February 1, 2017 / 11:27 PM / 7 months ago

Washington state pipeline disruption jury fails to reach verdict

Marla Marcum reads from the Gospel and offers prayers before activists Ken Ward (C) and Jay O'Hara blockade a 40,000 ton shipment of coal at the Brayton Point power station with their lobster boat named the "Henry David T" in Newport, Rhode Island, U.S. on May 15, 2013 in this image released on October 13, 2016. Courtesy Climate Direct Action/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - A jury weighing charges against an activist behind a coordinated protest that disrupted the flow of millions of barrels of crude oil into the United States failed to reach a verdict in a case in Washington state, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Ken Ward did not dispute that he shut down a valve on Kinder Morgan Inc's Trans Mountain Pipeline near Burlington, Washington, but a jury could not agree on a verdict for his charges of trespassing, burglary and sabotage.

"I am surprised and hugely pleased," Ward said by phone on Wednesday afternoon.

Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said by email that his office has the ability to retry Ward and planned to make that decision shortly.

Ward's trial was the first in a series of proceedings that activists hope will serve as a referendum on climate change. Ward, 60, maintained that his actions are necessary in the face of the government's failure to address global warming.

Ward was arrested in October when he and other activists in four states cut padlocks and chains and entered remote flow stations to turn off valves to try to stop crude from moving through lines that carry as much as 15 percent of daily U.S. oil consumption.

Officials, pipeline companies and experts said the protesters could have caused environmental damage themselves by shutting down the lines.

Supporters called Ward's trial an "all hands on deck moment" for the climate change movement, which has also spawned protests of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline.

Last week U.S. President Donald Trump signed orders smoothing the path for those pipelines in an effort to expand energy infrastructure.

Native Americans and activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline project expressed alarm on Wednesday after federal lawmakers from North Dakota said the final permit had been granted for the project, a statement later contradicted by the U.S. Army, which issues such permits.

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Rigby

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