Victory Against Fracked-Gas Pipeline Offers Local Organizing Model

By Becky Meier

In 2014, when Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline (SNYFGP) was formed, few thought we could beat energy giant Kinder Morgan’s proposed three-billion-dollar Northeast Energy Direct (NED) natural-gas pipeline.

However, after two years of citizen activism against the project, which would have carried fracked gas from the Marcellus shale fields of Pennsylvania through New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, Kinder Morgan suspended it. The company blamed lack of customers, but the resistance of thousands of local residents undoubtedly played a large part. The day after NED was halted, New York State stopped the similar Constitution Pipeline by denying a required certificate.

Throughout New York State alone, activists and communities are fighting to stop oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure such as the Pilgrim Pipeline, the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, the Dominion New Market Project, the CPV Power Plant, the trains carrying oil called “Bomb Trains,” and the proposal to use the Seneca Lake Salt Caverns to store fracked natural gas. These projects threaten local health, safety, and environmental quality as well as the global climate.

In the Kinder Morgan case, local residents were concerned about the risks of leaks and explosions; use of eminent domain for private profit; building new fossil fuel infrastructure instead of investing in renewable energy; the risks of contamination of local water bodies, including the Hudson River; drinking water contamination; headaches, rashes, and breathing difficulties associated with compressor stations; destruction of the rural character of their communities; lack of need for this project; disregard for local opinion; and the apparent rubber-stamping approval of such projects.

SNYFGP started small, with a few neighbors who organized a local information meeting with a presentation by an active Massachusetts group. We then created our own PowerPoint presentation based on theirs and held informational forums in all the towns on the pipeline route. We met with the town boards in each community and with our U.S. representative and senators. We petitioned door to door, telling neighbors about the pipeline. We joined many listservs to connect with other people and groups fighting to stop pipelines. We held press conferences and rallies locally and in the New York State capital, Albany.

In the beginning, we worried that we didn’t “know enough” about the technical issues or the online platforms we needed to keep people informed. We found someone to create a basic website and learned just enough to keep it going. We figured out how to create a Facebook page, a GoFundMe page, a MailChimp account, an online petition, and a Twitter account. We kept hoping to find “experts” to help us with these, but never did. So we learned as we went, and we discovered that we had much talent and expertise within our community. Fortunately, our fear about not having enough expertise did not keep us from action.

Some 1,500 people joined our email list, and hundreds of people regularly attended our forums. We formed a sister group to fight fossil fuel infrastructure across New York State called United Against Fossil Fuels.

In March, we felt the tide shift in our favor. Five Rensselaer County towns, two in Albany County, and the Rensselaer County Legislature passed resolutions against the pipeline. Rensselaer and Albany counties both passed new restrictions on blasting. Our two U.S. senators and one representative filed statements in opposition to the pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which grants the construction permits for interstate gas projects, and several NY State legislators came out publicly against the pipeline.

In April, Kinder Morgan suspended the project. SNYFGP will not stop working. It will continue to monitor what Kinder Morgan does with the NED as well as fight other New York fossil fuel infrastructure projects and work to create the clean energy systems and new jobs we need in order to leave all fossil fuels in the ground.


Becky Meier, Co-founder of Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline, is a DSA member living in Canaan, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 (early June) issue of the Democratic Left magazine.


 

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