Judging Pipeline Ecoterrorism in the Court of Public Opinion

As predicted, it looks like the criminal action that marked the Dakota Access pipeline protests has started spreading to other pipelines around the country.

Facing repeated losses in the courts and regulatory agencies, some factions of the anti-pipeline movement have vowed to employ guerilla warfare tactics and “to do whatever it is we have to do” to shut down oil and natural gas pipeline projects.

Last week, activists protesting the Bayou Bridge pipeline project in Louisiana said they were willing to “put their bodies on the line” if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves construction of the pipeline.

Earlier this week, two protesters who were arrested after they anchored themselves 250 feet into the Sabal Trail pipeline in Florida justified their action by arguing that legal protesting “has not given us the results we needed.”

"The point in direct action or civil disobedience is to take matters into your own hands rather than expecting government to take care of the problems," said Karrie Kay Ford, who was charged with grand theft over $20,000, trespassing on a construction site and criminal mischief.

Interestingly, while Sabal Trail’s head of security said that the protesters actions rendered three sections of the pipes “useless,” Ford denied damaging the pipe. Apparently, activists understand that "destruction of property is a whole other level of charges,” which Ford said they were “not interested in."

They would leave that to other activists.

Last month, not far from where Ford and her compatriot crawled into the Sabal Trail pipeline, another anti-pipeline activist, James Leroy Marker, fired shots from a high-powered rifle at the pipeline and some heavy equipment. After a high-speed chase, Marker was shot and killed when, police said, he got out of his truck and aimed his rifle at them.

Earlier this week, the Sabal Trail Resistance held a memorial service for Marker, who they described as a “passionate, sincere and dedicated individual” who was a member of “multiple environmental, social and cultural organizations.” Other activists praised him for “the value of the actions he took [which] effectively disabled recent construction” of the Sabal Trail pipeline.

“We feel that focusing on honoring the sacrifice Marker made to take a stand against this pipeline is of a greater immediate importance than debating the strategy, tactics or morality of his action,” they wrote.

All of this, of course, will undoubtedly undermine the pledge by Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, to "defeat this pipeline in the courts and in the court of public opinion."

As the Chicago Tribune recently editorialized, “Pipelines are generally the safest and most efficient way to move oil. Until such time as it's no longer needed for the functioning of the U.S. and world economies, they ought to have priority.”  

Activists who are intent on ignoring these facts in favor of embracing extremism will ultimately be defeated both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.