Coming to an Embattled Community Near You: Gas Companies With Chainsaws?

Workers clearing the way for the proposed Constitution Pipeline spray-paint American flags to mark which trees will be felled on the Holleran maple farm in Pennsylvania.
On the Holleran maple farm in Pennsylvania, workers clear the way for the proposed Constitution Pipeline. Some felled trees have been spray-painted with the American flag.

By Josh Fox

There’s a battle raging for America’s energy future. The fracking industry is flexing its political muscle in a bid to become profitable again, pushing new, unneeded fracked gas-fired power plants like the huge CPV power plant proposed for Middletown, New York, two massive gas fired power plants for Denton, Texas, and about 300 others nationwide.

It’s also pushing for thousands of miles of new proposed fracked-gas pipelines to service them, like the NED pipeline through New England, the Millennium Pipeline expansion in Pennsylvania, the Tennessee pipeline in West Virginia, and related infrastructure including the gas storage facility at Seneca Lake, New York.

The push is happening because the fracking boom, much like the wildcatting days of old, was unplanned and reckless. It over-produced, then went bust. Gas supply exceeded demand, so prices and production tanked. That made gas companies desperate to get their supply glut shipped to new markets. Hence the need for new pipelines to transport it, new compressor stations to push it along, and LNG terminals to export it, which would mean new demand, and new fracking boom.

So, new pipeline proposals are everywhere, and fracking and pipeline companies are using the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and eminent domain to strong-arm residents and condemn private property in their way. If you’ve seen “There Will Be Blood,” you get the picture.

In Pennsylvania, land taking and pre-emptive, hostile tree-cutting has already happened along the route of the proposed Constitution Pipeline, even though it hasn’t been approved and faces considerable citizen opposition in New York. The 124-mile project has been proposed to transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale through New York state to a compressor station outside of Albany, which connects to other pipelines servicing New York and New England, and if the industry gets its way, to export facilities.

The pipeline companies, Cabot Oil & Gas and Williams, also wanted to fell a whopping 700,000 trees in New York to prepare for construction, but New York residents fought and delayed tree-cutting and construction at least until 2017. That forced the companies to admit they can’t move forward on the pipeline without permits New York state has yet to grant.

The admission comes late for Pennsylvania residents. In recent weeks chainsaw crews needlessly cut down thousands of trees in the pipeline’s path, including stands of sugar maples that were the livelihood of a family farm. Property owners and activists who objected were charged with contempt, hauled into federal court and warned by the judge not to interfere – all for a project that hasn’t been approved in New York and may never get built.

Serious questions about the Constitution Pipeline’s impact on New York’s water quality and other issues are under review at New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC and other state agencies have the power and reserve the right to say “no.”

There’s an obvious moral issue here: New York state banned fracking. New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker stated in 2014 that fracking posed “significant public health risks.” But if fracking is unhealthy for New Yorkers, it’s unhealthy for anybody. Don’t kids on both sides of the Pennsylvania/New York border deserve the same health protections? Why permit a fracked gas superhighway through New York that would engender thousands of new fracking wells in neighboring states?

New York has so far withheld needed permits for the pipeline, but that hasn’t stopped FERC from using eminent domain to take Pennsylvania residents’ land in the pipeline’s path, and authorizing pipeline crews to cut down 100,000 of their trees. It’s as if they’re saying, the fix is in: State permits are just a rubber stamp anyway, so why bother waiting for them to be granted?

Megan Holleran on her farm in Pennsylvania.
Megan Holleran on her farm in New Milford, Pennsylvania.

The Holleran family, owners of a maple syrup farm in New Milford, Pennsylvania, set up a blockade to stop the pipeline crews from destroying their sugar maples. They were joined by scores of activists, and for weeks they kept watch over their trees, occupied their own land and asked tree-cutting crews to leave. On Feb. 19, they had to answer charges of contempt in federal court for it. The judge dismissed the charges, but he granted the police and U.S. marshals permission to arrest anyone trying to stop the workers from cutting down trees. On March 1, crews guarded by heavily-armed marshals took down the Holleran’s trees.

That could become standard procedure across the country. The Hollerans fought for their home, livelihoods and rights, and they lost. But they and those standing with them are also fighting for the planet.

Fracked-gas infrastructure doesn’t just threaten residents and local communities; it threatens the global climate. Methane, the primary component of shale gas, is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas over 20 years than carbon dioxide. The onshore natural gas industry leaks well over 400,000 tons of methane, more than four times the emissions from the recent Porter Ranch disaster, each year. Research by Cornell University’s Robert Howarth shows that production, distribution and burning of shale gas actually produces more greenhouse gases than coal or oil.

The Paris climate agreement set ambitious goals for limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or lower, and fed the perception that natural gas is a ‘bridge fuel’ that would lower emissions while transitioning to low-carbon energy. But natural gas is no bridge; it takes us over a cliff. If the Constitution Pipeline and the rest of the pending fracking infrastructure projects get built, they will lock us into 40 more years of high-GHG fossil fuel use, and shatter any chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

We’ve got alternatives, and communities must deploy them before it’s too late. Places like the Hollerans’ farm are the front lines of that fight. That’s why I’ve made a new film, “How To Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change),” about the power of local communities to reject exploitation by the oil and gas industry, and to pull together to determine their own climate and energy solutions. Here’s the trailer.

We’re taking it on a 100-city Let Go and Love Tour to communities across the U.S. that are fighting fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Tour events screen the film and offer information and practical resources for communities to build clean-energy alternatives, connecting them to engineering, legal and regulatory, and finance expertise they need to make renewables a reality.

Whether you live in the path of the mad dash to build out fracked gas infrastructure – and millions of us do – or you just want a habitable planet to live on, we’re all deeply invested in how this struggle plays out. It’s a race against time: We have to bring embattled communities the resources and know-how they need to build the clean-energy future they want, before the gas companies bring the chainsaws.

Editor’s Note: Josh Fox and others from the activist group Beyond Extreme Energy were arrested on Thursday during the Pancakes Not Pipelines protest in Washington, D.C. The demonstration served pancakes while protesting fossil-fuel projects such as the pipeline that cost the Holleran family their maple sugar farm.

Images courtesy of the author 

Academy-award nominated filmmaker Josh Fox is artistic director of the International WOW Company. His 2010 film GASLAND galvanized the anti-fracking movement, and his new film “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” airs on HBO June 27.


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8 responses

  1. Fracking Fluid has caused poisoned ground water flowing through new man made cracks in all directions. Up to the surface, down and sideways. Coming up in springs, creeks, streams and lakes. Gas coming into families’ homes through the faucets from their now poisoned wells. Farms without clean water for their animals. Families needing to truck in water to bath, drink and use. Flowing hazardous chemicals(fracking fluid) poisoning land throughout how many miles of ground and surface water from the Gas Well Site? Millions of acres of NEW TOXIC WASTE LAND in AMERICA approved by corrupt politicians and bribed EPA workers is being created. Lets see them drink the contaminated, poisoned water caused by injecting hazardous chemicals into the ground. Where are all the Going Green People as these millions of acres are being contaminated forever. It cannot be cleaned up. The earth and the water flowing through it in contact with these hazardous chemicals from 1 foot to 20000 feet down will be poisoned forever. The cost of cleaning earth and minerals in this amount would be more than can be imagined. Many of the birds, fish and animals that consume this water, depending on the amount of hazardous chemicals leaked into the pond or stream they drink from, will die quickly or slowly. Right now Openly in America clean land is being poisoned while the Government Regulators, Politicians and citizens watch. The current administration said, regarding the Gulf of Mexico spill, that non-enforcement of drilling rules was a problem for decades. History seems to be repeating itself in the name of greed. All while clean, long existing alternatives for energy are ignored or prevented from being used. WHY IS DESTROYING AQUIFERS and CLEAN LAND and WATER and AIR OK in AMERICA? Are they horizontally drilling under your family’s home now to take the natural gas and poison your well water/ground water? They can drill from two miles and further away to directly underneath your home to poison your family’s well water if your states’ politicians have voted to allow it…………..PS.-Is the Fracking causing EARTHQUAKES? Pumping billions of barrels of Toxic Fluids UNDER MASSIVE PRESSURE INTO the GROUND. Could it be figured this may be a problem for geology/earthquakes? Also, once the natural gas is sold overseas and almost all the ground water in North Carolina is poisoned, then the residents will be dependent on buying water at any price forever to stay alive. Is selling drinkable water the hidden agenda? If you live for another 30 years, you will see the wasteland NC will become. The toxic soup springing up from under our feet could happen with any step we take. The Aquifers can flow together for hundreds or thousands of miles. It would be too late then. North Carolina is not new to allowing industry to destroy former clean natural resources. The COASTAL FISHING INDUSTRY WAS KILLED after NC permitted 3800 massive open-pit hog waste lagoons contaminating the state’s drinking water, polluting its air and streams and causing open sores and deformed fish and crabs. The runoff from 19 million tons of hog waste produced annually in Eastern North Carolina from the hog factories has polluted Albemarle Sound, the largest freshwater sound in the country, and adjacent Pamlico Sound, the largest enclosed saltwater sound. Would you eat seafood with open sores and deformations? Also causing Red Tide and Pfiesteria. So, they have polluted the large sounds on the coast for decades and now they want to poison the Aquifers in North Carolina and water in nearby states that share the same ground water? This can be stopped. Please call your representatives. The internet can show you how many vast communities have poisoned water from Fracking. It’s documented. Now they have no clean water. So again, what price will they be charging citizens for clean water to stay alive?…….New Milford, Pennsylvania, our thoughts are with you.

  2. Ok then why don’t you turn the gas and electricity off to your house That will for sure fix the problem .When you freeze to death they say its just like going to sleep you just close your eyes and never wake up . I bet you probably drive a BMW or something that only gets mabe 7 maybe 10 mpg . While your at it throw away all your clothes since most are made from petrol. You can throw out your cook stove also be it gas or electric since you wont have either . And don’t tell me about solar and wind power because they only account for about 5 read it 5% of all electricity in the us . So what are you going to do plug a hose up your ass and eat beans or are you going to make some magical fuel pop out of thin air . The same place your brains came from . You morons have all the answers don’t you . Well tell us how are you going to keep 300 million people fed and warm when you shut down the oil business . Oh you haven’t thought about that That’s you peoples problem . That is why no one gives any of you any credibility All you want to do is put people out of work and take all the money from the folks that do work . Take it from someone who works in the oil field and I also farm 1000 acres without the oil business the problem will fix its self when you all freeze and starve to death . Good Riddance

  3. Hopes when you do a little research then you can talk about the oil patch but until then you would be better off to stop the flow of diarrhea from your mouth as it shows your ignorance

  4. This is all a bunch of BS. The EPA says that landfills, enteric fermentation, manure, coal mining, and “other” generates 3x as much methane as all of the oil and gas industry combined. From the EPA website: “Methane (CH4) emissions in the United States decreased by almost 15% between 1990 and 2013. During this time period, emissions increased from sources associated with agricultural activities, while emissions decreased from sources associated with the exploration and production of natural gas and petroleum products.” The link to the EPA with a pie chart – THE QUESTION THAT BEGS ASKING: WHY IS FRACKING BEING SINGLED OUT WHEN THERE ARE OTHER THINGS THAT GENERATE FAR MORE METHANE?

  5. hopes4cleanwater,
    You pretty much said it all and need to submit your comment in a diary to dailykos.

    Ignore the rhetoric from these shills. I can assure you they would be babbling a different song if the Oil and Gas Industry stepped foot on their property!

    I will add to your post the risks property owners face when their lenders make it very clear regarding hazardous activities. Mortgages are called due or are foreclosed.

    Insurance companies refuse to renew policies, or drop clients whose property becomes involved with the Industry, despite the property owner’s unwillingness to participate, being “forced pooled”, (called integration by the Industry.)

    Property accosted by the Oil and Gas Industry plummet making reselling virtually impossible.

    There is little to no job creation involved with Big Oil. They are like gypsies, traveling from State to State bringing their own employees with them.

    Those of you spouting the benefits of the Industry here might yourselves consider doing some homework before chastising others. Climb out of Big Oil’s pocket long enough to check out the C.A.I.A. website and learn a truth or two!

    Then……keep Bernie Sanders in mind come election time. He’s the only candidate against fracking and who truly cares about our earth and it’s people!

    In the meantime, keep up the great work hopes4cleanwater!

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