The Western film has often dealt with the subject of contested land spaces in the West; the expansion of settler governments into Indigenous territory without treaty, the conflict between open rangers and those who fenced the land in for livestock, the monopoly of land control given to transcontinental railway companies. Now, a new and prominent struggle over the use of Western land has emerged and is explored in a documentary film entitled Pipe Dreams (2011).

Pipe Dreams, a 40-minute documentary by Leslie Iwerks, examines the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and the effects the construction of that pipeline could have upon the West. The proposed pipeline, to be built by the Canadian corporation, TransCanada, would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The proposed route of the pipeline would see it come into contact with the ecologically-fragile Sand Hills of Nebraska and the largest freshwater resource in all of the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer. Any leaks from that tar sands pipeline, it is argued, could have severe and drastic consequences for that water source upon which humans, livestock and agriculture depend. The Ogallala Aquifer provides drinking water for some 2 million people and one-third of ground water used for irrigation in the US. The following is the trailer for Pipe Dreams:

The willingness of Westerners to stand against the proposed pipeline has been dramatic. On October 4th of this year, 78 year-old Texas landowner Eleanor Fairchild was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for blocking TransCanada construction equipment on her own farm in Winnsboro, Texas. Ms. Fairchild has owned the land for almost 30 years and refused to sign any agreements with TransCanada to allow the pipeline on her property. Her land was subsequently seized under the policy of “eminent domain”.

In this clip, provided by the Natural Resources Defence Council (“The Sundance Kid”, Robert Redford, is a board member of the NRDC), Randy Thompson, a Nebraska landowner, speaks out against the Keystone XL pipeline. He has been fighting TransCanada’s efforts to cross his land:

In addition to exploring land issues, the Western has often drawn upon both historical and contemporary conflicts to create hero-characters that have taken on powerful interests that were at odds with the collective good. Thus, this writer wishes to leave the reader with a question: on this issue, what would Gary Cooper do?

Further information about Pipe Dreams (2011) can be found at: Pipe Dreams

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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