Early this year, we wrote about a group of activists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline that have started to target San Antonio-based Valero Energy (see: Tarnation, Jan. 30, 2013), the nation's largest independent oil refiner. Saturday, the group took their fight to the company's Valero Texas Open charity golf tournament at the AT&T Oaks Course.
According to the folks with Tar Sands Blockade, Douglas Fahlbusch volunteered to be a standard bearer for the tournament, carting a sign to each hole. At the 18th hole, Fahlbusch changed the sign to read, “TAR SANDS SPILL. VALERO KILLS. ANSWER MANCHESTER,” and carried it out onto the green. Video shot by the protesters shows police detained Fahlbusch and carried him off the course.
The E-N, reporting on Fahlbusch's arrest (he was charged with resisting arrest), dutifully noted the opposition to the KXL pipeline and quoted Valero spokesman Bill Day, who dismissed the action as “politics.” Since the E-N chose not to, we'll tell you what the protest was actually about. You can decide for yourself whether it was "misguided," as Day asserted.
Fahlbusch and other blockaders (the kind chaining themselves to pipe-laying equipment and camping in the East Texas pines last year) months ago began visiting the Manchester neighborhood in Houston's East End, a community clouded by emissions from nearby petrochemical industry. Valero's Houston refinery sits in Manchester's back yard.
The blockaders say they've surveyed the community and claim the neighborhood suffers from higher-than-normal rates of cancer and asthma. They've opened up a free store and held community gatherings. And last November, police arrested longtime environmental justice activists Diane Wilson and Bob Lindsey after they locked themselves to oil tankers in the neighborhood (it's unclear if they actually succeeded in targeting trucks destined for the Valero refinery). Wilson and Lindsey launched a 45-day hunger strike, demanding Valero end its support for the KXL pipeline and clean up, compensate, and pull out of Manchester. (Blockaders have put together this information packet on Manchester and Valero's actions there).
The Manchester campaign is part of the activists' broader effort to make Valero synonymous with diluted bitumen (so-called heavy sour crude), or the “tar sands” that would flow from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast should President Obama approve the KXL pipeline. A vocal supporter of the pipeline, there's indication the company could take a lot of that oil once (or if) it starts to flow into Texas. In 2009, when the pipeline company took its case before Canadian regulators, Valero was identified as one of six shippers, or customers, who would take on most of the pipeline's initial capacity. Analysts have estimated Valero could take as much as 20 percent of KXL's initial capacity – perhaps even more, one analyst told us this year.
The Tar Sands Blockaders continue to claim Valero's Houston refinery, which sits on a free trade zone that exempts it from import and export taxes, is positioned to handle the stuff once it starts flowing from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and that Manchester would be further ravaged – Valero's Port Arthur refinery, which has seen major upgrades in recent years to handle more sour crude, would undoubtedly take KXL tar sands. Meanwhile, Valero contends that its Houston refinery is being retooled to handle more light, sweet crude, like the kind being pumped across the Eagle Ford Shale.