You’ve got to give this much to the protesters who operate under the banner of the Tar Sands Blockade: they can’t be accused of shoddy planning.
This past weekend, one of the sign carriers at the Professional Golf Association’s Valero Open in San Antonio, sponsored by (obviously) Valero, suddenly revealed himself to be in fact an anti-oil protester by changing the wording on the sign he was carrying. Presumably before he made the change, the sign showed that some golfer was 7 strokes under par for the round; after the switch, it marked a protest against what the Tar Sands Blockade calls tar sands rather than oil sands.
Think about how this must have occurred. This individual, Douglas Fahlbusch, had to answer the call for volunteers to serve the tournament. These sorts of positions are generally filled by people who like to be out on the course, surrounded by some of the world’s best players. They also might be connected to the charitable organization that is the beneficiary of the profits from PGA tournaments.
Presumably, Fahlbusch needed to pass some sort of background check, though it couldn’t have been too rigorous if the organizers missed the fact that he appears to be a dedicated anti-oil green. It’s also possible that the organizers couldn’t have imagined the plans that the Tar Sands Blockade had for the tournament.
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It isn’t clear if Saturday was the only day of the tournament in which Fahlbusch carried a sign, but if he was there more than one day, it means he hoisted that sign for many, many holes, biding his time while waiting for his grand entrance on to the 18th green of the tournament’s penultimate day. Given that the 18th hole always attracts the largest crowds, and attracts them mostly on the weekend days of the tournament, Fahlbusch knew where to make his protest.
In short, this was not the act of some raving nut. Douglas Fahlbusch knew what he wanted to do, and he clearly planned it for weeks if not months. You can see his actions here (noting that this was put up by the protesters, so it is essentially as seen through the eyes of the group.)
We at Platts are quite familiar with this. At a conference we held in late February in Houston, during a speech by an executive with TransCanada, the address was suddenly interrupted by a protester who came in through a service entrance just to the left of and behind the podium. After he demanded everybody’s attention–which he certainly got–it became clear there was going to be a little problem in removing him quickly: he had used a very thick bicycle lock to chain himself to the frame holding up the screen where presentation were displayed. The room was cleared, and both the hotel security and local police removed the protester’s lock with a device that can only be described as very large and very foreboding.
Stop and consider what this protester did to get himself in position to take such an action. (And we won’t identify him by name; he’s already gotten enough publicity.)
First, he needed to learn that there was a TransCanada official speaking in Houston that day. Then he needed to find out what hotel conference room the event was in; learn the map of the service corridors to come through the service door; know that there would be a large screen there with a frame where the lock could be attached; get through the door, lock himself up and start his speech fast enough to succeed before anybody could stop him; and prior to that be brazen enough to strut through those service corridors where presumably some hotel staff member might have stopped him and asked him who the heck he was.
On top of everything, the protestor at our meeting, in a sort of bizarre way, was relatively articulate, even if his arguments were of the typical “profiteer…environmental destroyer…etc.” type. He really wasn’t screaming in the sense of that word implying irrationality. It was more like bellowing. In short, this was not the work of a rank amateur.
(Of course, the reaction at both the conference and the golf tournament was more civil than what happened several years ago when Greenpeace attempted to disrupt trading on the floor of the International Petroleum Exchange. The account of that bloody encounter is here.)
The movement to stop the Keystone XL pipeline has gone far beyond what anybody at TransCanada ever could have envisioned when it was first proposed. At Platts’ The Barrel talk at the recent AFPM meeting in San Antonio, a panel of experts all had different views on whether the line would be approved or rejected in the coming months. Ask 10 people in the oil business and you’ll get 10 opinions. (Given the recent ExxonMobil spill in Arkansas, those 10 opinions today might be different than they would have been a week ago.)
But if the protesters lose, and Keystone XL gets an Obama administration OK, it certainly isn’t for lack of trying or organization. They’re highly organized, and they know exactly what they’re doing.
(Editors note: the original has been changed to reflect that the incident took place on Saturday rather than Sunday.)