On October 11, 2016, five brave climate activists, determined to act commensurately with the truth of unfolding climate cataclysm in the face of the failure of adequate policy, closed safety valves on the 5 pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States.
This act of climate disobedience shut down 15% of US crude oil imports for nearly a day - a display of the sorts of shifts that are necessary to avoid complete cataclysm. In this light, the five valve-turners are standing by their actions, saying that they are not only necessary, but morally and legally justified to avoid the catastrophic harm caused to humanity by unprecedented climactic disruption.
In order to ensure that the pipelines would be safely shut down, a call was placed to each company’s emergency response and control number fifteen minutes before valve turners entered the sites, apprising them of the situation and giving them ample time to shut each pipeline down.
Following an 8:30AM Central time call to Enbridge, Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein cut the locks and entered the fences around two safety valves for Enbridge Corporation's tar sands pipelines 4 and 67 near the town of Leonard, Minnesota. At 8:45, Ben Joldersma placed an additional call to Enbridge to ensure that the pipeline would be shut down safely, and as Emily and Annette prepared to manually close the valves, Enbridge remotely shut first the valve on line 67 and then, about 10-15 minutes later, the valve on line 4. After locking the valves in the closed position, they placed flowers in the valve handles and waited about an hour until the Clearwater County Sheriff arrived and Emily and Annette were arrested.
At 9:00AM Central, Michael Foster pulled up to a safety valve near the town of Walhalla, North Dakota. After placing the safety phone call, Michael turned the huge wheel on the valve for the TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone pipeline and ceased the flow of oil. After waiting for half an hour, Pembina County Sheriffs arrived and arrested Michael. Later, after waiting to recieve information about where Michael was being taken, Sam Jessup (who was live-streaming the action) and documentary filmmaker Deia Schlosberg were questioned and then arrested.
At 8:15AM Mountain Time, Leonard Higgins, near Coal Banks Landing, Montana, cut the lock on a valve enclosure on Spectra Energy’s Express Pipeline. After turning the manual wheel for a time discovered a switch on the other side of the valve. When he turned the switch from “remote” to “local” the hydraulics took over and closed the safety valve. He watched as a gauge of oil thru-put slowly diminished to zero. He waited until Chouteau County Sheriffs arrived and he was arrested.
At 7:30AM Pacific Time, Ken Ward cut the chain on the valve wheel of Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline in a field near the refineries of Anacortes, WA. He turned the manual valve wheel, closing the valve. He noticed it was surprisingly easy to close, and drew the conclusion that oil must not have been flowing that day, which was confirmed by the corporation later. He was later arrested on the site by Skagit County Sheriffs, along with two independent documentary filmmakers who did not trespass, Linsday Grayzel and Carl Davis.
With that final valve closure, all five pipelines bringing carbon-intense Canadian tar sands into the United States were shut down. They remained shut down for most of the day, halting 15% of the US’s daily oil supply.
Later that day after being detained for questioning, Reed Ingalls, who was live-streaming Leonard in Montana, was arrested while leaving Fort Benton. All the activists and filmmakers spent the night in their respective county jails.
Ken was released on bail Wednesday afternoon along with Lindsay and Carl. Emily and Annette were released on bail later that evening in Minnesota, and they were able to have a much deserved meal.
The others, however, were held for a second night in North Dakota and Montana. Leonard, Michael, Deia, Sam and Reid were finally released on Thursday October 13th following their arraignments, and attempted questioning by the FBI. Michael was the last to be released around 7PM Pacific on Thursday. On Friday he hopped on an Amtrak train headed for Seattle where he was met on Saturday by a loving crowd.
All are facing felony charges with potential sentences of decades in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines, but the valve turners remain resolute: It was the right thing to do, because the consequences of inaction and climate cataclysm far and away outweigh the personal consequences.
One week after the action, filmmaker Steve Liptay, who was covering the actions in Minnesota, was charged with 2 misdemeanors for trespass and aiding and abetting trespass. He was notified by mail from the Clearwater County District Court.
As of this writing, the prosecution of filmmakers Lindsay Grayzel, Carl Davis and Deia Schlosberg has been suspended by officials in Washington and North Dakota.