline proposed in Oregon. He had row crops and berries like his father did. He was quiet and unassuming. With harvest approaching, he had better things to do than fight this pipeline. But fight he did.

He said: “I talked to my neighbors. If that company thinks they are going to take our land, they are in for a hell of a fight.”

He and his neighbors—along with thousands of other pipeline fighters from Oregon and Washington—defeated that pipeline, which would have supplied fracked gas to a export terminal near Astoria.

I recalled the farmer’s quiet dignity as I watched the Standing Rock Sioux fight to protect their land and water, which they have watched over since time immemorial. Their courage and vigilance inspired millions. The effort at Standing Rock is far from over, but the Sioux, along with dozens of other tribal nations who joined them, literally stood their ground.

What is it about pipelines that inspire such determination?

First, they can spill or blow up, as we regularly see on the news. This is not a risk many people willingly accept. Second, corporations can use the power of eminent domain to take private property against the will of the landowner. Yes, that seems unconstitutional, but Congress has granted the oil and gas companies that right. Third, pipelines are extremely expensive and long-lived: a billion dollar investment in a pipeline means the oil or gas company will use it for 30 to 50 years. This locks us into dirty fossil fuel use for decades, dampening competition from newer technologies. Because they pass on the cost of construction to users—often with a guaranteed rate of return—corporations make huge profits.

Today, our nation faces a dozen major pipeline proposals and certainly more on the horizon. Here in the Washington and Oregon, new pipeline threats are driven by the huge methanol refinery proposed in Kalama, which would use a stunning volume of fracked gas and require new pipelines (check out this video on the methanol pipeline).

You see, oil and gas companies always have a new idea to make money. That’s not going to change. But neither is that farmer and his fierce love of the land.