Houston, TX – Downtown Houston was total mayhem this afternoon* at the U.S. headquarters of Canada-based pipeline giant Enbridge. When this reporter arrived, the scene was highly congested; nearly a hundred Houstonians protesting the “KXXXL Pipeline” were surrounded by an almost equal number of HPD officers on foot, horseback, bicycle, and Segway™. Just outside the lobby doors, CEO of Enbridge Energy Management Mark Maki was animatedly interviewing with at least four local TV News affiliates. When he finished the interview, I asked Maki to explain what was happening.
According to Maki, a member of Enbridge’s Board of Directors, ever since TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline became a household name, the engineers and executives at the competing Enbridge Corporation have been feeling left out. “Every time I turn on the TV, I see [TransCanada CEO] Russ Girling on CNN, on MSNBC, on Fox News!” he said, “Enbridge operates the longest petroleum pipeline system in the world, and KXL gets all the attention! It’s a downright injustice.”
In October, Enbridge will activate a tar sands pipeline system to bring 880,000 barrels/day of tar sands bitumen from Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The system, which includes the re-purposed Alberta Clipper pipeline, the newly constructed Flanagan South, the repurposed Seaway Pipeline, and the new Seaway Loop, follows a similar route as KXL and will carry more product.
At first, Maki explained, he and the other Enbridge executives didn’t understand why national environmental groups were paying so little attention. “We kept hearing about KXL being the ‘fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet’ and getting all the hype, and here we are, building a bigger fuse and doing it faster, and I can’t even get airtime on Sean Hannity!”
All that changed this week, with Enbridge’s announcement that it will re-brand its piecemeal system as one super-pipeline called “KXXXL.” As news of the name change disseminated, local Houstonians became enraged by the prospect of KXXXL and have taken to the streets.
When I asked Mark Maki if he had any response to the protesters’ claims that KXXXL will poison Gulf Coast refinery communities and destabilize the global climate, he quickly ended the interview, apologizing that he had to go prepare for an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360.
Meanwhile, a protester with a megaphone urged the crowd to resist Enbridge’s media showboating. “Enbridge can call its river of poison whatever it wants, our message remains the same,” she said. “We are facing a global ecological crisis, and we need a solution that addresses the roots of the crisis. Gulf Coast communities are already living in industrial sacrifice zones, so although we will continue to fight new toxic infrastructure like K triple-X L, the root of the problem goes deeper. We need to change the system that allows sacrifice zones to exist in the first place.”
The crowd responded with a resounding cheer and a sea of twinkle fingers. I approached a group holding a banner reading “NOOO KXXXL” and asked why they were protesting. “We’re here today,” one of them responded, “to affirm that the tar sands flowing through Enbridge’s pipelines are just as criminal as those flowing through KXL. The same can be said for the thousands of bomb trains transporting tar sands by rail! Or the expansion of dangerous dirty energy infrastructure in every port city along the Gulf Coast – Freeport, Houston, Port Arthur, New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola – where we already face a vast crisis of environmental racism!”
The crowd dispersed shortly after five, after most Enbridge employees had left the office. Rush hour was in full swing. Though the protesters followed regulations and kept to the sidewalk, HPD had brought a large enough force to cause extreme congestion, including an incident at the intersection of Lamar and Louisiana. Police Chief Charles McClelland later said “[The officer] piloting the Segway™ briefly lost control of his vehicle. Neither he, nor the officer on horseback, nor the horse, nor the civilian, sustained anything but minor injuries.”
More On Enbridge’s Tar Sands Pipelines:
Line 6b (active construction) is the pipeline that spilled in Kalamazoo in 2010 and is currently being expanded to double its capacity for tar sands oil transportation. Enbridge hopes to have this new line up by 2014 and construction has already begun in parts of Michigan. This line runs through the southern part of Michigan and will connect to lines in Canada and the east coast for oil export. See Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI-CATS) for more information and ways to help out.
Lakehead Line 5 (operational) is a 53-year old re-purposed pipeline, currently pumping over 540,000 barrels per day of tar sands bitumen underneath the Straits of Mackinac in The Great Lakes. The Coast Guard says they could not adequately respond to such a spill.
Line 9 (partially operational) Enbridge is also planning to re-purpose and increase pressure on the 500 mile, 38 yr old natural gas “Line 9” to carry tar sands through the territory of dozens of indigenous nations, through Great Lakes ecosystems and near major cities like Montreal and Toronto. Part of the line has already been re-purposed for tar sands; the remaining section was given regulatory approval in March, 2014 but is not operational. For more information, follow Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP) on Twitter and Facebook.
–Northern Gatway (proposed) would carry 525,000 bpd of tar sands bitumen to the British Colombia coast – as well as 193,000 bpd natural gas condensate for burning at the tar sands mines themselves. Both projects have faced powerful opposition in Canada from First Nations.
* Not really, though nearly 100 Houstonians did march through downtown Houston, stopping to call out some of the worst perpetrators of climate injustice: Enbridge, LyondellBasell, Kinder Morgan, Shell, Anadarko, and the U.S. Military. No horses or cops on scooters or anyone else were harmed during the making of this satire – not even this oil-rich Marie Antoinette who showed up to rep the 1%.