One week before the Silvertip Pipeline burst and then bled into the Yellowstone River, Gov. Brian Schweitzer met with representatives from Exxon Mobil regarding the Kearl Module Transport Project, or “megaload” shipments. Although we have no way of knowing the full content of their conversation, it is reasonable to assume that the discussion involved the details of the project, repeated assurances of its safety, and a feeble request by the governor that the shipments be built in Montana rather than abroad. Days later, as the Silvertip Pipeline gushed oil into the longest un-dammed river in the lower 48 states (some of that oil, as we have recently learned, coming from the Alberta Tar Sands, unbeknownst to regulators), Schweitzer promised that the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project for which he has offered his unwavering support, would be different, that it would be more technologically sound, that the companies would be more honest, more transparent (see “Oil and water,” July 14, 2011).
It seems to have become a mantra: Next time. Next time it will be better. Next time things will be different. Exxon Valdez, Deep Horizon, Silvertip: These types of accidents will never happen again. Yes, it’s true that the first Keystone pipeline has leaked like a sieve—12 times in its first year of operation—and it’s true that if the Keystone XL burst it could dump 6.9 million gallons of toxic hydrocarbons into the same river. But no need to worry: Next time will be different.
There’s something extremely crude, as it were, about the mantra of “next time.” There’s something blatantly disrespectful about telling people whose homes and fields have just been turned into oil slicks that next time things will be different, that even though we have yet to recover from the devastation of the spill, we should simply move forward with new and significantly more dangerous projects.
Another pipeline leak occurred recently on the Blackfeet Reservation near Glacier National Park. A few weeks ago, a BP oil pipeline on Alaska’s North Slope ruptured, spilling up to 4,200 gallons of oil-containing fluids into the Alaskan tundra.
Schweitzer’s support for the Keystone XL Pipeline is reckless at best. It is a foolhardy gamble with the land, lives, and livelihoods of Montanans who have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Legislative, litigative, and public protest are all integral components in any successful campaign to change public policy and build collective power. The capitol protest and occupation organized by Earth First! and Northern Rockies Rising Tide that took place on July 12 was an attempt to expose Schweitzer’s two-faced attempt to publicly chastise Exxon and quell the anger of Montanans while simultaneously supporting the XL Pipeline and Exxon’s Kearl shipments.
Unfortunately, unlike the national coverage of the event, which chose to focus on the links between the governor, Exxon, and Keystone XL, much of the local media focused attention on comparatively trivial matters.
Contrary to some media reports, the protest was rowdy but respectful. According to the Helena police, there was absolutely no damage done to the capitol building, which was left spotless. We made a genuine attempt to have a serious conversation with Schweitzer, but were repeatedly refused this opportunity. (Watch the raw video footage online to see how the governor responded to direct questioning).
Loud, vibrant protesters may turn some people off, but they serve a purpose. They draw a clear line demarcating where public figures stand on certain issues. In the end, what the people of Montana have learned (or at least should have learned) from the governor’s response to our demands is that our supposed “public servant” would sooner bow down to the interests of the largest corporations on Earth than stand up for the land, lives, and livelihoods of Montanans. We find that attitude to be disrespectful and crude.
Northern Rockies Rising Tide