In the wake of the 2016 protests at Standing Rock, many states, including Oklahoma, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, made moves to prevent similar demonstrations against pipelines on their own land. As the final leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline nears completion in Louisiana, the effects of this industry backlash are becoming apparent.
Starting on August 1st, the passage of a new law deeming oil pipelines “critical infrastructure” in Louisiana has made trespassing on a pipeline construction site a felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison. Organizers say that at least 10 activists have now been arrested under the new law while protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which will bring crude oil from North Dakota into Louisiana.
Desmog described some of the arrests in August:
Louisiana’s first felony trespass arrests came on August 9, when three people kayaking through waters adjoining Bayou Bridge construction were charged under the new law, according to pipeline opponents who said the kayakers were paddling in public waterways. And three more people were arrested the same day as Savage, according to Truthout.
Early Monday morning, a Bayou Bridge activist who identifies as a “water protector” was tased and arrested after being forced from a “skypod,” a device similar to the tripods sometimes used in civil disobedience campaigns. That person was charged and held on $10,000 bail, according to a statement put out by local activists.
“It’s a ridiculous over-criminalization of people who protest,” Bill Quigley, a law professor who represents protesters in Louisiana, told NPR. He called the law a violation of the First Amendment rights, and plans on challenging it in court.
Unsurprisingly, advocates for the pipelines support the new restrictions. “It wasn’t too long ago when there were, I think, four protesters that broke through and tried to penetrate, and actually did pierce a pipeline up in the Midwest,” Craig Stevens, a pipeline advocate who works for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, told NPR. “And they used blowtorches. I mean that’s the type of thing could actually explode and kill somebody.”
NPR says that there was no gas in the pipelines at the time they were damaged by protesters.
Despite the harsh penalties and fear of arrest, activists aren’t ready to give up. “I hope to God no more felonies,” anti-pipeline organizer Cherri Foytlin told NPR. “But if there is, then they will be righteous ones.”