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With several pipeline projects in the offing in Montana, including the heralded Keystone XL Pipeline, speakers at the recent Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) conference in Billings talked about efforts they have made to guarantee their security and protect their property from possible trespassing and attack by protestors. With an eye to what happened in North Dakota on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a couple of years ago, oil company representatives are being pro-active. The representatives talked about what they have done to mitigate a repeat of the spectacle and the damage that happened in northern North Dakota near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 2016.

The biggest problem with the protest, sometimes referred to as NODAPL, was that it was so totally unexpected.

Don “DT” Greenwood, Senior Corporate Security Advisor for TransCanada, explained that over the intervening two years the industry has had conversations with local, state and federal officials in an effort to be prepared should such an incident be repeated, as his company begins construction of the XL Pipeline in Montana this coming year.

Greenwood noted that local Sheriff Departments and other law enforcement in North Dakota, “almost lost the war,” because there was no anticipation that such an event would happen in North Dakota. They were wholly unprepared to deal with the impact of the crowds of protestors, or to protect private property or company employees. One of the biggest failures was a lack of communication and getting information out to the public, said Greenwood, who underscored the role that social media played in the escalation of the protest and how unprepared they were for that, as well.

Within days of the MPA conference civil liberties advocates received documents for which they filed suit, last January, from the U.S. government. The suit demanded documents about cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement and private security companies. They alleged that law enforcement agencies are “maneuvering” to crack down on anticipated protests. The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Montana were provided with documents, which other news reports said corroborated “collaboration between state and federal law enforcement officials.” ACLU commentators claimed that there is evidence that the federal government plans to treat protestors with “counterterrorism tactics.”

That there is “collaboration” would probably not be denied by pipeline companies and even law enforcement, since during the MPA conference, Dick Vande Bossche, Director of Operations for Oneok, lauded the cooperation they have received from the state saying, “We have collaborated with the Governor’s office and it is engaged in the matter.”

Conversation among industry representatives, at the conference, was primarily focused on being able to protect their employees and property from violence and to better get information out to the public regarding what is going on. Pipeline companies also want to be able to continue construction as they have been permitted to do without being disrupted by protestors.

“We respect every one’s right to disagree with getting this production to market, but we also have a legal right to move forward, once we have been permitted,” said Greenwood. “We are prepared, above and beyond preparing the local sheriff’s office, he declared. Part of the reason that pipeline companies are working with county law enforcement is the recognition that these rural communities do not have the resources deal with the challenge that such a protest brings. Local law enforcement in North Dakota had to call on support from other agencies during the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, because they lacked manpower.

“It wasn’t something that you expect to happen here,” said David Linn, Manager and Senior Engineer of WBI Energy, Inc., which is also building pipeline through Roosevelt, Richland and Sheridan Counties in Montana. Linn went on to say that “law enforcement learned a lot” in that incident, most especially about a lack of communication between federal agencies and local sheriff departments. “Law enforcement is better prepared now to manage and communicate,” he said. And so are the pipeline companies. They have been doing their own internal education and training.

Greenwood noted that while the event started out as a protest by local Native Americans concerned about the potential of contaminating local water supplies, because of social media, the story quickly spread “all over the world,” and was usurped by other groups, with a very different agenda.” “Over 80 percent of the protestors were from outside the state,” said Greenwood. The pipeline company was totally unprepared to protect itself, but they were also unprepared to counter lopsided media reports. In fact, a measure to be taken in the future, is to make sure that they have their own “videographers to portray what is really going on.” As it was, law enforcement confiscated the company’s video as evidence, and they were left with nothing to back up their side of the story and to “fight the social media war.”

“Had we gotten more of what was going on out to the public it would have painted a different picture….”

To underscore Greenwood’s point, one county commissioner attending the conference stood to say, “Our sheriff had to buy a special helmet to protect himself from urine and feces that was coming down on him.”

Linn said that his company, having come to understand the significance of social media, is already monitoring “social web society…even the dark web….trying to get ahead of the issues and driving a message about what projects are happening before it becomes a national media circus.” And, they are sharing information with law enforcement.

Among the industry’s strategies is to provide more information early on before construction even starts on a project to let the public know as much as possible about what it is doing.

Other comments from the room included suggestions that Montana follow the actions of other states, such as Louisiana, where state legislators have passed laws making it a felony for protestors, in such cases to trespass, or Oklahoma where legislation allows companies to sue organizations supporting the protests for up to $100 million in damages. Other states are re-writing laws that provide different treatment for law-breakers who come from out-of-state with the intention of breaking the law.

Greenwood noted the difference in administrations. Under President Obama, he said, there was “total non-cooperation.” “The day after President Trump was elected, I got a call from federal agents who said, ‘Don our handcuffs are off. How can we help.’”

According to media reports, the ACLU is concerned that the collaboration that is going on could be meant to silence those opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline. They say they are prepared “to look into whether and how the federal government is targeting already overpoliced indigenous communities to preempt political protest.”

“In light of the government’s excessive and violent responses to pipeline protests at Standing Rock, we are very concerned about the specter of government and law enforcement officials plotting to silence opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana,” Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. “We don’t want to see that kind of governmental overreach and abuse in our state.”

The ACLU has filed suit for more documents, saying, “The records provide substantial evidence of federal preventative measures against Keystone XL protests, such as a Department of Justice “anti-terrorism” training in Fort Harrison, Montana, and a DOJ ‘Social Networking and Cyber Awareness’ training in the town of Circle, Montana. They reveal discussions between federal officials about the creation of an ‘interagency team’ to ‘deal with safety and security concerns related to the Keystone XL project.’ The records also suggest that additional documents exist, which the government continues to withhold, detailing plans for protests.”

 

A Denver woman, Red Fawn Fallis, was recently sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison for firing a gun at law enforcement during her protest of the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

About a year ago, Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the Dakota Access pipeline, filed suit against Greenpeace International, Earth First! and other groups for inciting terrorist acts and vandalism to generate publicity and raise money for their causes, while hampering the Energy Transfer Partners LP, ability to raise money for projects. The company claims to have lost at least $300 million and is seeking triple damages.

Energy Transfer Partners claims “The scheme was perpetrated by a network of putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorists who have organized around common interests, goals, objectives and state purpose, chief among them, the commitment to further an anti-development, no fossil fuel agenda through anarchist political philosophy and criminal sabotage.”

In the most recent issue of Oil Patch Hotline, publisher Dennis Blank, says “The reason these details are important is because the media had constantly glamorized and misrepresented the protests for the Dakota Access Pipeline as a virtuous enterprise. And still today when the facts are laid out in harsh reality, the mainstream media fails in its duty to report the sinister plotting behind the scenes because their efforts are on going.”

Protestors are accused of burning construction equipment and using blowtorches to cut holes in parts of the pipeline. “Had oil been flowing when the sabotage occurred, the pipeline might have exploded, endangering human lives and resulting in an environmental disaster,” states one report.

While the Dakota Access pipeline has been completed, Energy Transfer Partners claim that Earth First! continues to stop two other company projects, the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania and Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.