Opponents Offer Fierce Resistance to Tar Sands, Enbridge and Keystone XL

By scott parkin
Picture via Portland Rising Tide

Don’t fool yourselves: Big Oil and Big Oil-friendly politicians aren’t giving up on tar sands or any other dirty fossil fuels.

The only thing that’s gonna stop the tar sands and these pipelines is us.

In 2011, we were all galvanized by the Tar Sands Action to draw a line in the sands on Keystone XL and the tar sands.  Over 1200 of us sent Obama a message to reject the Keystone pipeline’s permits with a sit-in at the White House. The action subsequently propelled the pipeline into a national issue.

In 2012, we were inspired by the courage of the folks behind Tar Sands Blockade, who put their bodies and freedom on the line with tree blockades and lockdowns inside the Keystone XL pipeline itself. Dozens were arrested in the campaign to stop the southern leg of Keystone XL. Many were brutalized by police, charged with felonies, and faced civil litigation at the hands of Canadian oil giant TransCanada.

Now with an ever-expanding web of pipelines and refinery upgrades to drain the Alberta tar sands, the stakes are only getting higher. The Keystone XL pipeline, the Enbridge pipeline, the Energy East pipeline, and dozens of other related projects are quickly becoming the new fronts against devastating fossil fuel extraction and climate change. They are being met with fierce opposition.

Oglala Sioux

In South Dakota, referring to Keystone XL as the “black snake pipeline,” the Oglala Sioux nation and its allies have committed to stopping the pipeline’s construction on their territory if Obama approves the project.

In response to the US State Department’s recently released environmental report, Oglala Sioux president Bryan Brewer, along with organizations Honour the Earth, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred, released a statement declaring they will stand with the Lakota people to block the pipeline.

While organizers have said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials. Moccasins on the Ground, an Indigenous-led direct action training group, has laid the groundwork for the past two years with non-violent direct action trainings in these communities. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Grey Cloud said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful.

This past weekend, the Oglala Sioux sponsored a two-day strategy conference and training session in Rapid City, called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.”


Since 2010, oil companies like Exxon have transported massive pieces of oil refining equipment from South Korea to Portland, OR via ship. They then send them up the Snake and Columbia Rivers by barge to different ports in Oregon and Idaho. After that, they truck them, via huge house-sized trucks known as “megaloads,” to Alberta over Oregon, Idaho and Montana’s scenic highways and byways.

The oil industry has used every trick and loophole in the book to move that equipment and build out their infrastructure in Alberta. Residents have responded not just with pressure on regulatory agencies and lawsuits, but also with nonviolent direct action.

Since 2011, activists led by Indigenous organizations and Rising Tide chapters in Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon have led a campaign to block the tar sands megaloads on the back roads of the Pacific Northwest. In December, Oregon activists successfully blocked megaloads for multiple nights.

More megaloads are scheduled for delivery and more actions are planned throughout the region.


Last summer, the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, or MICATS, took a courageous stand against tar sands oil in Michigan. Over twenty activists were detained while shutting down the construction of Enbridge’s line 6B tar sands pipeline.  Three of them—Vicci Hamlin, Lisa Leggio and Barbara Carter, a.k.a. the MICATS 3—locked themselves to machinery to augment the occupation.

Last month, after a brief trial, these three women were convicted of felonies for their actions. Immediately after their conviction, Judge William Collette revoked their bond and had them returned to custody until sentencing on March 5th. They are facing up to three years in prison for peaceful actions protecting their community and their world.

The prosecution and conviction of the MICATS 3 highlights the lengths that oil companies and its allies will go to silence any dissent. The MICATS 3’s potential jail time highlights the determination of climate and anti-extraction activists to stop the destruction.

In 2011, Wild Idaho Rising Tide put out this call to action:

Keep up your creativity and resolve under pressure, dear comrades! Allies elsewhere, we are under escalating siege and need you by our sides, either physically or fiscally.”

The words still ring true. Whether Michigan, South Dakota, or Idaho, the fight against tar sands infrastructure is only escalating and it needs all of us.

If you want to get involved and don’t live near any of these infrastructure projects, then sign the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance and find an action near you. Over 76,000 have pledged to put their bodies on the line to stop Keystone XL and our voices are only getting louder.