‘Fear of the future’ is not a defense for pipeline sabotage

‘Fear of the future’ is not a defense for pipeline sabotage
© Greg Nash

Responsible parents teach their children that it’s not OK to break someone else’s things just because they’re upset. The rule applies in the real world just as much as it does in kindergarten.

Recently, a bipartisan group of 84 members of Congress signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions Senate outlook slides for GOP Supreme Court blocks order that relaxed voting restrictions in Alabama Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report MORE asking if violent acts directed towards energy infrastructure, like recent attacks on pipelines, fall under the current definition of domestic terrorism. Their letter acts as the most recent example of the seriousness of this issue, and it demonstrates how detestable the violent acts of eco-terrorists are.


Peaceful protests are the birthright of every American, but attempting to destroy a legally permitted project that follows all state and federal regulations simply because you don’t like it does not fall within the bounds of protected rights. Unfortunately, this basic truth appears to be lost on many, as unlawful attacks on pipelines have become more common.


Last year a group of radical environmental activists came up with a scheme to sabotage oil pipelines in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington State. They tried to justify their crimes — which they admit committing — by imagining themselves as heroic warriors fighting against climate change. They even plan to present this fantasy as their primary defense during their upcoming criminal trials.

One of the activists, Seattle mental health counselor Michael Foster, claimed in a recent op-ed that he helped the planet when he briefly shut emergency valves on the Keystone XL Pipeline in North Dakota last year after cutting a fence to gain access.

While it is troubling that tampering with equipment used to ship petrochemical product would ever be considered helpful to the planet, Foster’s rationale for doing so is even more frightening. 

He said his action was justified because of “a debilitating fear of the future, or what psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, an advisor to Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, calls ‘Pre -Traumatic Stress Disorder.’”

It’s important to understand what Foster is saying here. He had to do something, he said, because doing something made him feel better. For his actions, Foster has since been found guilty by a North Dakota jury of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, criminal mischief and trespass. He now faces the possibility of serving more than 20 years in jail. 

There are many ways to be a constructive part of the public policy process. Some of those methods can actually result in long-term change. Breaking into private property and shutting off a legally permitted pipeline is not one of them. In fact, pipelines are safer and a more efficient means of transporting petrochemicals than any of the alternatives. 

For now, the world economy is reliant on traditional sources of energy. That may change as technology makes alternatives more viable, but take those traditional sources offline now and the global economy collapses, children starve and people freeze to death. There are no viable alternatives that can generate the amount of energy our world needs to function, and there won’t be for decades to come. Foster’s goal to achieve this switch “now” is fantasy.

We don’t accept such childish acts of violence because we live in a free society that values the rule of law and the democratic process. With Michael Foster’s conviction and the message that more than 80 congressmen recently sent to the Department of Justice, it is reassuring to see that common sense Americans feel the same way. In the United States, we settle our differences of opinion in representative assemblies. Vigilantes don’t get to impose their beliefs on everyone else. To do so would be the very definition of terrorism.

Craig Stevens is the spokesperson for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments. Follow the Coalition on Twitter @GAINNowAmerica.