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Texas pipeline industry backs bill to make full-contact protest a felony

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Texas pipeline industry backs bill to make full-contact protest a felony

The Texas pipeline industry welcomed a state bill that would make it easier to build and operate oil and gas transportation infrastructure by placing stiff penalties on forms of protest that interfere with these activities.

"Considering the most recent threats to the state's midstream infrastructure, including illegal activity and pipeline obstruction by protesters, the industry commends the Texas Legislature's support and recognition of the issue through the passage of HB 3557," Texas Pipeline Association President Thure Cannon said in a May 31 statement. "This legislation will protect vital state infrastructure activities by enhancing safety measures for local communities, law enforcement and industry employees, while ensuring that peaceful protests can continue."

On May 20, the Texas Legislature passed the bill, which would make interfering with the operation or construction of a pipeline a felony with sentences ranging from two to 10 years in jail. The bill, Texas House Bill 3557, was introduced in March by Texas Republican Rep. Chris Paddie and Sen. Pat Fallon. The bill now waits for an expected approval by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, according to the newspaper San Antonio Current.

"This would not prevent people from protesting so long as nothing was damaged," according to the bill documents.

The Texas lawmakers introduced the bill after witnessing damage, costs and delay in the last few years caused by some protests against North American pipeline projects, such as the Energy Transfer LP-led Dakota Access oil pipeline and TC Energy Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Similar efforts are in the works at the federal level. In a June 3 reauthorization proposal, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration asked Congress to protect pipelines and to make obstructing them a crime. Permitting and legal delays on oil and gas pipelines and other energy projects helped inspire two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in April to assist developers.

Environmental groups, residents living along pipeline routes and other pipeline opponents expressed disbelief that some forms of protest could be considered a third-degree felony in Texas, the same classification the state gives to crimes that result in the unintentional killing of a human being. Bill McKibben, co-founder and leader of climate conservation group 350.org, said environmentalists could face more peril than ever before with a bill such as this.

"I think that history will judge the oil industry harshly and the protesters as heroes," McKibben said in a May 31 interview. "Turning people into felons for standing up for science, or for their property, is absurd."

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In 2016, environmental activists tried to shut five oil pipelines running between Canada and the U.S.

Source: Climate Direct Action

Conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016 and 2017, when the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, environmental groups and supporters occupied the route in North Dakota and blocked construction for months, resulted in injuries, arrests, damage to construction equipment and costs to government agencies. Concerned that similar protests would hit the Keystone XL oil pipeline, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem introduced legislation in March to recover the costs of policing and cleaning up after such events.

In October 2016, environmental activists organized under the name Climate Direct Action attempted to use manual shutoff valves to stop operations on five oil pipelines between Canada and the U.S. On some of these pipelines, the operators decided to temporarily shut the lines to make sure everything was safe. The lines were TC Energy's Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, N.D., Enbridge Inc.'s lines 4 and 67 in Leonard, Minn., Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain pipeline in Anacortes, Wash., and Enbridge's Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont.

Pipeline safety experts condemned this type of protest, emphasizing the hazards it creates.