Energy Company Accuses Anti-Pipeline Video Game of Eco-Terrorism

All images: Thunderbird Strike

A video game has got an energy industry group riled up and accusing the game’s creators of eco-terrorism.


Thunderbird Strike” is a Windows PC game that allows players to take the form of a thunderbird. The mythological creature, rooted in indigenous culture, flies from the Alberta’s tar sands to the Great Lakes, where environmentalists are currently challenging Enbridge’s Line 5, a 645-mile-long crude oil pipeline. Players use lightning strikes to gain points by destroying pipeline equipment, but they can also revive animal skeletons.

The game sends an obvious message in support of political activism, offering advice on its website for users who want to take action against fossil fuel extraction. That’s not pipeline-advocate Energy Builders’ apparent problem, though. Its issue it has is with users blowing up pipelines, according to a press release. Energy Builders considers this signature move “an act of domestic terrorism.”

Again, this is a video game. A free one, too. Just FYI.

“It’s bad enough that privately-funded eco-terrorists encourage this kind of behavior, but it’s way over the line when a public university getting our tax dollars joins in the effort,” said Energy Builders President Toby Mack, in the press release.

However, the games funds didn’t come from Michigan State University, which the game extends gratitude towards. The game was created through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

While confusing at first, the game offers some lovely artwork at the very least. Elizabeth LaPensée, the designer and artist behind the artwork, lives near the Great Lakes and celebrates her First Nation roots as an Anishinaabe and Métis woman. The game isn’t encouraging any eco-terrorism, she told The Associated Press.


“It’s optional whether or not you attack oil structures or you focus on activating animals and people,” she said. “The game never tells you what your choice should be.”

Studies have shown conflicting results on whether video game violence leads to real-life violence, with some recent studies finding no connection.


And the action portion of the game’s site is pretty innocent, too. It doesn’t mention any direct action against pipelines. It does tell users to learn more about different pipeline battles like the Dakota Access or Keystone XL. It also encourages divestment from banks that fund such projects. Nowhere do the words “blow up” or “destroy” even show up. Not even “direct action,” which is a popular tactic in anti-pipeline movements.


Linking environmentalists with terrorism is becoming a popular way of attacking activists. In Congress, 84 members (including four Texas Democrats) sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter Monday asking him to label environmental activists as terrorists.

They don’t use the term explicitly, but mention 18 U.S. Code 2331, which is all about defining international and domestic terrorism.


The Congress members wrote:

Recent incidents of individuals attempting to shut down lines by turning valves at pump stations illustrate the danger. Operation of pipeline facilities by unqualified personnel could result in a rupture—the consequences of which would be devastating. Even though some activists commit these acts of sabotage to raise awareness about climate change, they only create the serious risk of harm to the environment they claim to care about.


And remember opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline that set up protest camps in North Dakota last year? The pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners hired a private mercenary firm that surveilled the project’s opponents, labeling them as jihadists, as The Intercept and Grist exposed earlier this year.

This new video game might allow players to virtually destroy pipelines, but, in real life, pipelines are the ones causing damage. For example, the Line 5 pipeline at the center of the video game’s message has leaked at least 29 times in the 64 years it’s been around—spilling more than 1 million gallons of oil and gas liquids.


Energy Builders might not appreciate the message the game sends, but the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival did. It awarded the game the Best Digital Media Work award Oct. 22.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Here’s Enbridge line five route. It’s a relatively small spur (30,000 to 50,000 barrels per day) off Enbridge mainline at 3 million barrels per day.

The main issue with the 60 plus year old line is not the modifications and upgrades on land - as much as the fact that it goes along the bottom of Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac. It’s also carrying diluted bitumen from Canada oil sands. Another interesting thing is that a parallel pipeline carries light hydrocarbons up from the shale fields of Appalachia as the diluent so that gooey shit can move through a pipe.

The only thing I know about the indians of northern Wisconsin and southern UP Michigan is my grand father’s brother married a lovely indian woman from the Chippewa reservation up dahr in da north wood(hard S), hey.

Anyway, this video is a dumb idea. For the love of god, environmentalists - stop messing with oil and gas infrastructure. It’s dangerous. Bombing pipelines is especially dumb. So is shutting emergency valves while the pipeline is in operation. That was done recently by idiot environmentalists.

Here’s a suggestion. Go deep into environment and energy studies. Read the regulation. Read pipeline announcements. Actually go to public meetings with a solid understanding of how this shit works. Don’t suggest blowing shit up. Especially when my drinking water would be impacted from line 5 blowing up at Lake Michigan.

The entire environmental non profit apparatus, that pushes a lot of this soft bullshit, is a mess. For example, many of the big enviro nonprofits work for a billionaire who may have an interest in exploiting something and another big enviro nonprofit works for another billionaire who may have an interest in not exploiting something. There’s an example of this with a mine not far from this pipeline. Usually people of color are used as props.

btw, Keystone XL was more about some dudes 15,000 acre quail hunting lodge in the sandhills of Nebraska - than it was about oil takeaway from Canada. Enbridge should thank environmentalists - since Keystone XL (transcanada) sucked up all the interest away from its much bigger pipeline system expansions over the past ten years. Line 5 being just a small part.