A Small Farmer Reminds Big Oil: Don’t Mess With Texas

Texans know a thing or two about oil, as anyone who’s driven through the state (or even watched Dallas) knows. Rigs dot the landscape from Midland to Houston, and refineries on the Gulf coast process millions of gallons of crude every day — more than anywhere else in the country. So when you hear that an oil project has Texans alarmed, it makes you sit up and take notice.

Oil pump in West Texas (photo: Monkeyjenn/flickr.com)
“This is not your mom’s everyday pipeline,” explains Julia Trigg Crawford, whose 600 acre farm sits smack in the middle of the proposed route for Keystone XL, the massive tar sands pipeline that has become front page news in recent months.

Ms. Crawford discusses her concerns about oil spills and groundwater contamination with the voice of someone who knows what she’s talking about, but as activists go, she is an unlikely prospect: a self-described political agnostic who, up until a few months ago, focused all her energy on managing the family business.

But when TransCanada — the foreign corporation behind KXL — managed to condemn her land so they could build on it, she got angry, and got involved in a fight that stretches far beyond her front door. 

Over the last week the plot has thickened. Ms. Crawford had agreed to discuss the matter with TransCanada, but they refused to promise to hold off on construction in the meantime.  Hearing that the company warned another local family “we can begin construction now,” she was forced to go to court for a restraining order. TransCanada, incredibly, responded by filing a counter-suit to toss out the restraining order. Ms. Crawford will meet TransCanada’s lawyers in court on Friday, but the fact that she’s had to fight this hard is infuriating.

“We assumed that our legal system would be here to protect us,” she says, “but it hasn’t.”

Keep in mind that TransCanada doesn’t even have state or federal permission to build the pipeline — in fact, President Obama denied their permit last month. But they have reapplied and are being helped by members of Congress who are happy to do the bidding of Big Oil.

This isn’t the first time TransCanada has used underhanded tactics to bully landowners. In Nebraska, it took a determined effort from ranchers and farmers to prevent construction of Keystone XL through the fragile Sandhills ecosystem. And now in Texas, landowners like Ms. Crawford are sending a message to lawmakers that it’s not okay to trample on their rights. As she says, “I’m not trying to spin this politically. I’m just trying to protect my land.”

Crossing the Political Divide

It’s an issue Republicans and Democrats agree on: Property advocates like Debra Medina, who ran a strong campaign as the Tea Party candidate for Texas governor last election, have added to the drumbeat of opposition to the project. Lined up alongside scientists, environmentalists, Tribal leaders, and concerned citizens across the country, this formidable coalition has so far managed to keep Keystone XL at bay. But the fight isn’t over and every voice counts.

So if you happen to be in the vicinity of Paris, Texas this Friday, consider stopping by the Lamar County Courthouse. You’ll see a bunch of angry folks waving Lone Star flags in support of the Crawford family and others in the pipeline’s path, sticking up for our basic right as Americans to keep our land safe from foreign oil companies. Texas, it appears, is big enough for all sorts.


Tell Congress to stand strong against Keystone XL and dirty tar sands pipelines.