Friday October 13, 2017

Pipeline activist could face 21 years in prison for shutting off Keystone valve

Activist Michael Foster says he deliberately broke the law by turning off a valve of the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota because he felt action was necessary.

Activist Michael Foster says he deliberately broke the law by turning off a valve of the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota because he felt action was necessary. (Nicole Bradford)

Listen 25:11

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In October of last year, the group Climate Direct Action turned off a valve on the Keystone Pipeline.

Last week, activist Michael Foster was convicted for being involved in the action. If North Dakota courts, where he is being tried now, find him guilty, he could be facing up to 21 years in prison.

The sentencing is set for January.

'If we don't stop, we can't correct ... it will be too late for this generation.' - Michael Foster, activist 

Despite that hefty prison sentence hanging over his head, the former mental health counsellor from Seattle is still speaking out because he says he wasn't allowed to tell his full side at his trial.

Foster says the plan was simple. 

"We called the pipeline operations control center for five pipelines, about 10 minutes before we cut the chains and turn the valves to stop the flow. This allowed them to shut off the flow at the pump stations for a safe shut down," he tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay.

A few minutes later 15 per cent of the nation's oil supply — the U.S. oil supply — halted.

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In January 2017, President Trump gave an amber light to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada to US refineries on the Gulf Coast. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

"So it was I think a very effective action in terms of drawing attention to the tarsands and in drawing attention to the existing consumption of fuel that we have to stop right now."

Foster sees these kind of tactics as the only way to draw attention to how serious the situation is. According to him, we are in an emergency and running out of time.

"If we don't stop, we can't correct ... it will be too late for this generation," he says.

"I would rather follow a higher law than betray my own children — an entire generation — and frankly all life to come. Everything I know, everything I love is on Earth." 

Listen to the full segment including Chris Turner, author of The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal, Ashley Mak and Calgary network producer Michael O'Halloran.