Challenging a billionaire pipeline pusher

Cindy Beringer looks at the factually challenged defense of the Dakota Access Pipeline by CEO Kelcy Warren--and reports on protests against him in his home state.

Protesters hit the streets of Austin in solidarity with Standing RockProtesters hit the streets of Austin in solidarity with Standing Rock

THE FIGHT of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protect their water rights and sacred burial grounds from construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has put a national spotlight not only on the long-ignored issue of tribal rights and resistance, but also on the greed and cruelty of the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP).

On November 16, the day after a national day of action against DAPL, Kelcy Warren, the eccentric billionaire and head of ETP who is suing the Obama administration for its "political interference" and its "flagrant disregard for the rule of law," appeared on PBS News Hour to plead his case.

It was a stunning display of how wealth allows someone to maintain their arrogance even as he spews little but faulty logic and easily disputable lies.

PBS host William Brangham began by asking about concerns that pipeline leaks could contaminate the Sioux's water supply. "That's just not going to happen," Warren replied. "Number one, we're not going to have a leak. I can't promise that, of course, but that--no one would get on airplanes if they thought they were going to crash."

"And number two," he added. "there is no way there would be any crude contaminating their water supply. They're 70 miles downstream." The CEO kept returning to the supposedly leak-proof quality of the pipe he was using.

When Brangham pointed out that DAPL was originally planned to go through the capital city of Bismarck, North Dakota, but was rerouted because of citizens' concern of possible leaks damaging the water supply, Warren blamed the decision--a clear case of environmental racism--on the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Your subsidiary, Sonoco Logistics, has a pretty poor record when it comes to leaks," Brangham pointed out. He cited 200 oil leaks in the last six years, more than any other company, according to Reuters.

"I disagree with that statistic," Warren said without offering an alternative one, and then repeated the point that DAPL would be using new pipes.

Brangham responded by citing a brand new pipeline in Texas' Permian Basin that leaked 8,000 barrels, as well as the "very new" Keystone Pipeline, which has spilled 14 times in the last year! "It seems," he concluded, "that the concerns of the Standing Rock tribe are not based on nothing."

In the face of this rare persistent questioning from a journalist, Warren backed down from claiming that the pipeline would never leak to saying, "We're doing the best we can. We're overdesigning."

But there was no concessions in Warren's response to a question about the pipeline damaging sacred tribal sites. "Those are just lies," he baldly claimed.

The interview concluded with a question about what would happen once Donald Trump took office.

Warren donated more than $100,000 to Trump's campaign, and Trump admits that he has invested somewhere between $500,000 and a million dollars in ETP, an incredible conflict of interest.

The CEO said he expects Trump to approve the pipeline completion, and at that point, "if [protesters] they want to stick around and continue to do what they're doing, great, but we're building the pipeline."

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KELCY MAY be confident, but the growing #NoDAPL movement has shown that he has a fight on his hands, including in his home state of Texas.

On the November 15 national day of action, around 500 people in Austin gathered for an evening protest at the Texas State Capitol builidng. The demonstration, organized by Austin Environmental Justice, included a range of Texans committed not only to the DAPL movement, but to a fight against the ongoing onslaught against indigenous tribes and natural treasures in Texas by ETP.

As speakers pointed out, the route of fracked oil will not end with the pipeline in Illinois. The oil will be loaded onto trucks and travel through multiple ETP pipelines in several states to the Texas coastal refineries, where the air will be polluted and people will be sick. Three export facilities for oil will be built on Padre Island, the last unspoiled beach in the area.

Ashley "Flashe" Gordon, who ran as a Green Party candidate for Travis County Commissioner, spoke of growing up on the Texas coast where she and others suffered multiple respiratory illnesses. Residents in Corpus Christi and other areas in coastal Texas are subject to constant boil-water alerts.

After the rally at the Capitol, protesters marched through the dark streets and took over Congress Avenue, carrying banners and signs through the night streets of downtown Austin, stopping briefly at a Wells Fargo and Chase bank, both investors in ETP.

Two weeks earlier, a large group protested Kelcy Warren's conflict of interest in a vote planned for November 3 at a meeting at Texas Parks and Wildlife Headquarters in Austin.

No doubt stunned by the intensity of emotions expressed against him in at the meeting, Warren agreed to a meeting with Pete Hefflin of the Society of Native Nations at a later date to discuss desecration of indigenous historical, cultural, burial and sacred sites. The meeting was later cancelled because Warren would only meet in a one-on-one secretive closed-door meeting.

There have also been protests against the ecological threat of more oil extraction in West Texas.

An oil company called Apache Corp. (an obscene misappropriation of an Indigenous tribal name) has "discovered" the Alpine High Field around Balmorhea State Park which is thought to contain possibly the equivalent of 15 billion barrels of oil. The company has plans to drill 3,000 wells in the area, and pipelines will be needed.

On Sunday, November 20, protestors against the ETP planned Trans-Pecos and Commanche (there they go again) Pipelines in West Texas gathered in the small artist town of Marfa, most famous for the filming of 1956 Texas epic film Giant.

Under eminent domain, the lands of ranchers, farmers and Native Americans can be taken and destroyed by oil and gas interests such as ETP for short-term profit until every drop of oil and gas is extracted and unique natural areas such as Balmorhea and Big Bend have been destroyed.

Lights from flares and oil rigs in the Permian Basin oil boom are already endangering the dark skies essential to research at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.

Unless we are able to stop then, billionaires will make more billions, while areas sacred to all people will be destroyed.