KEYSTONE XL:

Settlement with TransCanada curtails protesters' acts of civil disobedience

The company building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and environmental activists have reached a court settlement that could spell the end to protesters' efforts to physically impede the line's ongoing construction in Texas and Oklahoma.

Attorneys for pipeline company TransCanada Corp. and activist groups Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide and other demonstrators on Friday signed off on a permanent injunction halting activity such as tree sits and occupation of construction sites in the two states.

The agreement bars protesters from TransCanada's property, including construction easements, pipelines, equipment and personnel, as well as property of any contractors working on the pipeline.

"This is a significant development -- the judgment is the direct result of a voluntary settlement agreed to by all of these individuals and organizations," TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said in a statement.

"We hope that they mean what they say in this agreement and will end their unlawful campaign of obstruction and intimidation," he added.

The settlement does not bar the groups from protesting the pipeline in other ways in the two states. For example, Tar Sands Blockade on Saturday dropped banners in Austin, Houston, Diboll and Denton, Texas, displaying anti-Keystone messages. And the group is planning a protest training camp in Oklahoma in March.

The anti-Keystone protesters have engaged in a variety of activities aimed at disrupting construction of the pipeline's southern leg, including sitting in trees to prevent them from being cleared and storming TransCanada's offices in the state (EnergyWire, Nov. 20, 2012; EnergyWire, Jan. 8).

The activities often result in protesters being arrested. Activists say they are being mistreated by police, while TransCanada and some local officials say their civil disobedience is taking up too much law enforcement attention.

"The poor law enforcement guys have been tied up so long they can't do their jobs," Dodson told the Longview, Texas, News-Journal, which first reported the injunction. "And hopefully, those days are over."

Representatives for the protest groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment this morning.

TransCanada last year won President Obama's blessing for the southern leg of the pipeline, which stretches from Cushing, Okla., to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The northern segment of the line, which would carry crude from Alberta's oil sands to Cushing, remains in legal limbo, although it won key support earlier this month from Nebraska's governor, who said a new route would adequately protect the state's water supplies.

The president has final say over the permit because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border, and he is expected to make a final decision later this year following a review by the State Department. Environmentalists and industry groups are putting heavy pressure on the White House and painting the president's Keystone XL decision as a key indicator of his second-term priorities.

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