Three States Outlaw Pipeline Protests, As Pipeline Operators Request Production Slow Down

Bloomberg News reported last week that U.S. pipeline operators are requesting oil producers to cut back on production — a “clear sign” that the oil market is reaching a breaking point when the amount of crude oil is at capacity in storage tanks and pipelines due to the oil glut caused by the global price war. Meanwhile, the Governors of Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota recently signed laws effectively making it a crime to protest a pipeline — imposing stiff fines and penalties for anyone causing “damage, destruction, vandalization, defacing or tampering” to pipelines because they are deemed to be “critical infrastructure.”

Why This Matters:  Oil pipelines have long been a flashpoint because of their poor safety record and risk of spills that can have devastating impacts.  And the Trump Administration, using the virus as a rationale, has suspended enforcing pipeline safety rules on key things like operator qualifications and control room management.  So in sum, when the pipeline system is full of oil and on the verge of overflowing, safety rules are not being enforced.  Great.  What will be enforced?  The laws making it a crime to protest about a pipeline’s lack of safety.  

Pipelines Have a Poor Safety Record

The reason why pipelines are the subject of so much protest and opposition is their poor safety record.  The Center for Biological Diversity published a report in 2013 documenting the poor safety performance by pipeline operators — the results were striking. They found that between 1986-2013, there were “nearly 8,000 incidents (nearly 300 per year on average), resulting in more than 500 deaths (red dots on the video), more than 2,300 injuries (yellow dots on the video), and nearly $7 billion in damage. Since 1986 pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels per year or more than 3 million gallons. This is equivalent to 200 barrels every day.”

Conservative States Cracking Down on Protesting

In the name of protecting “critical infrastructure,” Greenpeace argues in Ecowatch that the push to criminalize anti-fossil fuel protests is part of a broader effort to target protesters and their typical civil disobedience tactics of boycotts, strikes and blocking traffic. These anti-protesting laws are not really aimed at making the pipelines safer — according to Greenpeace, “These laws do nothing new to protect communities. Instead they seek to crack down on the sort of nonviolent civil disobedience that has shaped much of our nation’s greatest political and social victories.”

Photo: Tannen Maury, European Pressphoto Agency

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