Drones patrolling Tar Sands pipelines maybe become another concern for environmental activists.

Drones patrolling Tar Sands pipelines maybe become another concern for environmental activists.

It probably isn’t the first thing to comes to mind, drones patrolling tar sands pipelines, and others, but considering the fossil fuel industries push for all-things-petroleum-and-natural-gas, to extract, transport, refine, and transport again, by whatever means allowing them to get to the last drop bitumen ““ in that context, the idea of unmanned aerial vehicles droning along pipelines isn’t actually surprising. It seems almost inevitable, considering the extent to which the corporations, frequently with the assistance of local, state and federal agencies and law enforcement, already go to acquire and protect things like the construction of pipelines. Drones would be, in the long run and according to experts, cheaper.

From In These Times, by Cole Stangler:

North American energy companies are planning to use drones to monitor their pipelines””in part to check for potential gas or oil leaks, but also to limit “˜third-party intrusions,’ a broad range of activity that includes anything from unwanted vehicles entering restricted areas around pipelines to environmental activists.

The Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), a multi-national organization funded by some of the world’s largest pipeline operators like BP, Shell, TransCanada and Enbridge, is leading efforts to research and develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for pipeline monitoring.

See, at this point they have to rely on “piloted aircraft,” and on we-are-digging-up-your-backyard-and-burying-a-pipeline-which-will-carry-a-really-dirty-petroleum-product boots on the ground. What today’s pilots and others are looking at, and what UAV’s could do, include

… surveillance of the pipeline’s “˜right of way,’ … which can range from about 25 to 125 feet, (on which) companies check for unauthorized vehicles, people and anything else that’s not supposed to be there. Meanwhile, companies engage in additional environmental monitoring to check for potential threats to the integrity of the pipeline, such as leakage.

Drones could do this, the argument goes, “more effectively than humans.” That’s according to Peter Lidiak, pipeline director at the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Lidiak believes that pipeline operators will start adopting drones in the next five to 10 years.

Questions of “domestic surveillance” naturally arise. Or they do for those with concerns about “privacy.” And the petroleum industry itself isn’t reluctant to talk about the use of drones in monitoring people. (emphasis added throughout)

Paul Drover, the executive director of Unmanned Systems Canada, the nation’s top drone lobby, advertises the benefits of pipeline UAVs by pointing out their ability to scan for environmental activists. At the international drone lobby’s annual convention in Washington last week, Drover told In These Times that aerial surveillance from UAVs would enable pipeline companies to better detect “˜folks setting up camp.’ When asked if he was referring to activists, Drover replied “˜that’s the left side of the arc.

The “left side of the arc” has been duly warned. Yet again.

Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, says that “˜narrowly-targeted’ pipeline monitoring isn’t necessarily problematic in itself, but warns about its potential for abuse. “˜I think drones raise the prospect that Americans will be subjected to constant aerial surveillance in ways they’ve never experienced before and that poses the possibility of changing our ability to engage in political protest,’ Crump says.

Jesse Coleman, a Washington, D.C.-based researcher for Greenpeace, points to the fact that TransCanada recently colluded with law enforcement officials to infiltrate a Tar Sands Blockade activist camp in Oklahoma to block a protest from taking place.

And then there is the intrusion on the privacy of those who live along potentially drone patrolled pipelines.

“˜I would suggest that folks did not sign up for video surveillance when they signed easement contracts,’ says Ron Seifert, spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group trying to prevent construction of the Keystone XL’s southern segment in Texas and Oklahoma. “˜ … (K)eep in mind that a lot of these easements go right through landowners’ front yards and backyards.’

Meanwhile, the perspectives on tar sands remain mixed. One of those, from Indian Country Today Media Network:

As debate rages south of the 49th Parallel over developments such as the Keystone XL pipeline, bitumen from four underground oil spills is quietly seeping into wetlands and soils in the oil sands in northern Alberta””and has been for at least three months, if not longer.

Bitumen leakage now totals at least 1.2 million liters … , the Alberta Energy Regulator, a provincial agency, said in an August 16 update. …

One other perspective, via Think Progress, comes from Grover Norquist, who doesn’t pretend to know anything about the whole tar sands process, but of course, that’s not his interest.

Republican Pundit Claims That Building Keystone XL Would Have Lifted The U.S. Out Of Recession Faster

… On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, … Grover Norquist butted heads with his fellow panelists after claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency was instrumental in slowing down the American economic recovery. Met with loud disagreement, Norquist pushed on to say that President Obama has prevented job growth by not allowing the Keystone Pipeline to be built.

Never let facts, and certainly not the costs paid by other people, get in the way of a political spin, whether regarding bitumen leakage or the cost effectiveness of drones patrolling the skies. Big Petroleum Brother knows best. Actually, it’s probably more like a distant cousin, who has Big Brother in his pocket. And maybe monitored by UAVs.

(Tar Sands Blockade Action Via Tar Sands Blockade)