Climate activist Michael Foster is on trial in North Dakota this week. The judge has barred Dr. James Hansen and other climate science experts from testifying. (Photo: Climate Direct Action)

Excerpts (my bolds) from article published in the High Plains Reader, Fargo North Dakota A Valve Turner’s Trial: Mostly Guilty

Friends call Michael Foster the valve turner a hero, the state is trying him as a criminal, and the Keystone Pipeline named him a terrorist for stopping their oil pipeline flow for eight hours in 2016.  After a week of trial and a five-hour deliberation, a jury found Foster guilty on all counts, except reckless endangerment, leaving felony criminal mischief, felony conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, and criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

Foster’s co-defendant, Sam Jessup, who filmed the action, was convicted of felony conspiracy to commit criminal mischief and misdemeanor conspiracy trespass, both sentences which could carry a maximum of 11 years imprisonment.

Foster’s trial brought activist groups, civil rights advocates, climate change analysts, reporters from Washington D.C. and New York, to the picturesque town of Cavalier, population barely 1,300, the seat of Pembina County.

Lady Justice stands tall above the neoclassical-styled courthouse, but her scales dipped heavily with Foster’s case. On the trial’s third and fourth days, Judge Laurie A. Fontaine denied Foster’s necessity defense, denied the testimonies of four expert witnesses on Climate Change, and denied motions for acquittal by the defense.

“While the proffered experts could testify to the data supporting the existence and severity of climate change, there is no argument that they have the knowledge or expertise to testify on how knowledge of climate change affects an individual defendant’s mental state, intent, or level of culpability,” court documents said.

Foster, 52, stands accused of felonies with a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison, years more than any other activist arrested. His action – considered the biggest coordinated move on U.S. energy infrastructure undertaken by environmental protesters – has been covered by national media, but little has been reported by mainstream media in North Dakota.

Foster helped halt 15 percent of US oil consumption for the day. Jessup, who filmed Foster on October 11, 2016, is being tried as a conspirator.  Kirschner argued for his client, Jessup, that the two did not conspire; Jessup was there to film, and he never entered the manual shut-off valve control area, known as Walhalla 8-2, as it is 8.2 miles from the Canadian border.

“My client was there when a crime was being committed,” Kirschner said. “My client was there to record and live stream. Just being there doesn’t make him a conspirator to criminal trespass. There is no evidence that he said or planned anything beforehand.”

“He bragged ahead of time, he boasted after the fact,” prosecutor Byers said of Foster. “He shut down the Keystone Pipeline, he knew he would cause losses of more than $10,000. Yes, nobody was injured, but an untrained operator not knowing the equipment he’s using – it didn’t go bad, but it certainly could have. There is enough evidence to have a jury possibly convict.”

Climate guru Dr. James Hansen, a former NASA researcher, was one of the expert witnesses planning to testify. “I’m the one who said tar sands are ‘game over’ for climate, and here [is Michael Foster] facing trial for trying to do something about it.”

Sentences will be handed down next week.

Lady Justice stands tall above the neoclassical-styled courthouse, Pembina County, North Dakota


That’s three of four valve turners who failed to get the necessity defense to work.  (Minnesota case TBD)  A previous defendant, who attended this trial, got off with time served, a slap on the wrist.  This no nonsense judge seems determined to apply the law with no allowance for religious beliefs concerning the climate.  I particularly liked the ruling barring experts since it suggested that claiming climate necessity is like pleading insanity.  The sentences should be interesting.

Background on climate criminal cases: https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/jury-hangs-instead-of-climate-activist/




  1. Bob Greene · October 7

    Deadheading a pump is never a good thing to do.


  2. oiltranslator · October 8

    I’m sure his motives were just as altruistic as the motives behind the amendment making light beer a felony, and the motives that prompted copying plank 2 of the Communist Manifesto into the 16th Amendment. Reckless endangerment is reducing the life expectancy of a population by, for instance, cutting off its access to energy. That is what the ignorant fool did at the prompting of scientist impersonators.


    • Ron Clutz · October 8

      I note that they didn’t convict of the endangerment, though as you say it is a logical effect from his actions. IMO it is good that the trial process did not try to get inside his head but stayed focused on the actions and the laws broken.


  3. manicbeancounter · October 16

    James Hansen was on hand as an expert in case the “Climate Necessity Defense” was permitted. It was not. Two definitions are:-

    From the New York Times

    Justifying a crime by arguing that it prevented a greater harm from happening.

    And from The Climate Disobedience Center

    The basic idea behind the defense — also known as a “choice of evils,” “competing harms,” or “justification” defense — is that the impacts of climate change are so serious that breaking the law is necessary to avert them.

    It is basically that the costs of the action are far exceeded by the benefits of saving the planet. But there are problems with this.
    First is that the 590,000 barrels of oil that failed to be pumped along the pipelines was equivalent to about one part in ten million of the proven reserves of oil, coal and gas combined.
    Second is that shutting down all production of oil, coal or gas in the USA can be made up by countries who have no intention of shutting down their production, like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Iran, Kuwait, China and India. These combined proven reserves are more than sufficient to exceed the 1000 GtCO2e of emissions the IPCC AR5 reckoned would be sufficient to reach the 2C warming barrier.
    Third is that the costs of the action are borne by the few selected by the climate activists. Any possible alleviated costs of climate change are dispersed among the many billions of people in the future generations.
    The “Climate Necessity Defense” falls apart on examination. I explain in more details, including the figures of proven fossil fuel reserves in my recent post.


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