How to stop a pipeline: notify ‘abutters’ that a fracked gas pipeline is about to go through their backyard. Not as dramatic or exciting as camping out at the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota. Wouldn’t make headlines on Democracy Now. But it’s small acts like this—notifying residents, writing letters to town councillors, holding ‘no pipeline’ signs and handing out flyers on a busy street corner—these small, boring, tedious acts are what stops a pipeline before it even gets started. (Photo: the author, volunteering with Food & Water Watch, informing abutters of proposed pipeline in central Massachusetts, taken by a fellow volunteer.)
In October, in reference to the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux, other indigenous tribes and climate activists to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Buddhist Peace Fellowship put out a question to its members, asking: What can we do to support NODAPL? (No Dakota Access Pipeline)
Just a week before I got the email, I had gone to a forum at Worcester State University on another pipeline that had been proposed for central Massachusetts, the West Boylston Lateral. This pipeline, proposed by Spectra Energy, would bring fracked methane gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York up through New England to the Canadian Maritimes.
The West Boylston Lateral is a branch of the Access Northeast Pipeline, a system of pipelines and condenser plants that will transport fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to be shipped out to Europe and the world market. Access Northeast is an expansion of the Algonquin Incremental Market or AIM pipeline that brings methane gas to local markets in New England. The proposed Access Northeast Pipeline is excess capacity. Almost none of the fracked gas from this project will be used for power plants in New England or the Maritimes.
The proposed West Boylston Lateral runs along the eastern edge of Worcester and then east towards Boston. I have been living in Worcester, MA off and on for the last two years. Ironically the other end of this pipeline happens to be at the other place that I live part of the year: Halifax, Nova Scotia. By now, everyone knows about the Dakota Access Pipeline, already near completion, will go through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Never did I imagine that there would be a major pipeline project proposed for, of all places, Worcester Massachusetts.
The West Boylston Lateral is only in the planning stages. Spectra Energy has not even filed its proposal with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission. Spectra doesn’t have the financial fundamentals to build this pipeline at a profit, so the company tried to finance the project by forcing Massachusetts electric customers to pay a pipeline tax. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts declared the tax illegal. Nonetheless, Spectra Energy is pushing ahead with this pipeline because eventually somebody is going to pay for it.
The Access Northeast Pipeline is being built in stages, with pieces of it scattered throughout New England. A gas compressor plant is proposed for Burrilville, RI, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Two small pieces of pipeline are on the map in Eastford, and Andover, CT, to connect pieces that have already been built in Connecticut. Anti-pipeline organizers explained that this piecemeal construction of the pipeline is how fracked gas companies evade public scrutiny. They build the system in disconnected pieces that don’t seem to be a threat, until the last pieces of the puzzle are put into place that connect all the pieces into a system. That’s why we must fight every piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, no matter how remote or innocuous it might appear.
Protesters marched in Cummington on March 17 2016 against the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline proposed for Western Massachusetts.
At the pipeline forum in Worcester, I learned that another fracked gas pipeline had been proposed two years earlier for New England. Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct, a $3 billion fracked gas pipeline project, was supposed to run from Albany, NY over the Berkshire Mountains up through southern New Hampshire to reach the coast on Boston’s North Shore. Residents in small towns all along the pipeline route organized to stop the pipeline project before it even got approved. They alerted abutters to the proposed pipeline, organized town committees, campaigned local media, organized pipeline protests, and got town councils to pass resolutions to stop the pipeline. Because of their persistent action, they stopped the Kinder Morgan pipeline before it ever got approved.
Josh Fox, filmmaker and producer of Gasland, a documentary on the fracked gas industry in the US, said at a recent #NODAPL rally that fracked oil and gas is the new energy regime in North America. Pipelines are going to be built everywhere because that’s the only way to get landlocked fracked oil and gas out to world markets. The Dakota Access Pipeline is only one of thousands of pipeline projects that are planned across Turtle Island (North America). Chances are, soon enough, there will be a fracked oil or gas pipeline project near your town.
TRIBAL LANDS AND WATER PROTECTION
But #NODAPL is about more than just a pipeline. It’s also about the sovereign rights of Native Americans to protect their traditional lands. The Standing Rock Sioux are blocking the completion of this pipeline because it runs through their sacred burial grounds and most of all, threatens their water supply. The current route of the DAPL will cross over the Ogallala Aquifer (one of the largest aquifers in the world) and under the Missouri River twice. (http://sacredstonecamp.org). Leaked fracked oil could seep into the groundwater and wells that the Sioux rely on for drinking water. The Sioux resisters call themselves Water Protectors and say they are blocking the pipeline not only because it violates their rights as a sovereign nation, but threatens the water supply for millions of people who depend on water from the Missouri River.
The Sioux have good reason to believe DAPL is a threat to their water supply. “In 2010, a single pipeline spill poured 1,000,000 gallons of toxic bitumen crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The cleanup cost over one billion dollars and significant contamination remains. And in January of 2015, more than 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. It was the second such spill in that area since 2011.”(http://earthjustice.org/cases/2016/the-dakota-access-pipeline).
Protecting the water supply is the very same reason that I volunteer with 350 MA and Food & Water Watch to knock on doors to warn residents that a fracked gas pipeline is going through their neighbourhood. The proposed West Boylston Lateral runs close to the Wachusett Reservoir, Lake Quinsigamond, the Blackstone River Watershed, and numerous small ponds and reservoirs that supply ground water and support wildlife.
The City of Worcester, and indeed nearly all of the State of Massachusetts, has been under a Stage 3 Water Shortage for six months, due to extreme drought caused by climate change. The last thing we need in Worcester is another fossil fuel pipeline that not only threatens our scarce water supply, but would also worsen the droughts caused by climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. And chances are, not only is there likely to be a pipeline going through your town some time soon, but it’s also going to threaten your water supply.
Not surprisingly, the proposed West Boylston Lateral also goes right through the Hassanamesit Woods conservation area, near the Hassanamisco Reservation in Grafton, MA, south of Worcester. The Hassanamisco are a small band that is part of the Nipmuc Nation, who once owned all the land that comprises the Town of Grafton and beyond. The pipeline would pass through their ancestral lands. The Hassanamisco Nipmuc have never been notified or consulted on the pipeline project as required by federal law.
Food & Water Watch discussed the pipeline at the SAGE Alliance meeting in Worcester. Chief George of the Pocomtuc was at the meeting. He let us know in no uncertain terms that the City of Worcester is also “Indian territory.” Chief George said that eastern cities like Worcester are the ancestral lands of “urban aboriginals” (his term). He said most eastern aboriginals live off-reserve, in cities and towns throughout New England. Most of them don’t have reservation lands, nor are they officially recognized as members of a tribe.
Chief George said that they had recently formed an organization of non-reservation aboriginals that claim treaty rights that are federally recognized. Chief George said that no pipeline could be approved to pass through the City of Worcester unless all aboriginals in the area, those with reservation lands and those without, were first notified and consulted according to federal law. So again, not only is a pipeline coming to your town soon, but even if you’re living in a large eastern city, it’s going through the ancestral lands of Native Americans.
YOUR STANDING ROCK, YOUR PIPELINE
The truth is that every square inch of land on Turtle Island (North America) is sovereign First Nations land. And there are water issues everywhere and water sources that need your protection. And soon enough, there will be a fracked gas or oil pipeline going through your town.
Your Standing Rock may not attract the attention of the police or the press. Your Standing Rock may not get a million hits on Facebook or Twitter. Hollywood celebrities may not show up at your Standing Rock. There may never be a full-length documentary about your works to stop the pipeline. Thousands of people might not camp out on the land where the pipeline is supposed to be built. Because hopefully, if you take action to stop the pipeline before it ever gets approved, you will never see a bulldozer tear through woods behind your house.
So what can we do to support NODAPL? We don’t all have to go to the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, and many of us cannot, although that would be a noble act. We can work with our Native American allies, our neighbours and climate activists to protect the water supply in our own cities and towns. We can stand up for Native American treaty rights wherever we live and demand that no fossil fuel infrastructure is built that violates their sovereign rights to their land. We can hold a ‘no pipeline’ sign at a busy intersection, speak to our neighbours, get them to sign petitions or attend a town council meting and voice opposition to fossil fuel projects. We can engage in a hundred small acts of resistance to the fossil fuel industry. Because it’s these hundreds and thousands of small, quiet acts that can stop a pipeline before it ever gets off the ground.