Activists in Texas who interfere with or interrupt the operation of pipelines, chemical plants, LNG terminals or other “critical infrastructure” are now at risk of a two-year jail sentence and hefty fine thanks to a law that took effect Sept. 1. If any damage is done, a 10-year sentence is possible.
“Landowners as well as the oil and gas industry viewed this as a necessary protection to prevent risky interference with potentially dangerous equipment and infrastructure,” said Erica Benites Giese, a Jackson Walker white-collar defense lawyer and former assistant U.S. Attorney in San Antonio. In some parts of the country, protestors called “valve turners” have actually shut down pipelines, while others have caused significant damage to the pipeline and to equipment.
“The Texas law also protects landowners from damage to their property,” she said. “While there already were laws against trespassing, this expands the law to ensure that activity from these oil and gas operations are protected. Importantly, this law reinforces the need for safety and punishes activity that causes damage to infrastructure – damage that can result in harm to people and the environment.
“At the same time, proving ‘interruption’ of work by protestors may not be so easy,” Ms. Giese said. “For example, a protest across the road may be a distraction that could slow down workers, but damages may be difficult to compute. If interruption occurs, employees on the ground should document the interruption as it occurs, either in writing or by using a recording device. People have a right to protest and the law does not punish peaceful protest, but landowners and employees have the right to document the activity if it becomes a problem.
“The other tricky portion of the law has to do with ‘intent’ to impair or interrupt. Intent is hard to prove. Also challenging is a portion of the law that tries to hold organizations liable if they were financially supporting protestors.
“Whatever the situation, any company or landowner should always call law enforcement and not attempt to enforce the law themselves.”
For more information, contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.