Energy infrastructure company TransCanada has asked an Oklahoma judge to help keep protesters away from its pipeline construction sites.
The company is building a 485-mile oil pipeline between Cushing's storage hub and refineries along the Gulf Coast.
Construction is expected to be completed this summer, but crews working in Oklahoma have been hampered about a half-dozen times by protesters affiliated with the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance.
TransCanada filed a lawsuit Monday in Atoka County seeking a temporary restraining order against the environmental group and 21 individuals involved in the protests.
A judge barred three people — who already had been arrested in Atoka County — from interfering with pipeline construction, but he did not rule on the others named in TransCanada's lawsuit, the environmental group said Friday.
The group contends the lawsuit is part of a broader campaign to “criminalize” dissent and discredit opposition to what it calls a “dangerous” project. Protesters are concerned about the possible hazards posed by the Gulf Coast Project pipeline's transportation of diluted bitumen from Canada's oil sands.
A project spokesman on Friday said the lawsuit is about safety and respect for the law.
“The TRO we are seeking would protect our ability to construct the pipeline under the law,” spokesman Jim Prescott said. “It also is an effort to respect landowners' rights and the safety of the men and woman who are building the safest pipeline system in America.”
The project is part of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is awaiting approval from the Obama administration to cross the U.S.-Canada border. The 1,179-mile pipeline would carry oil from Canada and North Dakota through Cushing to the Gulf Coast.
“TransCanada has a responsibility to comply with the laws of Oklahoma when it secured easement agreements with landowners that provide it with the legal right to construct, operate and maintain the Gulf Coast Pipeline on their property,” Prescott said. “The individuals named in the petition we filed apparently believe they are above the law when they unlawfully enter construction areas.
“Those who oppose the Gulf Coast Pipeline and Keystone XL have a right to their misinformed opinion, and they can express those views on public property. When they enter the Gulf Coast Pipeline right of way, they are breaking the law and will be held accountable for their actions.”
TransCanada used a similar suit in Texas this year to win an injunction against three environmental groups and 20 others opposed to the $2.3 billion project. The groups agreed not to trespass on TransCanada property to avoid being sued for $5 million in damage the company allegedly suffered due to disruptions of the project.