Two members of 350 New Hampshire, Gwen and Doug Whitbeck, joined members of the Hollis-based New Hampshire Pipeline Awareness Organization (nhpipelineawareness.org) and scores of others from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York who met in Albany, NY, on October 18. Representing nearly three dozen groups fighting pipeline construction and expansion in the Northeast, the activists held a daylong coalition-building strategy session.
In almost every state in the union, people are learning there’s a new fossil fuel pipeline or pipeline expansion planned near them — or already permitted. In the Northeast at least 20 pipelines — so far — traversing thousands of miles, are underway or in the permitting stages. Opposition is building against projects that destroy conservation land and our natural water systems, thus placing the cost and risk on the citizenry while benefiting private monopolies.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees pipeline permitting. Most new pipelines are intended to transport tar sands oil or fracked gas destined for export to foreign markets, where they fetch much higher prices than in the USA. Pipelines, depending on size, geography, and other factors, require a compressor station every 7-100 miles. Regular releases from these compressor stations contain toxic fumes that have devastating effects on human and animal health, and contribute to climate disruption. In addition, many of the companies involved have a less-than-stellar safety record. For example, the National Response Center, the sole federal point of contact for reporting oil and chemical spills in the U.S. and its territorial waters, found Kinder Morgan, the company which wants to build a recently announced pipeline across southern New Hampshire, was responsible for 1,800 violations since it was incorporated in 1997.
Adding to the long list of issues in play, most Northeastern states manage public pension funds that are heavily invested in fossil fuels, thus directly funding these industrial assaults. A populist movement against such corruption of public funds is growing rapidly: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York have fossil-fuel divestment campaigns and have introduced legislation.
“People across the region are coming to realize that even if their state has little or no potential for actual drilling, they are still at risk from the effects of fracking,” said Clare Donohue of Sane Energy Project, a New York City-based group that organized the gathering.
“Communities throughout New York and New England are already impacted by the expansion of pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities and waste dumping. We arranged this meeting to bring people together to share resources and strategies.”
NoFrackedGasInMass.org founder Rosemary Wessel was among the attendees from Massachusetts, which has rapidly mobilized against several pipeline threats; 34 communities along planned routes have passed opposition resolutions. Wessel pointed out that although each group at the meeting has to deal with different state and local laws, there is much they share in common, especially FERC.
“FERC would more accurately be called the Federal Energy Rubberstamp Corporation,” said Maura Stephens of FrackbustersNY. “Its primary mission is to give industry the green light to begin projects, no matter how vehement the local resistance. Allied, we will defy such intrusions to save our communities from mass industrialization.”
Attendees from Minisink, in Orange County, NY, shared stories of their painful personal experience in communities under siege. Minisink residents mounted strong opposition to a compressor station run by Millennium Pipeline, Inc. They filed thousands of pages of comments, provided hundreds of supporting documents, traveled 20 times to Washington, DC, for FERC meetings, filed a lawsuit, and even offered an alternative location for the project farther away from their homes.
Yet FERC allowed the 12,600-horsepower compressor station to go forward despite there being 200 homes within a half-mile radius. Since it opened in June 2013, many residents have been suffering physical and stress-related illnesses and watching their property values plummet. Now they’re facing another assault with a gas-fired power plant planned just a few miles away.
“It’s an odd feeling no longer being safe in your own home because the government that is allegedly protecting us allows this infrastructure to be built,” said Douglas Burd of Minisink.
Doug Whitbeck put it this way: “The time for investing in obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure is over. Instead, we would be wiser to invest in a combination of proven clean energy alternatives and modernizing our electric grid. Here, in our small New Hampshire towns, we realize we’d be powerless to stop such corporate-state collusion unless we band together with others from across the region. Together we stand a chance of stopping these short-sighted invasions of our health, homes, and future.”