Battles over new shale gas and oil pipelines involving Energy Transfer, formerly known as Energy Transfer Partners, have heated up in recent weeks — an escalation that carries a tilt, as one side stands accused of acts of violence.
Energy Transfer (ET) security contractors have been accused of physically assaulting pipeline opponents on multiple occasions, including incidents in which security allegedly pointed a gun at one pipeline opponent, struck another with the butt of a shotgun, and overturned two boats carrying a television film crew and pipeline opponents into a Louisiana swamp, according to a new report published by Greenpeace USA on October 18.
Pipeline opponents also ratcheted up their protests, as three women from communities impacted by ET projects interrupted an ET shareholder meeting and activists carrying signs locked themselves to gates outside the company CEO’s residence.
New Name, Same Risks?
Energy Transfer Partners, or ETP, is the company behind controversial oil and gas pipeline projects like the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), the Bayou Bridge pipeline, and Mariner East. Last week, ETP finished a business deal that left the company with a new corporate name and a new stock symbol. The new firm, Energy Transfer Equity, trades under the stock symbol ET.
The Greenpeace report, published the same day as that business deal, calls attention to ET’s continuing record of what the report called “concerning corporate behavior” — not only spills and accidents, but also efforts to silence or criminalize critics.
“Despite this new business model, Energy Transfer continues to display behavior that indicates a lack of significant changes with regards to the company’s approach to civilian opposition to its pipeline projects,” Greenpeace wrote.
What’s behind that opposition? Greenpeace describes Energy Transfer's record of spills and mishaps, writing “Energy Transfer and subsidiaries have reported 15 hazardous liquids incidents so far in 2018.”
“These 15 incidents led to the release of 1,282 barrels of hazardous liquids (of which 609 barrels were recovered),” the report adds, “and caused a reported $8.4 million in property damage.”
Energy Transfer and the Courts
The report also highlights ET’s use of the court system to jail critics like Ellen Gerhart, a Pennsylvania landowner sentenced this summer to two to six months incarceration after ET claimed she had violated a court order.
And it provides an update on a racketeering complaint filed by ET against Greenpeace and other pipeline opponents in August 2017, which described an alleged $300 million in damages done by the defendants and asked the court for three times that amount. ET’s complaint alleged that the DAPL protests involved “a network of putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct, inflicting billions of dollars in damage.”
In an August 2018 order, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson ordered ET to revise its complaint. “Energy Transfer has failed to state plausible RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] claims against Greenpeace,” Judge Wilson wrote. “It has also failed to comply with basic rules of pleading.”
Noting that ET’s court filings offered lots of insinuation but few identifiable facts, Judge Wilson continued, “This Circuit consistently requires pro se parties [people who have no lawyer and represent themselves] to plead with more clarity, and less irrelevant hyperbole, than present here.”
In its October update, Greenpeace writes that ET used that amendment to expand its original complaint by naming five individuals as defendants, including “a recently hired Greenpeace USA employee.”
The Greenpeace report, titled “Still Too Far,” also calls attention to so-called “critical infrastructure” bills that are under consideration in Pennsylvania and Ohio and just went into effect in Louisiana, which would turn many criminal charges at pipeline protests into felonies carrying prison sentences of over a year. It notes that ET has ongoing pipeline construction projects in all three states (other states are also considering similar laws, which appear to be based on a model ALEC bill).
“From leaky pipelines and reckless actions against peaceful demonstrators to a clear disdain for the First Amendment, Energy Transfer hasn’t shown any signs of engaging in meaningful change,” said Greenpeace USA Global Finance Pipeline Lead Diana Best. “The company’s decision to continue with its controversial business as usual should raise an alarm for any remaining financial institutions with ties to the company.”
The report, which includes photographs taken by Julie Dermansky, comes shortly after the NN Group, an investment fund managing $275 billion, announced that it would withdraw investments in ET and a group of tar sands oil companies and pipeline builders, citing not only pollution and climate change worries, but also human rights concerns.
During an October 18 shareholder meeting, three prominent opponents to ET pipeline projects — Ellen Gerhart, a Pennsylvania landowner who lives along the route of Mariner East; Cherri Foytlin, an activist who bought land on the Bayou Bridge pipeline’s route in 2016; and Waniya Locke, a water protector from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation — interrupted discussions.
A Facebook live video of the event posted by Cherri Foytlin has over 42,000 views. Protesters also gathered outside the shareholder meeting in Dallas, Texas, and locked themselves to the gates of the Dallas home of Kelcy Warren, ET’s CEO.
Energy Transfer recently found itself facing allegations of endangering the safety of pipeline opponents after an ET security boat allegedly caused two other boats carrying a group of members of the press (including a Comedy Central film crew) and protesters with L’eau Est La Vie Camp to overturn into a Louisiana swamp through which the pipeline is being constructed.
DeSmog has previously reported on ET’s use of a private security firm called TigerSwan, which was denied a license to operate in Louisiana earlier this year over continuing lawsuits against the firm from its role on behalf of Energy Transfer in the battles over the Dakota Access pipeline. Greenpeace previously alleged that TigerSwan “deployed excessive force and military style counterterrorism tactics against Water Protectors while operating without a license in North Dakota.”
Energy Transfer rejected the allegations in the Greenpeace report. “Our priority is the safe construction and operation of our assets,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to DeSmog. “We value the local communities and environments in which we work, which is why our employees and contractors spend years designing and constructing these projects. To claim anything different is incorrect. “
UPDATED: This piece has been updated to reflect a response by Energy Transfer to questions from DeSmog.Main image: A protester sits in front of the gates to Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren’s Dallas home, in front of signs objecting to the lack of an evacuation route for an African-American community in St. James Parish, Louisiana, the terminus of the Bayou Bridge pipeline. Credit: L’Eau Est la Vie press release