February 24, 2015
Steve Norris, a retired professor from North Carolina, is stuck in the Calvert County Detention Center for the next few days. That is not his chief concern, though. And he’s expressed no remorse for his crime.
Norris was found guilty Monday of trespass on Dec. 3 for putting a bike lock around his neck and through door handles at the offices of IHI/Kiewit, a construction contractor for Dominion’s planned fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility in Lusby. Before sentencing at his District Court trial, Norris told Judge Michelle R. Saunders that he is “extremely, extremely worried” about what the future holds for his five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another grandchild will be born this summer, a child who will be Norris’ age in 2086. Continuing to put carbon into the atmosphere will be a “disaster for the planet and a disaster for my grandchild,” he said. “I’m doing everything — in a nonviolent way,” he said. “We’ve been losing this battle,” he said, because Dominion has millions
and “we are lucky to have $10,000.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the $3.8 billion facility in September, and Dominion began construction while an appeal is in the works.
Norris was the only defendant jailed among the 20 people sentenced Monday for charges related to actions in November and December designed to raise awareness of the threat to public safety from Dominion’s planned facility in Lusby and its connection to climate change. Most —including Clarke Herbert, who also locked his neck to door handles at Kiewit — received 20-day suspended jail sentences, some with credit given for time served; three years of unsupervised probation, during which they must obey all laws; and $157.50 in fees ($100 fine and $57.50 in court costs). Norris, who had several similar prior charges in other jurisdictions, was taken directly to jail from the courtroom and will be released Thursday at 6 a.m.
Tracey Eno, a co-founder of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and a defendant as well as a witness in two cases, said she feels “satisfied” with the results. “Everyone was very professional and prepared. Our attorney, Mark Goldstone, is to credit for this. He held numerous conference calls with us in advance. I feel we got our points across: The democratic process has failed; this is a life or death situation; we are opposed to climate change and will do what it takes to create a public spectacle, increase awareness and create pressure for change.”
Early in the afternoon, Goldstone started arguing a “necessity defense,” explaining that the defendants’ actions were to prevent a greater harm. “We’re not getting into that,” Judge Saunders said. And yet with each pre-sentencing statement and some testimony, the defendants “got into that,” creating a court record of all that is at stake.
Many wore red cloth bands around their arms or neck. The cases involved the Dec. 3 lock-in at Kiewit; a Nov. 4 group dash to the top of a pile of dirt at a Dominion construction site and the unfurling of a banner that said “WE > DOMINION PROFITS”; and a Dec. 1 action outside Dominion’s construction site when protesters linked arms and sat in front of a gate. As Eno testified about the Dec. 1 action, the actions were all designed to publicize the “dangerous gas refinery in my neighborhood.” Signs and red T-shirts often say “We are Cove Point” because, Eno said, “Dominion has stolen our community’s name, which is Cove Point. We — the people — are Cove Point.”
Some of the defendants told Judge Saunders that they preferred jail time, but she stuck with the suspended sentences and lengthy probation. Several said they would not likely be able to stay on the sidelines.
“I dedicate my life to this struggle,” said Charles Chandler, who had walked and camped from Ithaca, N.Y., to Cove Point —360 miles over 27 days — and who wore a bright orange jacket with his website in large block letters on the back: PeaceWalker.net. “You’ll probably see me again. I plan to participate in unlawful, peaceful protest. If we just hold signs on the sidewalk, the corporations will just keep rolling on over us. … We’re condemning our children and future generations to a garbage planet.” Without climate justice, there is no peace, he said.
As a public school teacher in North Carolina, Greg Yost said, he tries to weigh his responsibility to his students against the knowledge that his students “face climate change throughout their lives.”
“We are aware of the science, that three years is the time frame” before climate tipping points are reached, if they have not already been passed, Yost said. “I have work to do with my students. I have work to do with climate change. Nonviolent protest is all we can do. I will be back in front of you. I have work to do.”
“I care about the community,” Michael Clark said. “We are experts on living through human-induced climate change. I did what I did in celebration and defense of life. And I refuse to pay the fine.”
“I can’t sit passively while [Dominion’s facility] is built,” Kelsey Erickson said.
Elizabeth Conover said her state, Pennsylvania, is being destroyed by fracking, and the infrastructure for fracking “is creeping south … and Cove Point is the terminus.”
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a co-director of Popular Resistance who for 15 years was a practicing pediatrician, called on Judge Saunders to help expose the secrecy around Dominion’s project. She said the company lied about the number of people nearby, about the families across the street and the 2,365 homes, 19 home day-care centers and two elementary schools within 2 miles that have no evacuation route.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Judge Saunders said, and those concerns “are not for this forum.”
“I disagree,” said Flowers, who was acting as her own attorney. “You could allow the necessity defense” and call in experts to testify. “I appeal to you as a leader in the community to not allow this severe lack of democracy to take place. … I see the truth. … I ask you to bring that truth to light.”
At that, several spectators applauded but were immediately told to be quiet.
The only other break from courtroom decorum came during one of the brief recesses. A group of half a dozen or so people started singing “We shall not be moved,” prompting evictions from the courtroom of several people — including Norris, whose case had yet to be heard.
The defendants fell mostly into two camps. They were retired and feared for the future of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Or they were young adults, facing a decidedly bleak future — unless they and others intervened.
“I’m motivated by this really serious fear of what the future holds,” said 20-year-old Elias Weston-Farber, who is often the videographer at civil disobedience actions. “Science is telling really important things about our economy and our way of getting energy,” he said.
Berenice Tompkins said she acted to prevent far greater crimes: “the theft of my future and of future generations to thrive on this Earth.” Many people have urged her not to have children, she said. “My children, your children will not be safe as a result of what Dominion is doing,” Tompkins said. “I implore you to consider that … I am acting out of love. This is the only way I can act to express that love.”
“I’m terrified by what I’m seeing,” Deborah Wagner told the judge. The people of Cove Point have gone unheard; even Gov. Martin O’Malley fell asleep at a Board of Public works hearing regarding a Dominion permit, said Wagner, a grandmother with a background in science and nursing. “This isn’t right. I’m really afraid for future generations. I can’t not be there.”
Some charges were dropped along the way. When prosecutor Michael Gerst, assistant state’s attorney, argued during the case of the dirt pile that “protest does by its nature draw attention and that is the definition of disturbance of the peace,” the judge indicated that Goldstone needn’t bother to counter: “You’re going to win that,” she told the defense attorney.
In the bike lock cases at Kiewit, Kevin Zeese, an attorney and co-founder of Popular Resistance, testified for the defendants that his role at that action was as police liaison to prevent escalation. The goal was to get an image of Norris and Herbert locked to the doors, “to let the world know Kiewit is involved in this dangerous project.” The action lasted perhaps 20 minutes, until police cut the locks. Only two doors were blocked, so no one was trapped in the building, he said. Passersby were handed literature and were watching and interested. Gerst, the prosecuting attorney, argued that people and businesses “stopping their normal daily activity” was a disturbance to the peace. But Goldstone, who wore a “We the People” tie with writing from the U.S. Constitution, successfully argued that protests are designed to create an informed electorate. “It’s not a crime for people to speak out or for people to stop and find out what is going on.” Norris, who was acting as his own attorney in the case, said Gerst’s claim was similar to “blaming civil rights’ protesters for the violence [committed] by the people who didn’t like it.” Judge Saunders dropped all but the trespass charge in that case.
Cases against three defendants — Tracey Eno, Leslie Garcia and Martine Zundmanis — were put on a ‘stet’ docket; in return for no verdict, they agreed to obey all laws, stay off Dominion property, have no contact with Dominion employees and periodically discuss plans for protests and “escalation” with the sheriff’s office. While the other trials were in progress, Eno said, she was attending one of these meetings with the sheriff’s department and a Dominion official. They asked her if she had heard rumors about explosions. Eno said she “explained that the [Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community] vision is to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the citizens of Calvert County. Many of our members practice yoga and meditation.”
This morning, Eno spoke at the Calvert County Commissioners’ meeting, her 19th presentation to the officials about the hazards of the Dominion project.
— elisabeth hoffman
UPDATE: Steve Norris was released from jail Wednesday morning, a day early. He reports that he had great conversations with his fellow inmates about Cove Point.
November 13, 2014
In Western Maryland last week, the Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state officials scrambled to finish reviewing three years of studies on whether to proceed with fracking in Maryland.
The election the night before, though, shifted the landscape utterly. The few commissioners who have consistently raised concerns about fracking in Maryland recognized that whatever safeguards were in the works, insufficient though they might be, could be dismissed by the newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan. What the science was starting to show about the health, economic and environmental hazards for the many could be ignored for quick profit for a few.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the state and in Washington, DC, a week of peaceful and bold protests was under way, showing what people will resort to when their fears are ignored, their lives disrupted, their communities shattered, and their remaining choices few.
As part of a week of actions called Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), determined protesters headed for Cove Point and briefly took over a dirt hill where Dominion is building a pier for a fracked-gas export facility. Another protester locked herself to Dominion equipment at a predawn sit-in. In Washington, BXE activists blocked entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the mostly invisible and always intractable agency that rubberstamps pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities and is therefore the chief patron of the fracked-gas industry. The industry — and industry-bought politicians — have promoted fracked gas as clean energy and a solution to climate change when science and experience shows it is neither.
In all, about 80 people were arrested over five days in Washington and Cove Point. Some protesters had just finished walking across the country as part of the Great March for Climate Action. In addition, 15 people were arrested blocking a FERC-approved gas storage facility in salt caverns on Seneca Lake, NY.
On Monday, protesters blocked the main entrance with giant photographs of Rachel Heinhorst and her family, who live across the street from Dominion’s Cove Point front gate, and the Baum family, who live near a giant compressor station for fracked gas in Minisink, NY. In front of the portraits was a small town of shops and homes, schools and parks. Homeland Security officers guarding FERC offices eventually pulled apart this little village, much as FERC destroys communities with its rulings.
On Friday, the final day of the protests, residents of the Pennsylvania shalefields told tearful yet angry stories to FERC staff who were blocked from their offices and who had gathered on the sidewalk to watch police cut out five activists linked by lockboxes. “You have no right to poison people,” said 61-year-old Maggie Henry, who was labeled an ecoterrorist in an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force report. Her family’s 88-acre organic farm, mentioned in a 2009 New York Times article, is surrounded by the fracking industry. A mile away is a cryogenics plant; 4,100 feet away is a frack pad; a fracked-gas pipeline skirts the land, a gas-fired power plant is being built a few miles away. Four homes three miles away have replacement water tanks: “Water buffaloes dot the Pennsylvania landscape like lawn ornaments,” she said. An earthquake in March from nearby fracking damaged her home’s foundation and cracked the drywall. That farmhouse, which has been in her husband’s family for 100 years, sits empty and she is searching for land elsewhere. “I don’t have the nerve to tell people [the food] is organic,” she said, because of the nearby emissions of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine-disrupters such as toluene, ethylene, butylethylene.
Penni Laine of Summit Township told a similar story: Her tap water can ignite, and she has an air monitor in her house. On a good day, she said, her daughter can say, “Yay, Mom, the air is ‘unhealthy’ today. It’s not ‘hazardous.’ ”
“We are living now in a war zone,” said Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania who writes the impatient and scathing blog, The Wrench, about the fracking industry’s devastating occupation of her state. Trooper Mike Hutson with the Pennsylvania State Police/FBI Joint Ecoterrorism Task Force once showed up uninvited at her door. “FERC does not listen. FERC does not care. FERC needs to be disbanded. FERC needs to be dissolved,” she told the FERC crowd. “FERC exists to broker permits [for Chevron, Anadarko, Exco, Williams Partners and others]. FERC does not do anything but the bidding of big industry.”
A giant poster at the FERC action shows an empty swing with three frack towers rising in the background. Another showed a map of schools and frack sites and asked: “Our children are at risk. Would you send you kids to these schools?”
BXE protesters called on FERC to repeal permits for the Cove Point export plant, the Myersville and Minisink compressor stations, and the Seneca Lake salt-cavern storage facility; to halt future permits for fracked-gas infrastructure; and to consider as a priority the rights of human beings and all life on Earth.
Back at the Eastern Garrett Volunteer fire hall in Finzel, members of the shale advisory commission were reviewing the last three studies, all done by the staff at the state Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources: a 241-page risk analysis, a 7-page traffic study and a climate study that barely runs over onto a fourth page.
Notable about the risk study is what it doesn’t cover: risks from downstream infrastructure (such as export plants and gas lines). The risk study doesn’t say one way or the other whether fracking can be done without “unacceptable” risks, the benchmark Gov. Martin O’Malley set in the executive order that put the commission and studies in motion. And the study says more monitoring and modeling would be needed to understand the cumulative and synergistic effects of fracking on air quality in Garrett County and the rest of the state. The overall probability of air emissions is high, the report says, while the “consequences cannot be determined at this time” because of a lot of unknowns. (Appendix B, p. 44) (Comments on the risk study, due Nov. 17, should be sent to email@example.com with the words “Risk Assessment” in the subject line.)
The greatest risks to humans, the report concludes, would be from truck traffic and accidents, noise, and methane migration to water wells. The last of those perils, the report says, could be reduced to a low risk if fracking operations are at least 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) from drinking water sources. (The state’s best practices propose a 2,000-foot setback from drinking water sources, with reductions allowed under some circumstances.) The greatest threats to the environment are from fragmenting forests and farms, and “subsurface releases or migration” — underground leaks — of frack fluid and frack waste. All the risk levels assigned assume that the state’s best management practices will be in place and enforced.
“We don’t know what the level of enforcement is going to be, we don’t know how many staff are going to be hired,” said Matthew Rowe, the MDE deputy director of the Science Services Administration who led the study.
“There’s no way you can verify and enforce some of these [best practices],” Commissioner Ann Bristow said, “but you use them to reduce the risk.” She called this one of the Catch-22s of the study.
The other, she said, is that the study ranks risks as lower only because few people in any one location would be affected. “You are studying risk analysis in an area that you know is sparsely populated and now you are using sparse population as a reason not to assess risk as severe.”
She held up a paper titled “LOCALIZED, AND DISENFRANCHISED: Who Endures Fracking Risks?” that lists numerous occasions when the study reduced the risk from high to moderate or moderate to low because the risks were “localized.” She had worked on the paper with Nadine Grabania, who co-owns a winery and farm outside Friendsville with her husband, Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the shale advisory panel. For example: “The consequence of the release of drilling fluid is classified as moderate because, although it could cause considerable adverse impact on people or the environment, the damage would be localized.” (Appendix, p. 15)
“What I hear you saying is that because it’s occurring to a very small number of people, the risk isn’t that great,” Roberts said.
“We are talking about human beings who are living close to these facilities … where there is going to be considerable adverse effect,” Bristow said. Then ensued a brief discussion about how many people harmed is too many. Three? 500? Bristow said they would be “sacrificed.” Commissioner Harry Weiss objected, but Bristow said, “I am going to use some superlative language here” when so much is a stake.
Also troubling was that the risk study labeled many threats as “moderate,” which at first glance sounds downright reasonable and benign. All things in moderation, as they say. But, Bristow and Roberts said, the study defines moderate as: “Considerable adverse impact on people or the environment. Could affect the health of persons in the immediate vicinity; localized or temporary environmental damage.” Suddenly, moderate is sounding rather grim. And keep in mind that all but four counties in Maryland lie on top of shale basins.
Commissioner George Edwards, re-elected state senator in the Republican rout of the night before, was getting impatient. Worried about trucking? A distribution center brings traffic, too, but no one would ask for a risk study on that, he said. Forest fragmentation? Wildlife and hunters like it, he said. You can’t get 100 percent guarantee on anything, he also said. And, mocking Trout Unlimited’s push for a ban on fracking in the Savage River watershed, Edwards said, “Maybe we need to do a study on the fishermen to see if they might get hurt if they slip on a rock.” One of the commissioners, Nick Weber, who had long pushed for the risk study, is a past chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited.
“You are going to see a big change in Annapolis this year,” Edwards said. “We had an election. … People went and voted, and they elected people that publicly said they supported drilling but they want it done right.” He also mentioned that he had not read the risk analysis.
And on Friday, the day Pennsylvanians told their stories of despair outside FERC’s offices, the day protesters were shouting “The people are rising. No more compromising,” and signs said “Protect Our Children. Stop Drilling Near Our Schools,” and “Climate Can’t Wait,” The Cumberland Times-News published reactions from Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel about the election. Beitzel called the election a “game-changer.” The commission’s onerous proposals would squash drilling in Maryland, he said, and he hoped the new administration would moderate regulations, “more like what other states have done.”
Indeed, during the campaign, Hogan accused the state of “studying [fracking] to death.” As an “all-of-the-above kind of guy” on energy, Hogan called natural gas a “clean energy” and fracking “critical to our state economy.”
Protests continued Monday at Cove Point, where Lusby resident Leslie Garcia was arrested while trying to deliver an eviction notice to Dominion. About 50 residents and other supporters picketed at the entrance of the construction site. “I have nothing to lose by protesting, because I have everything to lose if this project continues,” Garcia said.
July 28, 2014
Between naps at a meeting last week about a Cove Point wetlands permit, Gov. Martin O’Malley apparently woke up long enough to decide that fracking could be done safely in Maryland. Even though his Marcellus Shale advisory commission is still wading through reports that raise plenty of alarms.
The big reveal came at a daylong session of the state Board of Public Works (BPW), of which the governor is one of three members. On the agenda was Dominion’s permit for a temporary pier, which the company needs to haul in equipment for its proposed facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and send it off to Asia on huge tankers.
Most of the permission slips for this $3.8 billion project come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the state has had a couple opportunities to weigh in. Already the Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the go-ahead for Dominion to build the 130-megawatt power plant needed to liquefy the fracked gas. In its April ruling, the PSC listed numerous hazards and said the facility “will not provide net economic benefit to Maryland citizens,” but whatever. The PSC said Dominion would have to pay $8 million a year for five years into a fund for renewable energy, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation and another $8 million over 20 years to help low-income residents pay for their rising — thanks to the exports — heating bills.
Last week, Dominion needed permission from the BPW for a wetlands-disturbing pier. Cove Point residents seized that opportunity to tell O’Malley, who had so far been silent on Dominion’s plans, that this facility has them fearing for their lives. Lusby resident Tracey Eno, however, noticed that O’Malley kept nodding off and at one point walked out. “I’m sorry that the governor stepped out because this is really for him. Should I wait?” she asked. She was told to continue, although she backtracked when he returned.
In the end, Dominion got its permit. But not before O’Malley said he believes that natural gas can be a “bridge” fuel to the future of renewable energy, while “in the meantime” the environment is safeguarded at every stage with the “highest and best standards.”
How has the governor reached a conclusion that any standards — even “highest and best” — will be sufficient before having seen a report from his appointed advisory commission? His 2011 executive order instructed the 15-member panel to determine whether and how fracking could be done without unacceptable risks to health, safety and the environment. In fact, in April 2013, Secretary Robert Summers of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) assured Marylanders that a decision about fracking had not been made. In an open letter posted on the advisory commission’s website, Summers wrote that the department “recently received many emails from people who have been told that the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission assumes hydraulic fracturing is inevitable and is rushing to enact regulations to pave the way for gas development. This is not true. No decision has been made about whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in Maryland, and MDE is proceeding methodically and cautiously to develop stringent regulations that will protect Marylanders in the event hydraulic fracturing is allowed.”
Although the advisory commission is nearing the end of its work, numerous state studies remain unfinished, including on health effects, traffic and an assessment of risks. The commission has yet to evaluate the economic study that calculated job growth but failed to quantify a key downside: the effect on tourism and the environment. And the state, in its “interim final best practices report” says it’s only “considering whether it is feasible” to require frackers to estimate and purchase offsets for climate-disrupting methane emissions. (It would calculate those emissions based on methane’s carbon footprint over 100 years — about 30 times as powerful as CO2 — instead of over 20 years — about 85 times as powerful. Even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “there is no scientific argument” for selecting the 100-year time frame. So, that’s already not the “highest and best” standard.)
Moreover, no study has emerged showing fracking can be done safely. To the contrary, evidence is mounting that fracking poses grave threats to public health and safety, water, air, farm animals and pets, industry workers, soil and agriculture, and climate. The Concerned Health Professionals of New York has compiled the research to date in a 70-page report. “The pace at which new studies and information are emerging has rapidly accelerated in the past year and a half: the first few months of 2014 saw more studies published on the health effects of fracking than all studies published in 2011 and 2012 combined,” the report says.
News reports last week from fracked Pennsylvania and Ohio have not been reassuring. Pennsylvania’s auditor general concluded in a 118-page report that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was “unprepared to meet the challenges of monitoring shale gas development effectively.” Eugene DePasquale, the auditor general, said in a news release: “There are very dedicated hard-working people at DEP but they are being hampered in doing their jobs by lack of resources — including staff and a modern information technology system — and inconsistent or failed implementation of department policies, among other things. … It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose. There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.”
DePasquale also said DEP had failed to “consistently issue official orders to well operators who had been determined by DEP to have adversely impacted water supplies.”
Based on information from an open records request, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that “oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania water supplies 209 times since the end of 2007.”
And in Ohio, news comes that Halliburton withheld complete information about its secret fracking brew for five days after a fire and explosions in June sent toxic chemicals into a tributary of the Ohio River, threatening the drinking water supply for millions of people and killing 700,000 fish.
Governor O’Malley, however, appears to be looking the other way. Perhaps at campaign checks from America’s Natural Gas Alliance. Without bothering to wait for his commissioners to issue a report, the governor has decided that fracking can be made safe for Marylanders. One might wonder whether his shale advisory commission has been a charade all along.
O’Malley — and the shale commission — could offer far better protection for Marylanders and our environment by heeding the warnings of Cape Breton University President David Wheeler. In Nova Scotia, Wheeler is head of a panel, not unlike Maryland’s advisory commission, that is considering whether to recommend lifting a two-year moratorium on fracking. Over the last couple months, the panel has issued 10 “discussion papers” described as rosy toward industry. And yet Wheeler concluded last week that the moratorium should be extended. “We need more research in a couple of particular areas before anyone could take a view on whether this is a good or a bad idea in any part of the province,” he said. Nor, he said, should seismic testing and exploratory drilling be allowed without community consent. “And we’re saying communities are not in a position to give permission to proceed because there’s not enough knowledge. We’re a long way from that.”
July 18, 2014
Among the 25 arrested for civil disobedience at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington this week was Ann Bristow, a member of Maryland’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission.
Also arrested was Gina Angiola of Olney, a retired doctor on the board of directors of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Another was a retired teacher and borough officer from Pennsylvania, Mike Bagdes-Canning, who last month traveled to Garrett County for the unveiling of the final progress report on Maryland’s health study on fracking. There, he issued a warning to Marylanders not to do what his state has done.
The civil disobedience came a day after Sunday’s spirited rally and march to FERC. The actions also followed a week of lunchtime picketing in front of FERC’s offices at the end of June.
“It is no longer business as usual,” said Steve Norris of North Carolina, who proposed the arrest action as a “punctuation mark” to the rally. He also dreamed up and helped organize the weeklong, 100-mile Walk for Our Grandchildren climate march last summer. “Usual will kill us all. It is time to be unreasonable.” (Of the 25 arrested, 15 had participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren or in the related arrest action at ERM, the State Department contractor tied to TransCanada that concluded the Keystone XL pipeline was just fine for the climate.)
The trigger for the protests was FERC’s full-of-holes preliminary approval of the plan by energy giant Dominion to liquefy and export fracked gas from its Cove Point terminal in Lusby. But the protests united groups fighting every stage of shale gas extraction and production: the fracking with secret toxic chemicals, the truck traffic and diesel-fired equipment, the radioactive waste that has no safe disposal, the flaring, the methane that leaks into water wells and disrupts the climate, the forests fractured and the land taken by eminent domain for pipelines, the noise and pollutants from compressor stations, the unthinkable hazards from the export factory. Those protesting came for their children and all children, for grandchildren and future generations, for rivers, mountains and farms, for people trapped by encroaching destruction, for clean water and air, for wolves, turtles and hawks.
wake up, FERC!
Monday morning, as he headed out to be arrested at FERC, Bagdes-Canning got 36 phone messages from people in the shale fields. “They are with us,” he told the others.
“In Cove Point, the people are also counting on you,” said Ted Glick, the national campaign coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), who helped organize the action. “And people around the world affected by climate change are counting on you.”
That morning, a few dozen people headed from Union Station to FERC’s offices, chanting “HERE WE COME, FERC” and “WAKE UP, FERC.” The pipelines and compressor stations FERC allows as a “public necessity and convenience” mean communities are gassed and fracked, they said. “As a public necessity and convenience, we are stopping FERC,” another protester from Pennsylvania shouted.
They sang, “No more frackers. We shall not be moved.” And “Stop the rubber-stamping. We shall not be moved.” And “Fighting for our future. We shall not be moved.”
As he sat in front of FERC’s doors, Alex Lotorto spread out large maps covered with color-coded rectangles signifying drilling companies and land leased for fracking over much of Bradford County in northeast Pennsylvania. Shell, Chesapeake Energy, Talisman Energy, EOG Resources, Chief Oil & Gas, Southwestern Energy.
After a couple hours of constant maneuvering to try to block both entrances as well as driveways adjacent to the building, 25 activists were arrested. They were handcuffed, escorted a few hundred feet to an office for processing, fined $50 and allowed to leave.
Ann Bristow, the commissioner, said she took part in the arrest action because she has become increasingly alarmed about the threats to public health and the environment from fracking and the infrastructure required to produce and transport the gas headed for Cove Point. “I am protesting [the project] because its impact is being assessed without consideration of the negative health effects from the infrastructure that will supply it,” she said. “I am protesting FERC’s rubber-stamping of Cove Point because all aspects of [unconventional gas development] are connected when you consider public health and the health of our environment. I am protesting because I do not have confidence that the [Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the Department of the Environment (MDE)] will strongly advocate for public health monitoring for toxic air emissions.”
Bristow joined the shale commission late, replacing a resigning member. As a volunteer with the state Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Marcellus Monitoring Coalition, Bristow arrived with a background in monitoring water quality. During the past two years, though, research in states that have allowed fracking is showing that air contamination — from compressor stations and condensate tanks and particularly from “wet gas” — could pose an even greater hazard, she said. Already, she said, the compressor station in Accident in Garrett County is processing and storing Marcellus gas from Pennsylvania; another is being built in Myersville, with a portion of the gas eventually headed for Cove Point. The state should “measure toxic air emissions at existing facilities … and measure air quality at Myersville before and after completion of the compressor station,” she said.
In a few months, based on recommendations from the 15-member advisory commission, MDE and DNR will send a report to the governor with conclusions about whether or how fracking could be done safely in Garrett and Allegany counties. Only four commissioners, including Bristow, have expressed abundant concerns and pressed for caution.
Gina Angiola, the retired physician arrested at FERC, is on the steering committee of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. If built, Cove Point would endanger thousands who live near the facility and increase fracking across the region, “further feeding our unsustainable fossil fuel addiction,” she said. “A few people will get wealthy, many more will be harmed.
“It’s becoming ever more obvious that traditional channels of democratic participation simply aren’t working,” she said, “and we are running out of time. Although policymakers pretend that these issues are very complicated, they really are not. It’s all very simple at this stage. Climate change is happening NOW, people are dying or being displaced by the millions around the globe, regional conflicts are escalating, and the U.S. is failing to act rationally. Our scientists are telling us loudly and clearly that we must leave 75 to 80 percent of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic climate alterations. Why on earth are we allowing massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects to move forward? This is insanity.”
“If we would redirect our investments toward efficiency improvements and distributed renewable energy, we could lead a global transformation to an economy that serves everyone. I’m sick and tired of government agencies rubber-stamping bad ideas just to advance corporate profits. Those agencies are there to serve us, the people. If we can remind them of that mission, the Cove Point project will be stopped.”
fighting for existence
The day before the arrest action, nearly 2,000 people rallied at the U.S. Capitol and marched to FERC’s offices with the same message. They carried signs that said: “Don’t frack up our watershed,” “Don’t frack our towns for export profits.” On the stage, a group holding a giant cardboard yellow submarine with a giant rubber stamp sang, “We all know FERC’s a rubber-stamp machine” to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.”
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood looked to the future. We are on the way to stopping coal and the Keystone pipeline, he said, but if we export fracked gas, “then we are defeating our purpose.” He called the climate change battle this generation’s Birmingham and Montgomery. “Sometimes, you don’t see the transition,” he said. But in 2114, he said, “they will look back on this time. They will say, ‘Those are the ones who fought for us to exist.’ ”
Biologist, author and fractivist Sandra Steingraber drew inspiration from past victories. Dryden, she said, was one of the first towns in New York to use zoning laws to ban fracking within its borders. “Lots of people warned the citizens of Dryden not to do it, pointing out that a local ban on fracking would only invite ruinous lawsuits by armies of industry lawyers,” she said. “All the citizens of Dryden had was sheer determination, a sense of their own righteousness and a willingness to do whatever it took,” Steingraber said. And on June 30, New York’s highest court ruled in the town’s favor. “Dryden beat Goliath with a slingshot made out of a zoning ordinance and so set a precedent that is now reverberating around the world.”
She said she spent the Fourth of July weekend with members of the Dryden Resource Awareness Council. There, they talked of tomatoes, grandchildren, recipes and arthritic knees and hips, she said. “Did you catch that? The people of Dryden, who brought the world’s largest industry to its knees, have arthritic knees. But they are motivated by love. Love for the place where they live and love for the people who will come after them. They feel a responsibility to protect what they love. Because that’s what love means,” she said.
More inspiration from the past: Forty years ago, residents in Rossville, NY, fought another seemingly long and impossible battle against storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tanks in their town. For 13 years, united as Bring Legal Action to Stop the Tanks (BLAST), Rossville residents “ignored the counsel of those who said that it couldn’t be done. That the tanks were already built. That of course they would be filled with LNG. That it was all inevitable. That you couldn’t fight the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But in the end, BLAST won,” Steingraber said. In part, it won because of an LNG explosion in 1973 that killed 40 people and led New York to ban LNG facilities. All the LNG hazards present in 1973 remain, Steingraber said, including that it will flash-freeze human skin and, if spilled, will disperse as a highly combustible vapor cloud and that an LNG fire is not extinguishable. Plus now we know about fracking and about climate change.
“We New Yorkers Against Fracking pledge our support, assistance and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Maryland who are fighting the LNG terminal in Cove Point. Our destinies are intertwined. Our success depends on yours,” she said.
The present consumes Rachel Heinhorst, whose family’s front lawn faces Dominion’s front lawn in Lusby. “We do not deserve to live in fear of an explosion, of the water we drink, of the air we breathe,” she told the crowd. “FERC and President Obama, please hear my family and all the others living so close to this. Feel our worry, know that it is real, know that we are coming to you, not looking for a fight. We are coming to you looking for compassion.” Her family, though, is preparing to move. If they can sell the house.
Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper, said the gas industry tries to divide people into those fighting climate change, compressor stations, fracking, export facilities. “We stand together,” he called out. “They have to fight all of us.”
Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising called FERC a lapdog to the president and the Democratic Party. “Being slightly better than Republicans on climate change is not enough,” he said. “We will not have that energy plan of ‘Frack here’ and ‘Frack there.’ ”
One prop for the rally and march was a large slingshot. “This has been a David and Goliath fight from the start,” said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We have been throwing stone after stone. We have more stones to throw.”
–by elisabeth hoffman
July 16, 2014
Mike Bagdes-Canning is a husband, father, grandfather, retired teacher and vice president of Cherry Valley Borough in Butler County, PA. He was one of 25 people arrested Monday morning for blocking entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or rather the Fracking Expansion Rubber-stamp Commission. He also attended the Stop Cove Point rally and march to FERC on Sunday. In this guest blog post, Mike explains that we are all living in frontline communities and that our struggles are the same. — elisabeth hoffman
BY MICHAEL BAGDES-CANNING
As a frontline resident in the shalefields of Pennsylvania, the rally on Sunday and the action on Monday were as much about us in Pennsylvania as about the people at Cove Point.
Cove Point and the other export facilities are critically important to those of us in extraction communities because once the gas is available on a global scale, it will command a “global price.” Shale gas is very expensive to produce, and it is not profitable to extract at the moment. That will change if it hits the global market. The dire circumstances we find ourselves in now will be viewed as the good old days.
In addition, though, we are all from frontline communities. Creating a world market for LNG would be devastating to humanity and much other life as we know it. That point was made at the rally. It wasn’t an accident that my friend Cherri Foytlin from the Gulf region was a speaker — we, all of us, need to be in this fight. Your fight is my fight, my fight is your fight.
This all became very personal for me today. I spent the entire morning with some of the folks I’ve been working with — trying to keep drilling away from a school campus that serves 3,200 kids. They had a hearing with our Department of Environmental Protection (DEP — we call it Don’t Expect Protection). I was there as a member of the media: I document shale stories for the movement. I was kicked out of the meeting because our law does not serve the people. It serves the corporations. Then I had to deliver my friend, photographer Tom Jefferson, back home to Pittsburgh. Tom wasn’t allowed into the meeting either. Finally, after spending most of the day on the road, I was grateful to be heading home to my piece of heaven — Cherry Valley. At a little after 7 p.m., after being away from home for 11 hours, I turned onto my road, and about a half-mile south of my driveway, I came upon a crew doing seismic testing, one of the initial steps in the drilling process. There was a sign in the road that said, “Lane closed.” I got out of my car and stormed past the flag-man, pulled out my camera and started to document. They told me that I had to leave; I told them I wasn’t going anywhere. THIS IS MY HOME! They told me to back away, it wasn’t safe. I told them that I wasn’t going anywhere, they weren’t welcome here. They had to think I was a raving lunatic — and I was. Even now, hours later, I’m angry and already contemplating my next steps. The arrest in D.C. will not be my last.
Gabriel Echeverri, a young man I met at Shalefield Justice Spring Break, spoke to my heart when he told Maryland shale advisory commissioners, “I have an issue with you all debating for hours about the most publicly acceptable way of coming and destroying our homes and poisoning our waters while we have to sit here and listen to all of it.”
Karen’s and my home is surrounded by properties that have been leased. Some of our immediate neighbors have not leased, but the folks that adjoin them have. We are a small island in a vast sea of leased properties.
Both major political parties have betrayed us. Our government serves those who would destroy us. It’s up to us to draw a line in the sand.
Day in and day out, I deal with folks who have been harmed, folks who no longer feel at home in their homes. Today, I find myself joining their ranks. My peace has been yanked from me.
There is, however, a difference between me and those people I work with, the folks I’ve come to call friend, neighbor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “What can we do? They’re so big, and we’re so small.” I know what I can do. I can fight within the broken system we’ve been given. I can put my body in front of machines. I can turn to my network of frack-fighters. I can gain inspiration from my heroes on the frontlines — people like Janet, who despite being without water for over three years and in ill health, has single-handedly carried a water bank serving others without water. I can gain inspiration from folks willing to put themselves in harm’s way.
This fight is not mine any more than Cove Point is a fight for Marylanders. I don’t care where you’re from, your home is in danger. Extreme energy threatens us all.
I’m not asking you to come to fight fracking in Pennsylvania. I don’t care where you are, you’ve got a battle to fight where you are. If they aren’t extracting, they’re transporting, or processing, or burning, or disposing of the waste. I want you to fight your fight because you will then be supporting me in my fight. Your victories will be my victories. We’ve got to fight the extreme energy industry at every step of its death cycle. We’ve got to be prepared to meet them wherever they are. My thoughts turn to our friends on the Great March for Climate Action. I’ve followed their progress and know that they, more than I, are seeing just how our struggles are one. At the foot of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain, filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”) said that mountaintop removal and fracking were just two heads of the same monster. I’ve come to realize that the monster has many heads.
And now I find, jarringly, that what I always knew but never really acknowledged has come to pass: My home is in danger. I’ve been there to support others, but now I feel very vulnerable, unsafe, fearful. It’s not a pleasant place to be and it’s uncomfortable to admit that I’m not ready for it. In my dealings with others, I’ve always assumed that I’d be ready, and now I find that working with others has not prepared me for what I’m facing.
My involvement in this movement has made me a better person (though I’m betting that seismic crew didn’t think so). I am inspired by all my friends in this fight. Send me your energy, fight your fight.
June 18, 2014
[This post is for day three of the Stop Fracked Gas Exports Blogathon and social media week. Read other posts here. Follow twitter posts #StopGasExports. The blog blitz will make clear why we need to show up for the mega rally Sunday, July 13, at FERC’s DC headquarters. Speakers include Mike Tidwell, Sandra Steingraber and Tim DeChristopher. So, be there.]
In December, I spoke briefly on the phone with a Dominion spokesman. Near the end of our conversation, I mentioned concerns about fracking. “Oh, we won’t be doing any fracking at Cove Point,” he rushed to assure me.
We know that no fracking will take place at Dominion’s Cove Point facility.
That remark, however, shows Dominion’s duplicity throughout this approval process. Its stance has been that the shale-gas liquefaction and export facility proposed for Cove Point has nothing to do with fracking. And yet, this project has everything to do with fracking. That is the only source of the gas. To approve the project is to require the fracking.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed us in its review of Dominion’s plans. FERC accepted Dominion’s mantra that this facility has nothing to do with fracking, in Maryland or elsewhere. Or at least nothing measurable. Because Dominion couldn’t be sure where and how many wells would be drilled, FERC concluded that all this fretting about fracking was mere conjecture. “[D]etails, including the timing, location, and number of additional production wells that may or may not be drilled, are speculative,” FERC said on page 25 of its review. “As such, impacts associated with the production of natural gas … are not reasonably foreseeable or quantifiable.”
And with that shrug of its regulatory shoulders, FERC dismissed all harm from this project of fracking, pipelines and compressor stations next to our homes and schools, parks and rivers. Even as the List of the Harmed steadily grows. Even as research mounts about the threats to our health, especially for pregnant mothers and children. Even as illness and water contamination from methane, radon and hormone-disrupting chemicals comes to light despite industry’s efforts to hide behind nondisclosure agreements. Even as health professionals repeatedly call for a fracking moratorium.
In addition, FERC’s review says that methane, which leaks at every stage of gas exploitation and transmission, is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. That ratio is over 100 years, an arbitrary and useless time frame. We don’t have 100 years. Over 20 years, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, methane is at least 84 times more powerful than CO2. FERC needs to redo the math.
If FERC had conducted its highest level of review and bothered to calculate the damage to our health, economy, environment and climate from fracking millions of metric tons of gas a year to ship to Asia, the agency could not have approved this project.
Once upon a time, FERC’s approval of every energy project imaginable raised few questions. That template no longer works. Because of the twin threats from our poisoned planet and climate change, we can no longer afford to have FERC be the handmaiden to the fossil fuel industry. On Sunday, July 13, we’ll tell President Obama and FERC to get this right.
June 2, 2014
Outside was the mock vapor-cloud wall.
Listed on the mock wall were the air pollutants and carcinogens that Dominion’s proposed plant would routinely or accidentally send from its compound into the lungs of playing children and their parents. Forming part of the mock wall were boxes with labels, each written on by opponents of Dominion’s plans: Wall of Shame, Wall of Poisons, Wall of Cancer, Wall of Decreased Property Values, Wall of Corruption.
Inside the Patuxent High School auditorium in Lusby was the seemingly impenetrable wall of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also possibly mock, as two FERC staff members and a court reporter — instead of the commissioners — sat at a table on the stage Saturday for this single public hearing on the environmental review of Dominion’s planned facility that would liquefy and export fracked gas. FERC concluded in May that the facility would pose no significant risks.
Outside, Dominion erected a tent and catered pulled-pork sandwiches and side dishes for its mostly blue-shirted supporters.
Between the Dominion tent and Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s mock vapor wall, Chesapeake Earth First! and Food Not Bombs set up a card table and handed out brown bag lunches with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple and a banana to the mostly red-shirted opponents waiting in line to enter the school.
Initially, opponents of the project and the real vapor wall had wanted to set up the replica in another spot opposite Dominion’s tent. But an officer had rejected the idea.
“This is their event. This is their expansion,” the officer told Lusby resident Tracey Eno. By “their,” he meant Dominion’s.
“Whose event?” Eno said, incredulous. “This is everyone’s event.”
Back inside, the FERC staff seemed earnest enough and extended the hearing an extra 90 minutes, until 7:30 p.m., giving everyone who had signed up a chance to speak. Anyone who could wait that long, anyway. Drew Cobbs’ name was called out in the late afternoon, but the executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council was long gone.
One of the FERC staff, Environmental Project Manager Joanne Wachholder, became tearful while praising the patience of 13-year-old Katie Murphy, who spoke late in the day.
“Please stop this expansion. You might just save some lives,” Katie said.
“I’m so glad you got to talk,” Wachholder said, rising and walking to the edge of the stage to offer a box of doughnuts to the girl.
Mostly, the staff listened intently, took notes and kept track of time, cutting off the very few who went beyond the allotted three minutes.
Those in favor called Dominion a “great corporate citizen” and the project a source of jobs and tax revenues and perhaps a pool for the high school. “This is about jobs, about good family-sustaining jobs,” said Mark Coles of the Building and Trades Council. Tax revenues would pay for teachers and public safety, said Brad Karbowsky, a Huntingtown resident and member of United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. Kelvin Simmons of the Lusby Business Association said he had confidence that Dominion would protect the Chesapeake Bay. “All construction jobs are temporary,” said Austin Pacheo, whether 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months. These jobs, he said, would last three years.
Where proponents see jobs, those opposed see poisoned air, the threat of a catastrophic fire, and increased fracking with accompanying pipelines and compressor stations. They pressed FERC to conduct its most thorough environmental review and said the risks to safety, health and the climate of this venture far outweighed jobs, tax revenue and corporate benevolence. Most were from Lusby and Southern Maryland, but some had traveled from Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties, Baltimore and Virginia.
“Come to my house, sit on my front porch swing and look across the street and imagine the future of my home,” said Rachel Heinhorst, whose front door is a hundred yards from Dominion’s front door. Her three children play football, soccer, Frisbee and catch fireflies less than 200 yards from where the boilers and turbines would be.
Coming from the plant, she said, would be nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, hazardous air pollutants. “My children will be breathing dangerous levels of these pollutants every day. They will know what is across the street, because we will have to explain emergency preparedness, and they will be scared. My daughter will be scared. She will look at me and want me to assure something that I cannot. I cannot say that I can protect my children from this, but you can.”
“Dominion and the Calvert County commissioners focus on two things: jobs and tax revenue,” Tracey Eno said. “That’s all they’ve got. They never talk about the risks.” Such as, Eno said, “Risk of death by asphyxiation in the event of a flammable vapor cloud; 20.4 tons of air pollution emitted every year; 275,000 gallons of water used every day; constant noise for the next 20 years or more; up to 85 more tankers polluting the [Chesapeake] Bay each year; foreign ballast water bringing invasive species to the Chesapeake; more traffic; increased greenhouse gases; terrorist target. Does Homeland Security know about this?”
Don’t sacrifice people for profits, Eno said. “Everyone says ‘money talks’ and ‘this is a done deal.’ It’s ‘David and Goliath.’ … I want you to at least know who your decision will affect and how unfair this is.”
“Who would put 20 tons of toxic and hazardous pollutants on a neighbor’s lawn?” asked Bill Peil of Dunkirk. Hearing no takers, he continued: “That’s what’s going to happen every year” if Dominion’s plans proceed. And that would be in a routine year, never mind an accident. Many of the pollutants are carcinogens, he said. “Unfortunately, the word carcinogen is not mentioned” in FERC’s environmental review.
“This is not about jobs,” said Marcia Greenberg of St. Mary’s City. Although everyone is concerned about jobs, she said, “Dominion has turned this into a discussion about jobs.” She voiced her outrage that the commissioners weren’t present. They have “a huge responsibility” to balance the facts in this divided community, she said.
Several speakers noted that the environmental assessment omitted the population of Lusby: 2,473 live within a mile of the plant, according to Calvert County emergency planners. The evacuation plan is not so much a way out as a way in for emergency crews, Eleanor Callahan of Lusby complained: The plan “maroons residents.”
“No jurisdiction can handle a fire” of the sort that could happen at Cove Point, said Mickey Shymansky, a DC firefighter and Lusby resident. In April, he resigned his post as local assistant fire chief because he thought the department was understaffed and ill-trained to handle an accident at the export plant. “I am so brokenhearted,” he said. His brother was a firefighter at the Pentagon when terrorists attacked on 9/11. “We cannot have that here. Please hear my words. When I’m at work protecting the nation’s capital, who’s going to protect my family?”
For six and a half hours, the FERC staff called on speakers according to names on sign-up sheets at the entrance to the school auditorium. By the end, 105 people had spoken, 38 in favor, 67 opposed and urging the more stringent environment impact statement. Dominion said on its Facebook page that 75 to 80 percent were in favor. Which is wrong even if Dominion counts the 50 comment sheets that one proponent turned in.
Wachholder, from FERC, had sharp remarks for only one speaker: Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Council.
The day before, Tidwell told the FERC staff, the state Public Service Commission had ruled that the proposed project would provide no “net benefit” for Marylanders. For causing higher utility bills, the PSC ordered Dominion to pay $400,000 a year for 20 years to help compensate low-income families. For contributing to climate change, Dominion would have to pay another $40 million over five years into a fund for renewable energy. But the PSC approved the permit for the on-site power plant.
“It’s inconceivable that FERC doesn’t see the hazard” of this plan, Tidwell said. “FERC seems to not want to see how hazardous this is….Why wouldn’t FERC want to quantify the risk?” He criticized FERC’s failure to consider the consequences of fracking: “If fracking weren’t happening, what would Dominion export?” He called FERC’s environmental assessment a failure and said the people in Garrett and Frederick and other counties across the state want a similar public hearing.
“NO. We are not doing that,” Wachholder said sternly.
Tracey Eno says she remains an optimist. That David and Goliath battle? We all know how that turned out, she said. “All we need is one stone.”
— elisabeth hoffman
May 15, 2014
As penalty for disturbing the peace and blocking safe passage at the courthouse in Frederick on an icy day in March, Steve Bruns, Joanna LaFollette, Sweet Dee Frostbutter and I — aka the Frederick 4 – must perform 24 hours of community service at a nonprofit of our choice and be on our best behavior for a year. (That would be the state’s definition of best behavior.)
Our action was one of several protests opposing Virginia-based Dominion Resources’ expansion plans in Maryland, including a compressor station in Myersville and a fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility at Cove Point in Lusby.
We know who is really disturbing the peace and hindering safe passage through our communities. Not the Frederick 4 or the Cumberland 4 or the Calvert 6.
Just hours after our sentencing, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its 242-page environmental review for Cove Point. Despite pages of discussion about deflagration (when a vapor cloud “encounters” an ignition source) and fireballs, of fragments flying through the sky “at high velocities” and shock waves, of radiant heat and unconfined ethane and propane clouds, FERC has concluded that all this will be taken care of. Not to worry.
In addition, FERC apparently agrees with Dominion that fracking has nothing to do with this project. Because Dominion can’t be sure where and how many wells will be drilled, all this fretting about fracking is mere conjecture: “In addition, specific details, including the timing, location, and number of additional production wells that may or may not be drilled, are speculative. As such, impacts associated with the production of natural gas that may be sourced from various locations and methods for export by the Project are not reasonably foreseeable or quantifiable.”
FERC also says methane’s global warming potential is 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Wrong. That compares the two greenhouse gases over 100 years, an arbitrary time frame, particularly given our climate emergency. Methane’s toll is 84 times worse over 20 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But FERC is not considering this project’s full climate harm from fracking, piping, compressing, spilling, exploding and shipping anyway. (The latest fracked gas pipeline would run through Maryland, just east of Cumberland. The lastest spillage has oil flowing through the streets of Los Angeles.)
Also deemed speculative was the “No Action Alternative,” because FERC has to consider that only if it does the most thorough type of review. FERC has decided this lesser review is sufficient for the Cove Point project.
We get one public hearing to object to this report: Saturday, May 31, 1 – 6 p.m., Patuxent High School, 12485 Southern Connector Boulevard, Lusby.
Last week, the Obama administration released the latest National Climate Assessment, which shows that climate change is happening here and now, not just in far off lands and in the future. Although that has begun as well. More deluges, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and rising seas are upon us. Scientists also released a report showing that the West Antarctic ice sheet has begun an inexorable retreat. The cause of all this chaos: our insistence on exhuming and igniting fossil fuels to power our economy. Which was fine (for some) — until we realized it wasn’t.
The Frederick 4’s action was “part of our continuing protest against the accelerating destruction of our environment by the natural gas industry,” said Steve Bruns, one of my co-conspirators. “We protest the silence of our government officials at every level. It’s time that all of them, from the local, state and national levels, spoke out and put a stop to the pollution of our air and water, the ubiquitous fire and explosion hazards, the sinkholes, and the earthquakes, which have all resulted from gas fracturing and transport. … We ask that all parties join us in the fight for clean air, clean water, and safe, renewable energy in Maryland.”
Although FERC repeats this fallacy in its report, fracking is not a bridge fuel. Once the frack pads and wells, pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities are in place, fracked gas will be an endless highway to an environmental, health and climate disaster. The path of extreme energy extraction is part of the business-as-usual strategy. It’s utterly inadequate.
Before our sentencing, we asked about serving our time with, say, Sierra Club, Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, HoCo Climate Change or Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). Our CCAN-provided lawyer, John Doud, said not to push it. So be it. Better, perhaps, to work with an unrelated group. We can learn of their struggle. And tell them of ours. I’m thinking recruitment.
May 6, 2014
[This blog post first appeared on CCAN’s web site.]
While they’re in town this week, Dominion officials and shareholders should stop by Cleveland’s Grdina Park.
That playground marks where three shiny spheres and a giant cylinder once held millions of gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG). They were a technological wonder in 1944, because 600 times more natural gas could be stored when liquefied at minus 260 degrees F.
But on Oct. 20, 1944, a spark ignited gas vapor seeping from one of the tanks, unleashing a fiery explosion. Homes along 61st and 62nd streets burst into flames, trapping residents. The gas flowed into the sewer system, launching manhole covers, bursting pavement, rushing into basements. Numerous blasts and waves of blistering heat shattered windows miles away. Telephone poles smoked and bent, grass caught fire, walls turned red, people’s shoes felt as if they were melting.
The East Ohio Gas Co. disaster left 131 people dead and hundreds injured. It destroyed a square mile of Cleveland’s east side, including 79 homes, two factories, 217 cars, seven trailers and a tractor. Nearly half the victims, including 21 never identified, are buried at Highland Park Cemetery on Chagrin Boulevard, where a monument honors the dead. If children had not been in school, the toll would have been much higher. After the disaster, public utilities started storing natural gas underground, in depleted wells, rather than as potential bombs in aboveground tanks.
This week, on May 7, less than four miles from Grdina Park, Dominion shareholders will consider dazzling CEO compensation packages and lucrative projects, including the proposed Cove Point LNG export plant in the Chesapeake Bay community of Lusby, Maryland. This $3.8 billion facility would liquefy fracked gas, pump it onto tankers and ship it to Asia.
But fears about explosions, thermal blasts, and limited escape routes dominate the debate. This facility, if approved, would once again place LNG tanks and much more next to too many people.
Opponents have raised numerous objections. The facility would ensure more fracking, compressor stations and pipelines. Exports would also raise prices for American consumers and manufacturers. A U.S. Department of Energy report shows that exporting gas harms every sector of the economy save one: the gas industry. And all that fracking, piping, compressing, chilling, shipping and re-gasifying is a climate nightmare.
But the most poignant alarms are from Lusby residents who live nearby. So near, in fact, that 360 homes are within a 4,500-foot radius. A vapor cloud, according to a state report on an earlier expansion, could drift nearly that far and still ignite — with a spark from a car, a lighter, a grill — enveloping all in a flash fire. Which sounds too much like Cleveland 1944. The nearest homes are 850 feet away. Confusion is widespread about a 60-foot-tall, three-quarter-mile-long wall around the site. Dominion calls it a sound barrier; documents suggest it would also serve as a vapor barrier; and company officials recently told residents that flames from an explosion could travel up the wall and, thereby, over the houses.
The unusual design, confined to the footprint of the existing and dormant import facility, means Dominion has to cram into tight quarters a utility-scale power plant, compressors and liquefaction equipment, and storage tanks for gases and toxic chemicals. Even minor accidents could escalate into a catastrophe. And 1,000-foot tankers would frequently lumber out of port with their explosive load.
Dominion insists accidents won’t happen. But residents have read with growing anxiety about the deadly 2004 explosion at an LNG export facility in Algeria, and more recent blasts at gas-processing plants in Washington, Wyoming and at Dominion’s Blue Racer in West Virginia.
In April, the local assistant fire chief resigned over concerns that his all-volunteer department lacks the staff, training and equipment to handle a disaster at the plant.
Despite all the hazards and questions, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is sticking to its lighter-weight environmental review and plans only one public hearing. The Obama administration even wants fast-track approvals for gas export facilities as another hammer in the geopolitical toolbox to use against Russia. Dominion will tell shareholders that Cove Point fits well with this nationwide rush to export gas.
Ideally, we would weigh the long-term effects of fracking and exporting on gas prices, our health, foreign policy, the climate. At the least, though, the explosion in Cleveland nearly 70 years ago teaches that LNG facilities have no place near homes and schools, playgrounds and parks, beaches and fishing docks. If they belong anywhere, and that is not a given, they belong in remote areas, not next to neighborhoods.
March 12, 2014
The police citation says I was charged with willfully obstructing and hindering free passage of others in a public place “against the peace, government, and dignity of the state.”
Along with three other activists, I blocked the doors to the Frederick County Courthouse last week as part of a peaceful protest against Dominion’s planned compressor station in Myersville, as well as its proposal to build a $3.8 billion giant facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and haul it off to Asia. We were the Frederick Four.
Dominion’s planned actions are far less peaceful and dignified than ours.
In Myersville, one division of Dominion wants to build an oversized, air-polluting compressor station for fracked gas against the wishes of the town’s residents and officials. In Cove Point in Calvert County, the scheme of another Dominion division involves a gas-fired power plant that would yield no power for Marylanders; storage tanks of toxic and combustible chemicals; a long list of air pollutants; and a six-story-tall-by-three-quarters-of-mile-long wall. The super-cooled gas in its liquid form would get to Asia on tanker ships fueled by the dirtiest of oils, bunker fuel, which coats and suffocates wildlife when it spills. This plan too has aroused resident fury, although Lusby officials seem happy to support and deal in secret with Dominion.
And the gas for both these facilities would come from fracking all over the Marcellus and other shales that lie under our homes, schools, businesses, farms, playgrounds, parks and rivers. Even though scientists and physicians are raising grave questions about the wisdom of allowing this industry to operate in our backyards, particularly because of the millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals, the noise and countless diesel truck trips. And even though fracked gas is a bridge to a catastrophic 6 degrees F of warming on our planet.
But Dominion’s CEOs won’t be pondering their willful obstruction of our safe passage in our communities in a 7-by-11-foot dull yellow, concrete block cell anytime soon.
Our civil disobedience action was the second in as many weeks. Previously, four activists were arrested in Cumberland. We are making clear that — as much as Dominion denies it — Cove Point has everything to do with fracking and the connecting web of pipelines and compressor stations that would run through our communities. We are saying that rushing ahead with these plans without a thorough environmental review of health, environmental and climate effects puts us all at risk.
“We stand together,” Ann Marie Nau told a WFMD radio reporter at the rally. “We stand with Western Maryland. We stand with Lusby. We stand with Myersville. We stand with all the other communities that are impacted. Myersville matters, Lusby matters. Western Maryland matters. And we stand up for one another.”
At the rally before the arrests, we read our statements. Steve Bruns, who’s running for an at-large Frederick County commissioner seat, blasted the gas industry’s PR campaign to promote fracked gas as clean and safe, as well as Dominion’s lawsuit against Myersville and the Maryland Department of the Environment to force approval of the compressor station within a mile of the town’s elementary school and evacuation center. “This sort of contempt for the health and safety of the people of Maryland is unacceptable in a democratic society. If our government isn’t getting the message, then we’re just going to have to crank up the volume,” he said.
Sweet Dee Frostbutter, who grew up playing in the forests and fields of Calvert County and lives in Frederick, said: “This place and these people mean too much to me to stand by and just watch that happen. We have to resist, and I hope you’ll join us!” In June 2011, Sweet Dee was a cook on the weeklong, 50-mile March on Blair Mountain to stop another form of extreme energy extraction: the blasting away of that mountaintop to excavate the coal. The same mountain where, in the summer of 1921, 10,000 armed coal miners battled for the right to form a union against strikebreakers and lawmen hired by mine operators.
“Maryland could virtually turn into one large industrial zone and be sacrificed for energy being shipped overseas,” said Joanna LaFollette of Frederick. Joanna, who has asthma in a county that has a mortality rate from air pollution among the highest in the nation, was there in place of her son Dylan Petrohilos, whose arrest for civil disobedience at a frack-sand processing plant in Boone, N.C., was still being processed.
At a small rally in a plaza in front of the courthouse, we held signs and a banner, “Stop Cove Point.” We chanted, “Myersville is not for sale,” “Lusby is not for sale,” “Garrett County is not for sale” and “Allegany County is not for sale.” Sweet Dee made up the best chant, a syncopated “We gotta beat back, the frack attack, we gotta beat beat back, that frack attack.”
After about 30 minutes, one of the officers said we had to leave the plaza because we lacked a permit for a rally. Instead, the four of us risking arrest moved closer to the courthouse to block the doors. We chanted more and tried singing a verse of “This Land Is Your Land.” Eventually, Sweet Dee and Joanna were given one more warning and then arrested. A few minutes later, police gave Steve and me our final warning. And then officers, who greatly outnumbered us, moved in and escorted us about 20 feet to the Frederick City police office, where we were quickly searched for weapons.
Sweet Dee and Joanna were booked first and never saw the inside of a jail cell. But Steve and I were put in adjacent concrete-block cells with sliding solid metal doors. Solitary confinement. The only opening on the door was a 4-by-6-inch window.
The cell had a metal bench with rings along the back wall, but I wasn’t handcuffed — or handcuffed to these rings. It also had a stainless steel toilet/sink combo on one side behind a partition. I was thirsty from all the yelling, but when I pushed the first of the three buttons on the sink, the toilet flushed. The only reading materials were the scratched messages on the bench from those who had gone before me under much more miserable circumstances. “Fox + Mel 4 Ever” was on someone’s mind. But so was “LSD” and “ebay.” And “This sux!”
My jail memoir will be short, as I was probably in the slammer about 35 minutes. Eventually, officers unlocked our cell doors and took us to an office for a mug shot and booking. They asked about our action. One officer had read a lot about global warming but said he hadn’t made up his mind about it yet. Another thought nuclear power was the answer.
And then we were free to leave.
My arrest was a small action. I was trying to help make the future come out differently from the way it’s headed, one small shove to help steer us from fossil fuels and their giant corporate pushers. The Frederick Four and the Cumberland Four are not alone. In August, more than 2,000 people participated in a days-long campaign against fracking in Balcombe in the United Kingdom, including 20 who blockaded the headquarters of energy company Cuadrilla and six who superglued themselves to the doors at the London headquarters of Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. Last June, in Zurawlow, a rural community in Poland, 150 farmers slept in fields and blockaded a drilling site with cars and trucks. In the fall, farmers in Pungest, Romania, cut cables laid for seismic testing, scooped them up and dragged them through the street to protest Chevron’s plans for fracking on their land. They also formed a human chain around the land where Chevron wanted to place test drills. “We have to do these kinds of things. It’s our duty,” one farmer said.
“We are Romania. We don’t want to sell our country,” they shouted, echoing our chants in Frederick. Or, here’s a new one: “Out you flea-ridden dirty dogs.”
They don’t want fracking for “schist.” Even though Chevron offered the Romanian farmers T-shirts and yogurt — a ploy wackily similar to the cheese pizza Chevron offered residents in Greene County, Pa., after a well pad explosion and fire that burned for days and killed one worker. Note to Chevron: Communities want clean water and a safe place to live, not free dairy products and clothing.
Also note: Schist and fracking. In any language, it sounds like a curse.
Sometimes, civil disobedience is our only currency. We don’t have millions to spend on disingenuous television, radio and Web ad campaigns about “clean” energy that really isn’t and “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” that are inflated and too often in the rescue, emergency and mopping-up industries. Sometimes all we can do is get in the way, slow the machinery, free our voices, give the science time to catch up and emerge.
Just yesterday, at least 30 people were arrested in Philadelphia to protest the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil. As were 398 students who either chained themselves to the White House gate or engaged in a mock human oil spill on a black tarp in an XL Dissent a week ago. In 2012, several protesters chained themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at Maggie Henry’s western Pennsylvania farm 4,000 feet from a proposed Shell fracking operation. In Youngstown, Ohio, a nonviolent protest blocked the gate to an injection well for fracking waste. Last year, Sandra Steingraber and 11 other citizen-turned-activists spent 10 days in jail for blocking the entrance to a planned gas storage facility in salt caverns under Seneca Lake in New York. “My small, nonviolent act of trespass,” Steingraber said at her sentencing, “is set against a larger, more violent one: the trespass of hazardous chemicals into water and air and thereby into our bodies. This is a form of toxic trespass.”
At a Seneca in the Balance forum last night, Steingraber said that we each have to figure out our role in this movement and that “we can spend our bodies if we need to.” But, be clear, “we are way beyond the ‘every little bit helps’ stage. … When you think about what it is you are going to do next, know that it has be really big and something really heroic.”
Civil disobedience has been key to many justice movements, from Alice Paul and Martin Luther King Jr. to the many anonymous protesters who sat in at factories, lunch counters, nuclear facilities and treetops. As folksinger Anne Feeney would say, I’ve now “been to jail for justice” with the Frederick Four. The battle against fracking and Cove Point is now part of the justice movement to save life on the planet from catastrophic warming and, along the way, create energy forms that don’t bring sickness and misery to others. And the window for acting is small, not unlike the one in my jail cell door.
–by elisabeth hoffman