KEYSTONE XL:

Texas landowner heads back to court after halting work on pipeline

HOUSTON -- A Texas landowner battling a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline project won a victory in court yesterday but will return to the courtroom tomorrow to continue his fight.

Michael Bishop, a retired chemist, of Douglass, Texas, was granted a temporary restraining order by a county judge preventing TransCanada Corp. from continuing work on the pipeline on about 20 acres of property he owns. Judge Jack Sinz of the Nacogdoches County Court at Law granted the temporary restraining order (TRO) to give Bishop time to argue his case against the company.

Bishop acted on his own in seeking the restraining order, which he bonded out of court yesterday, he said. In a call with reporters, Bishop said a new court hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow morning, but he insists he will eventually be granted a jury trial for his case against the Canadian pipeline company.

"Even if they do prevail on the TRO to get it dissolved, or whatever they're going to do ... it doesn't matter," Bishop said. "I have demanded a jury trial and paid the fee for a jury trial. In the end, it goes before a jury, and when it does we're going to win."

Several earlier lawsuits against TransCanada have failed. Most have tried to invalidate the company's claims to eminent domain on the grounds that the Keystone XL pipeline is for private profit and does not qualify as a public good.

But Bishop's case is taking a different track. Though he acknowledges signing an easement deal with TransCanada, he said he only reluctantly agreed to do so "under coercion and duress."

Bishop is also alleging that TransCanada committed fraud when finalizing an agreement with him. He and groups of environmentalists supporting his case say the fraud stems from TransCanada's claims that the Keystone XL line will be used to carry crude oil to refineries in the Houston area and along the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Instead, the entire pipeline would transport oil derived from the oil sands projects of Alberta. Bishop says he can prove that oil sands crude is fundamentally different from crude oil derived from conventional extraction techniques and that TransCanada failed to disclose this in their agreement.

"I took the bull by the balls, and I went and filed a TRO," he said. "I hope to prove the point further that this is not crude oil and they do not have eminent domain." Bishop added that he also wants to force TransCanada to restore the portion of his land it is working on, a mixture of forest and prairie that he said is home to two creeks and four perennial springs.

Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said oil-sands-based diluted bitumen has been shown to be physically and chemically different from conventional crude oil. He added that these differences pose a greater threat to the environment, citing the recent spill of oil along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

"Tar sands behave dramatically differently when spilled in a freshwater environment," Swift said.

At an anti-Keystone XL rally held in Nacogdoches last month, Bishop threatened legal action against TransCanada and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in this state (EnergyWire, Nov. 20).

Court dates

Bishop declined to speculate on what further legal actions he is considering taking, but he is challenging the decision by the Railroad Commission to greenlight the project. He said he will go in front of a Travis County district court on Monday to challenge the Railroad Commission's approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Doug Hayes, an attorney with the Sierra Club, said environmental groups are continuing their legal actions against the federal government over its fast-tracking of the Keystone XL southern leg construction approval process. He also said groups are organizing another rally against the massive pipeline project to take place in Washington, D.C., on Presidents Day next year.

In a statement, TransCanada expressed confidence that the law is on its side. The company said it was granted the expediting hearing to be held tomorrow morning; it was originally scheduled to occur Dec. 19.

"Just three weeks ago, Mr. Bishop signed an easement agreement with TransCanada and accepted a significant compensation payment," the company said.

"The easement that he agreed to specifically permits the installation of a pipeline for oil and crude petroleum products, including the crude oil that will be transported through TransCanada's pipeline," TransCanada spokesmen continued. "He is now seeking to void that legal agreement."

The company says the case will not delay the larger construction effort already under way. The southern leg of Keystone XL, or the Gulf Coast Project, is expected to be online by late 2013.