Keystone XL stories: David Daniel

Keystone XL stories: David Daniel

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David Daniel is a 43-year-old carpenter living in Winsboro, Texas, a small community of a couple thousand people in East Texas. Daniel fell in love with the community for its natural beauty and purchased some land shortly after seeing it for the first time. He found the perfect spot, a rectangular tract of 20-acres with spring-fed creeks, century-old hardwoods and more. He eventually got married on the property and built his own house there.

Now Daniel’s property and the community of Winsboro are threatened. The Canadian oil company TransCanada wants to construct the Keystone XL pipeline through the heart of the community and Daniel’s land and is threatening to force people off of their property.

The pipeline, which would carry the dirtiest oil in the world from Canada’s tar sands, would endanger the local environment and the health of the community. The pipeline cuts through several local waterways and a spill could contaminate water supplies and cause illness for local residents.

The following is a transcript of an interview between Daniel and Friends of the Earth staff about his story and Winsboro’s fight to stick a wrench in TransCanada’s pipeline plans.

You can read more stories from the front lines of the fight to stop the pipeline here.

Tell us about yourself and about your community, Winsboro, Texas.

I’m 43 and work as a carpenter. I used to work on the road in the entertainment business, in the stunt industry. My mother lived not far from Winsboro. And that was how I fell in love with the area.

I started looking for an ideal piece of property, one with creeks, trees and things of that nature. After quite a while I found the right property. It was a bit larger than what I was looking for, but I got a good deal on a 20- acre lot with three spring-fed creeks and hundred-year-old hardwood trees. The area that really drew me to the property just so happens to be the area that TransCanada is going to take with the Keystone XL pipeline. My wife and I bought the property, we got married there and then I proceeded to build my house.

Winsboro is a small, artsy town of 2,700 to 3,000 people in East Texas. You don’t find that quite so much around here, but it has a big draw even from Dallas. It’s still a small, old town. It has a music and art scene, so they always have something going on. It’s a pretty neat little town.

How did you find out about TransCanada’s plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline on your property?

I didn’t know anything about the project at all until my neighbor told me that he caught surveyors on his property. So when I got back home I found surveying stakes running all the way through my land. They were marked “XL 36″ PL.” I had no idea what that meant so my neighbor and I did some research and found out it was for the pipeline.

A few weeks after, I received a letter requesting to look at my property. It was a little late for that! I had already pulled up the stakes and I refused to give them the okay — but obviously they’re not looking for my permission. Three months later I received a letter from their Houston attorney, stating that I had seven days to comply with the request or they would exercise their power of eminent domain. The letter stated that they hadn’t used that power yet, the keyword being yet. This was the first time that I had heard any details of the project, granted very minimal details. They briefly described the project and emphasized that they had the power to use eminent domain and that I had seven days to comply or they’d take me to court. But by the time I received the letter I had only had three days to reply, so I immediately called their attorney and said I hadn’t heard anything about the project. I was really freaked out at the time. Somebody’s saying they have the power of eminent domain and I don’t know what’s going on or what the plan is, so I gave them permission to come onto the property with the stipulation that they would give me 24 hours notice and that I would be with them while they were on the land, so I could learn more about the project. They agreed to that over the phone.

That agreement has only been followed through on one occasion. I accompanied them on an archeological survey and that was a bit of a joke, to say the least. They take their handheld GPS that tells them where to go, and at each location they dig a hole that’s less than a cubic foot. They dig it, sieve it, take some notes, and walk to the next point on the GPS. They were not looking for anything in my opinion. After that I continued to find survey crews out on the road or out on the property and when I confronted them about not calling me first, they would simply reply, “Whoops, must’ve been a mistake.” One representative from TransCanada told me that they probably didn’t know they were on my property, yet they have satellite equipment that puts them within a couple feet of where they need to be and they can’t tell they’re in the middle of my property?

That was the first time I realized they were just flat out lying to me.

About three or four months after that they came to me with an offer. It was for $2,400 for an acre and half. I turned them down because they wouldn’t agree to pay for the tree on the land. Later on I found out that they actually do have to pay for trees, and that they have to have surveyors come out and completely stake out the temporary easement and permanent easement, and additional temporary work spaces, all on their nickel, and that they have to have a forester come out and make an appraisal.

So after 19 months of negotiations I went to them with an offer that I felt was adequate, and of course that was refused. So I ended up hiring a consultant who had been in the business for years and had played both sides before, with the company and the landowner. He told me the best I could expect was about $7,000 for the whole easement. He said that we had about six months before they would just cut off communication. Just before that point, they came to me with a final offer of $13,000. I know that my neighbors had received so much less; they had taken the first offer. They told me that if I didn’t take the offer then they’d take me to court and I would end up with nothing. There were no other options — I had to take the offer, even if it was far less valuable to me than the trees and the creek.

What’s the area like where they want to place the pipeline?

My property is a long rectangle with a hill at each end. In the middle is a low-lying wetland area and in that area three creeks come together and travel through the property. I have more than 66 70-to-100-year-old hardwoods. The entire wetland area falls into the easement, and because of the creeks they need additional workspace areas, so that at one point the easement is up to 170-wide by 200-feet long that they have to completely clear cut.

What risk does this pipeline present to your property?

The permanent easement is 50-feet wide and that area can never be replanted. While they say they’ll restore the property to as close to its original condition as possible the erosion that will occur when they take out all the hardwoods will prevent it from growing back.

I’ll never see the area grow back; my daughter will never see the area grow back in her lifetime. This is a permanent easement. I asked how long the pipeline will be in service and they told me at least a hundred years. He said “We are going to drain those tar sands dry.”

They won’t tell me whether or not they will bore under the creeks or open cut the creeks. In my research I found out that they have to place the pipeline at least four feet below the creek bed, and if the pipeline is not running at full capacity, if it’s not weighted down, than the pipeline will float up in wetland areas. I found out in their construction and mitigation plans that they need to weigh the pipe down with concrete weights, and pad it because the pipeline will vibrate, which will cause wear.

The pipeline has to be heated, too because the tar sands is so thick, and they need to get special permits to make sure the pipeline is heated, and that’ll change the ground temperature. Farm lands are very sensitive to temperature changes; it doesn’t take much more than that to affect your crops or anything growing above the pipeline.

There’s a lot to look into here, because it’s the landowners responsibility to take care of the land and pay taxes on the land, even in a forced sale. Yet we can’t build on it or do anything with it. For example, since they’re splitting my property in half, if I wanted to build a guest house on the other half of my property and send utilities that way I’d have to dig underneath their line, eight feet down. That’s a bit tough to do … [Laughs].

Oil companies are notorious for cutting corners when it comes to maintenance and safety, as exemplified by BP in the Gulf and Enbridge in Kalamazoo, Michigan. What is at risk if TransCanada fails to properly maintain the pipeline?

Well, I’m not an expert, but to me there is a high risk. This company has sent up all kinds of red flags. The EPA has stated that tar sands is more dangerous than crude, it has more carcinogens, toxins and heavy metals in it. I know they’re using a thinner wall pipe because TransCanada has the right to determine what is considered a “low-consequence” area, and then use a thinner wall pipe that is less than half an inch thick. In my opinion, if they go through all these rural areas and are able to call them low-consequence areas they’ll save over a billion dollars on steel. So they’re taking a short cut.

It’s known that they bought pipe from Wellspun, even though pipes from Wellspun bought by other companies have been proven to have defects.

They’re also refusing to release a response plan. They haven’t released a plan for a line that been in the ground for almost a year, so I have to wonder what they are trying to hide. One representative may say that they won’t release it because it’s a matter of national security or because of landowners’ privacy rights, and another one will say that it’s no secret and they’ll provide the information. There’s a lot of deception, and a lot of misdirection.

Put all of this together and it’s obvious that the risks are high. I’ve asked instead for information on the contents of the pipeline, the risks, and what to be aware of and look for in case of a leak. They told me in writing that they will not do that. That tells me that there’s a huge risk if they’re not going to be honest, or concerned for our safety.

They’re withholding all this information about what they add to tar sands, like benzene — a tablespoon of which can contaminate 266 thousand gallons of water. They also told me in writing that the only thing flowing through the pipe will be the oil, and any additives would be no more harmful than the oil itself. Well I don’t buy that!

If they were making an effort to be more concerned then I might trust them more. But they’re not being honest; they’re withholding information and willfully denying me answers. I want proof that the danger and risk of contamination are low, but so far they haven’t provided any proof. They are using pipes that haven’t been proven to be adequate. Plus, the leak detection systems don’t detect small leak, and a small leak can last up to weeks and months until it becomes a major weakness in the pipeline. Even the State Department says that leaks will occur. So knowing that and knowing that the company isn’t taking responsibility to answer any of my questions, I take it upon myself to try to protect my family, be as informed as I can, and go from the stance that this poses a high risk to my property, my family and to the local water supply. I’ll go and drink from my creek right now, but if that thing goes in the ground than I won’t do that, because I just won’t know how safe it is. There’s no way I’ll know.

What is STOP (Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines)?

About a month after I signed the easement and thought I had done all I could do, my wife heard an NPR interview with Rep. Henry Waxman and Ben Gotschall from Nebraska Wesleyan University. She encouraged me to get in touch with Ben Gotschall, so I did and he shared some interesting information with me. He told me that TransCanada didn’t have a presidential permit, that the EPA approval wasn’t complete, and that without these permits the company didn’t have the right to use eminent domain against landowners, even if the state governments had granted it to them.

That was news to me because I asked this company before I signed the easement if they had everything they needed to build the pipeline, and they told me “We have everything we need to build this; nothing is going to stop us.” Yet again, another lie!

In Texas the Deceptive Trade Practices Act says that if the appropriate information is withheld when a company is asked for it, then they are committing fraud. While I was, to put it mildly, pissed off before, once I found out this information from Mr. Gostchell it really set me off. I made out well in negotiations in comparison to many other people that I spoke with, and decided to share the information I had with other landowners and people that might be concerned about the pipeline coming through. I had a hard time contacting people. A lot of landowners don’t want to talk. It’s almost like they’re abuse victims, they’re like “Please don’t say anything. I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. I don’t want to report any of the abuses.” Just out of fear, and intimidation, because you’re dealing with a multinational corporation with a whole army of attorneys and lots of money.

There are more people in our community that are non-landowners that are taking on the issue. It was very difficult to start finding people, so I had some yard signs made like those used by BOLD Nebraska. Then I used the money that TransCanada paid me for signing the easement to start buying more yard signs with my number on there and people started calling, and it just started building from there. We held a town hall meeting, and shortly after that we decided to form STOP. We just had our third official meeting yesterday.

Our whole mission is to be as knowledgeable as possible so we can make informed decisions. The people who signed easements were not able to make truly informed decisions.

If you could send a message to President Obama about the pipeline, what would you say?

Let me throw in a disclaimer first: I personally don’t want this pipeline; I don’t think the tar sands are a good project whatsoever. I don’t want it for so many reasons. It hasn’t proven to be in our best interests and I want proof of that. Show me numbers, job creation, anything that the companies are saying this pipeline will achieve. And if it is proven to be in our best national interests than make sure the companies do it right. Make them treat landowners fairly. Make them stop with the lies and deception and if there are violations, hold them accountable. Pay attention to our safety, make them use thicker pipes. Make them come up with an emergency response plan that can be reviewed by our communities and by our emergency response personnel that will have to put their lives on the line if there’s an emergency.

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