Interviewee

Barrett Troester

5 years old

Interviewer

Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

June 13, 2017, O’Neill, Nebraska

Explanatory Note

This surprising conversation occurred in a restaurant, where, serendipitously, I sat next to a table with a 5-year-old, his mother and sister. When the waiter came, I told him I was from NYC and exhausted from avoiding the day’s storm wall of tornados during my drive from the Niobrara to the Elkhorn River. 

The women next to me then asked why I was in O’Neill. Not sure how she felt about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, I safely and honestly said I was documenting rivers. She queried if I was covering the KXL. I replied with a non-committal, “Uh, yeah….”  Her son Barrett then popped out of his chair to explain its threats in 53 seconds.

Without Barrett, I doubt I’d have met any of the 40 Nebraskans blocking TransCanada’s oil pipeline route. Barrett exemplifies those unexpected turning points in documentation. He nailed the crux of the issue and linked me to Nebraskan heroes. Thus, unlike our other NWNL interviews, italicized comments are added as background to Barrett’s 53-second speech, which is certainly worthy of a US President’s attention!

Barrett in the family’s corn field

Outline

BACKGROUND
I’LL TELL YOU WHAT THE PROBLEM IS!
1 of 40 FAMILIES DENYING EASEMENTS
CONSERVATION from GENERATION to GENERATION

…If the oil leaks, the corn will die. -- Barrett Troester

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

BACKGROUND

This was my 2nd NWNL Nebraska expedition in 2017. I’d documented its Platte River. Now I would follow the Missouri River (forming Nebraska’s eastern border) and its 40 tributaries crossing Nebraska – the Niobrara, Elkhorn and others. I also wanted to pursue the value of the Ogallala Aquifer and the threat of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone X-L Pipeline that would cross 40 Missouri River tributaries – if all farmers on the route granted easements. Any leaks would have critical impacts in this watershed’s very porous soil.

Fisheye view of the Niobrara River before entering the Mormon Canal


As I drove south from Lynch, Nebraska, tornadoes raced eastward towards me from a threatening “storm wall” bearing down on my 70-minute route. (I may have cut that time in half!) Thanks to my cell phone’s MyWarn app, I dodged several twisters. Still under green skies on arriving in O’Neill, I parked next to a cinder-block building with a restaurant; ran for it; and collapsed in the nearest chair. 

Main Street in O’Neill with tornado-crazed skies


I asked the waiter for a steak, “rare, please” and a glass of wine, adding “I’m not from Nebraska and I don’t do tornadoes well.” The mother with 2 children at the next table assured me we were safe and asked why I’d come to Nebraska. I gave a true but incomplete reply that I was documenting rivers. Prying further, she queried, “And will you cover the KXL issues?” I muttered a soft acknowledgement.   

Her 5-year-old then blurted out 4 simple sentences on the KXL threats. I still was in tornado-recovery mode; but I had my cellphone with a recording app! With permission from his mother, I asked him to repeat that so I could tape it.

An irrigation spigot that won’t function if water running through isn’t clean

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT THE PROBLEM IS!

BARRETT TROESTER  I’m Barrett. The pipeline is bad because if it leaks, we couldn’t drink any water, and corn would die. Then we couldn’t farm any corn, because it will die.

ALISON JONES  Why would it die?

BARRETT TROESTER  Because the irrigation system needs to water the corn, and the irrigation system can’t water corn if it has oil in it. So, if the oil leaks, the corn will die.

ALISON JONES  Barrett, what’s your last name?

BARRETT TROESTER  Barrett Troester.

ALISON JONES  Can you spell that?

BARRETT TROESTER  No.

ALISON JONES  How old are you?

BARRETT TROESTER  Five.

BARRETT’S SISTER  And I’m four.

NWNL to Barrett’s mother, Jennifer  Wow! That’s more succinct that any other complaints I’ve heard regarding KXL!

Poster in the “Energy Barn” built on KXL Pipeline’s proposed route


BARRETT TROESTER, looking out from under his bangs, hands on his hips
  Are you going to send my message to President Obama?

NWNL, studying his shirt with number 52 for his favorite quarterback  Do you want me to?

BARRETT TROESTER  Yes. 

1 of 40 FAMILIES DENYING EASEMENTS

NWNL, to his mother  Children today often seem more articulate than adults! That’s all the documentation I need! I can go home now. But, wait…! Is your family perhaps one of the 40 property-owning families who’ve declined to sign the KXL easement?

JENNIFER TROESTER, with a smile  Yes. My husband Dave and I won’t sign. It would subject our farm to risks we’re not willing to take. Nor will Dave’s parents. who also run a farm here. I’d be happy to introduce you. 

Sign posted in the Saline Nebraska County’s town of Saline


I stayed and soon grasped many tangential issues and resistance approaches. Jennifer’s mother-in-law gathered a coffee clutch in her kitchen so I could chat with her and a dozen other farmwives refusing to turn land rights over to KXL. No matter their politics, none would risk the possibility of that pipeline leaking into their fields and homes. 

CONSERVATION from GENERATION to GENERATION

Two days later, in an interview with Art and Helen Tanderup [Nebraska Farmers v KXL Pipeline], we discussed how KXL leaks could seep into their porous soil, drinking wells and irrigation wells. They explained KXL could possibly seep into the Ogallala Aquifer, a critical and huge supply of fresh water in the U.S. If that happened, there’d be no way to clean out the Ogallala. 

Aaron Troester, passing on to his son Barrett, important pointers about farming


NWNL to Art and Helen Tanderup You’re fighting the KXL pipeline with your Cowboy-Indian Alliance. Barrett’s mother is a committed educator of children at school and at home. She and Barrett reminded me of the critical importance of getting children involved. It’s somewhat like your tales of Native Americans’ sense of their heritage and their connections between their past, present and future generations. Good luck to all.

Aaron, Jennifer and Barrett Troester on their farm
Sign against a possibly leaking KXL, by high school students in Page, Nebraska

Posted by NWNL on January 28, 2024.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.