- Ada, Oklahoma

September 30, 2013

California man stops in Ada during mission to protest Keystone XL

Eric Swanson Staff Writer

Ada — Seth Harris is on a 1,700-mile mission to protest construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The California man started his cross-country walk Sept. 3 in Houston and plans to finish his journey by December in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada. His path roughly follows the route of the pipeline, which would carry fuel from Canada’s tar sand fields through the Midwest to refineries in Texas.

Harris said he used to be a waiter, but he was looking for something different. He visited Europe with a friend and went to New York for a project, but those trips didn’t satisfy his craving for a new experience.

“This feels like the adventure I was looking for,” he said Thursday during an interview at Hot Shots Coffee House in Ada.


Harris, 27, said he was inspired by the story of two men from India, Satish Kumar and E. P. Menon. In 1962, the two men went on an 8,000-mile pilgrimage to protest the use of nuclear weapons that took them from India to the world’s four nuclear capitals — Moscow, Paris, London and Washington, D.C.

Harris said he had applied for what appeared to be a perfect job at a nonprofit organization focusing on urban agriculture in Los Angeles, but he couldn’t convince himself to live in the city. He realized that he couldn’t be fair to himself or other employers if he couldn’t make that commitment, so he started looking for something else to do.

“That story of Satish Kumar and E. P. Menon came back up for me, and I decided that if they can do that through a Russian winter, I can make the 1,700 miles along the route of the pipeline,” Harris said. “The pipeline seemed to provide a perfect path of pilgrimage and also just laid it out exactly.”

The Keystone XL pipeline, which is currently under construction, stretches from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. When finished, the pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries.

Supporters of the $5.3 billion project say it will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and bolster the national economy. But opponents contend that corrosive tar sands could cause the pipeline to leak, which might hurt the environment.

Harris said he opposes the use of tar sands as a fuel source, but he realizes that he is part of the system that depends on fossil fuels. He said he hopes that President Barack Obama will reject TransCanada’s request for a permit for the Keystone XL project.

“I know denial of the permit is not an off switch to climate change, and perhaps the tar sands are going to be mined — most likely,” Harris said. “Maybe it can slow that process. Maybe it can build some momentum for the environmental movement, especially here in the U.S.”

He said he is not affiliated with any groups that oppose the pipeline.

Traveling alone

Before he began his journey, Harris spent two weeks visiting friends in California, Idaho, Colorado and Texas. His mother met him in Fort Worth, Texas, and she drove him to Houston so he could start his cross-country trek.

Harris is on the road six days a week, but he rests on the seventh day. He tries to walk at least 25 miles a day but doesn’t always reach that goal.

Sometimes he finds a campsite, and sometimes people put him up for the night. He carries some supplies  — bread, energy bars and other items — and some people have offered to feed him.

Harris travels alone, and he occasionally feels bored or lonely. As he walks, he thinks about his plans for the night or makes lists of what he should read next.

When Harris began his journey, he wore a sign announcing that he was a peace pilgrim. The sign drew people’s attention, but it did not lead to the kind of conversation that Harris had in mind.

Harris tried putting the sign on his cart, but that did not work either. So he gave up on the sign and relied on Twitter, blogs and word of mouth to promote his message.

Harris said he knows that his journey is unlikely to influence public opinion about the pipeline, but he will keep going despite doubts, shin splints and other problems.

“I say I’ll go until it’s just not right, but I keep waking up every day and the road still beckons,” he said. “So I’ll go until it doesn’t make sense, I think.”

People can follow Harris’ travels on Facebook or visit his blog,