Pipeline Whack-a-Mole

Didn’t I write this column already?

The one where I say, hey, it’s so awesome that New York state banned fracking, but companies are still trying to criss-cross our state with new pipelines that allow gas fracked in other places to get to market—whether that market is New England, or abroad via tankers.

The one where I explain how these companies who care for nothing but a quick buck and destroying the climate in the process are using eminent domain and federal regulations to force us to allow them to transport stuff across our state that (a) does not benefit us and (b) needs to stay in the ground for the future of humanity.

Oh right, I did. In January, about the Constitution Pipeline, which would run from Susquehanna County, Penn., to Schoharie County. And this time it’s about the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which will run from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, Mass. Same company. Same problems. Whole new set of hearings to attend and letters to write.

Just like the bomb trains, these pipelines are a disaster waiting to happen. The area around them is called the “incineration zone.” A Harvard engineering study found each year about 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas leaks out of the delivery system in the Boston region. So let’s that put that under the Hudson River? Brilliant idea. Poor Pete Seeger must be spinning in his grave. (Or, knowing Pete, he’s writing a searing protest song instead; hopefully he’ll whisper it someone’s ear.) Organic farms, priceless natural treasure, drinking water supplies—all in danger.

And just like the bomb trains, they are a symbol of how determined the dirty energy companies are. The climate justice movement may have celebrated a victory over the Keystone XL pipeline, but much of what would have flowed through it has been directed instead onto unsafe rail. New York banned fracking here, but is still in danger from fracked gas. Pipelines are springing up everywhere.

The pipelines/rail cars/port facilities are exhausting to fight. I can’t help but feel like the fossil fuel industry learned its lesson with KXL and doesn’t want to make projects big enough to bring down the wrath of a national movement again. Instead, they are trying to play the death by a thousand cuts game.

The good news, if it can be construed as such, is that it now seems there are so many places these forms of transport are affecting that nearly everyone’s “Hey, don’t do that to that to myland/town/neighborhood/farm” reactions are going to be tripped sooner or later.

Maybe if that reaction can combine with the energy that was present in the anti-fracking movement, now that it’s gotten a breather, there can be a coordinated effort to fight back against all these pipelines and bomb trains—all the infrastructure that allows continued and expanded reliance on dirty fossil fuels. It feels like we need a broader fight. Not to give up on the local ones—the town resolutions banning fracking were part of the larger fight to get a statewide ban. It seems like something like that is needed—growing from a base of people who have cut their teeth on fighting the pipeline across the street, a bigger game plan, an ambitious, coordinated fight against the very idea of dirty fuel infrastructure (and for the job-creating conservation and alternative fuel measures to replace it!!).

This is why the recent July 7 coordinated New York and Vermont “Keep It in the Ground” actions were so inspiring. With slogans like “not by pipeline, truck or rail,” direct acion groups in New York and Vermont disrupted a pipeline construction site, a truck carrying natural gas, and a railroad track in Ticonderoga, focusing on a united goal of protecting the Champlain Valley.

A coordinated movement like this could move from playing whack-a-mole with companies with extremely deep pockets and no conscience to unplugging the game. That sounds like the only route to long-term victory. But until we get there, more power to those whacking those moles: whack ’em good.

(See stopthepipeline.org and stopnypipeline.org for up-to-date information on the two pipelines, and People of Albany United for Safe Energy for work on the oil trains and connection to broader “keep it in the ground” work.)

(This column was originally published in Metroland, the Capital Region of New York’s former alt-weekly, on July 30, 2015.)

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