Michael Foster, a 53-year-old Seattle activist who shut off TransCanada's Keystone pipeline in North Dakota in October 2016, has been sentenced to one year in prison.
Foster, along with activists in three other states, in a coordinated effort turned the valves off the tar sands crude pipelines entering the U.S. from Canada. Foster stopped the flow of oil for seven hours, allegedly costing TransCanada $50,000. The pipeline transports an estimated 590,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to refineries in Texas's Gulf Coast.
Foster was convicted in October of misdemeanor trespass, felony criminal mischief, and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief. (He was acquitted of the reckless endangerment charge.) The crimes carried a potential maximum penalty of 21 years in prison. TransCanada and the state of North Dakota recommended five in the hopes a harsh sentence would discourage future climate activists.
“It’s gonna suck being a little old vegan in prison,” Foster told Seattle Met months earlier. “But honestly? Living in this system of overconsumption, beside this concrete river of CO2 that is always flowing on I-5—everywhere I go in this town that I love feels like prison. So the idea of living in prison? It doesn’t bother me the way it should.”
The Pembina County Court judge in Cavalier, North Dakota, sentenced Foster to one year in prison and two years deferred. He begins his sentence Tuesday. Sam Jessup of Vermont, who livestreamed Foster turning the North Dakota valve, was sentenced to supervised probation for conspiracy.
Four other activists from the Climate Direct Action group, the "valve turners," shut off four tar sands pipeline valves in three states—Ken Ward near Burlington in Washington; Leonard Higgins in Coal Banks Landing, Montana; and Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston near Leonard, Minnesota. Most of them still await trial. Ward received 30 days' community service.