Anti-Pipeline Groups Use Children for Political Agenda

Senator Dinniman and Rafferty are convening a press conference tomorrow highlighting the dangers of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to Governor Wolf — this is nothing more than a political maneuver – and a poor one at that.

According to the press release sent out by Senator Dinniman’s office, the press conference will introduce a “bipartisan package of legislation aimed to improve safety along pipeline groups.” The senators will be joined by several pipeline activists who oppose these projects on a wholesale basis.

Not only is this an old trick for these groups and legislators – but the groups have detailed that they will be using children who will be missing school to attend this stunt. The Facebook group announcing the event lists as hosts the anti-pipeline groups Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, Protect Penn-Delco, Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, Goshen United for Public Safety, Uwchlan Safety Coalition, and Upper Uwchlan Residents for Safety, and was organized by professional protestor, Sam Rubin from Food and Water Watch.

If legislators and community activists support safety, the fact is that pipelines are the safest way to transport energy resources. Pipelines are safer than transport on roads by truck and safer than through our communities by rail. Pipelines are also much safer for the environment, emitting less pollution than their alternatives, truck and rail. But pipeline opponents don’t acknowledge these facts.

Tomorrow’s event will only highlight further what we already know – the people involved here are against pipeline infrastructure projects despite the positive benefits these projects provide Pennsylvania.

Construction Is Messy – Stopping & Starting Does More Harm Than Good

When you pass by a construction site, you expect a messy scene. However, when you pass a pipeline construction site, the knee-jerk response always appears to be to forget the basic logic that construction methods are employed to ensure safety to workers and the environment.

One particular issue here is the recurrent stopping-and-starting of drilling equipment during Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) for underground pipeline installation. The recent Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) settlement, signed by environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), and Sunoco Pipeline, went above and beyond what is required to mitigate environmental impact and safeguard surrounding communities. However, the agreement has proven to be more detrimental to the environment because of some of the enhanced requirements on construction teams. Specifically, stopping and starting drills as required in every instance of inadvertent returns, only causes increased instances of these inadvertent returns and only increase the negative environmental impact.

Inadvertent returns are an expected occurrence during the horizontal drilling process – and there are extensive contingency plans accordingly prepared. However, every time you stop and start a drill underground it then increases the environmental risks for further inadvertent returns. As an environmentalist and as a civic-minded person, this should set off serious alarms when environmental activists are advocating this as best practice.

Groups like the Clean Air Council and Delaware Riverkeeper Network fall into this category with a plethora of partners who seek to shut down pipeline development by any means necessary; however policies they have endorsed are in fact more environmentally harmful.

Construction is messy and inadvertent returns are to be expected. Plans are in place to take care of their occurrence in a contained and safe manner. Groups that employ fear mongering tactics to prolong the construction process do so in ways that negatively impact the very things they proclaim to protect. Such groups should work with pipeline developers and regulators like the DEP to safely develop these types of clean energy transportation vehicles as opposed to advocate policies, detrimental to the environment.

HDD’s Are Better For The Environment

Pipeline development has mitigated its impact on the environment through new methods and technologies. It is no longer required for construction crews to dig huge trenches into the ground, disrupting existing infrastructure like roadways or through rivers and lakes, to lay down pipe. With Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD), crews are able to more safely install pipelines underground, avoiding the need for open cut digging entirely.

HDD isn’t exclusive to pipelines either. It’s an environmentally conscious method that is used for an array of infrastructure projects. Water and sewage lines that supply homes and businesses are installed with this method. Telecommunication cables and fiber optic lines that bring us cable and the internet are put in the ground by HDD. Emergency call boxes, traffic routing systems, electric conduits – so many important aspects of everyday life are safely upgraded and implemented with Horizontal Directional Drilling.

This method of drilling is widely used for infrastructure projects that require the safe navigation of sensitive areas. And in almost every instance it is broadly accepted as the most effective, safe, and efficient means to install infrastructure with little to no negative impact on the environment. Yet when used for natural gas pipelines, HDD’s quickly become the unjust target of environmental activists, even though this method is used to protect the environment.

Today’s pipelines are constructed with safety as the forefront of every decision. This includes methods of drilling, and it’s easy to understand that drilling beneath the ground is safer, and better, than cutting it open. So when environmentalists attack the technique of HDD’s on the grounds of protecting the environment, they are actually advocating for more negative harm to the environment through open-cut, trench installation. Environmentalists attack HDD’s not based on expertise, but purely out of malice for pipeline projects in general. And do so hiding behind a veil of environmental concern.

While production of natural gas skyrockets, a clean-burning energy source that many of these same environmentalists favored not long ago, we must have the ability to transport it from places like Pennsylvania and Ohio to markets across the country. Horizontal Directional Drilling is simply the best way to construct the necessary pipelines.  Any groups opposing the method must reconcile the fact that they are attacking a technique widely regarded as the safest way to install underground pipe and ultimately are advocating for more environmentally destructive methods.

A Running Theme Through Anti-Pipeline Protests

On Monday, nearly two dozen cars formed a blockade stopping construction for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline for four hours. No matter how petty the act, the underlying strategy employed has become a theme across pipeline resistance efforts.

In this particular instance, Lancaster Online reported that “about 35 people participated in an 18-vehicle blockade of an access road being built by contractors for pipeline builder Williams Partners in Manor Township.” The protest was organized by the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, whose co-founder explained that “the disruption of the pipeline work Monday was spearheaded by local residents standing up for ‘our constitutional rights to clean air and water.’”

This rhetoric of Machiavellian efforts to achieve an end through whatever means necessary is by no means isolated to this blockade. This past month, an anti-pipeline activist overturned a car and locked himself inside for roughly five hours at the entrance to the work site for Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement pipeline. ABC-affiliate WDIO reported that the protest was the latest in a string of efforts (and arrests) at the work site.

Similarly, along the Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania, a group of protesters (self-termed “Camp White Pine”) have lived in a tree for several months now as part of a larger effort to stop pipeline construction, and have faced arrest on multiple occasions for violating court orders. An anarchist blog, Philly Anti-Capitalist, similarly posted a submission last month detailing efforts to vandalize the pipeline, utilizing unlawful actions to reach an ultimately destructive goal.

These efforts to block energy infrastructure development by any means necessary hinder infrastructure and economic development for the region at large, and go against logical community interest.

What Are Local Gas Distribution Pipelines?

When people speak of pipelines, they often do so without clear understanding of the variance between pipelines. The U.S. natural gas pipeline network is composed of an integrated web made up of roughly 3 million miles of mainline pipe. One category within this web are the local gas distribution pipelines.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), local gas distribution pipelines “receive natural gas from the mainline transmission grid and deliver it to consumers.” These pipelines are known as “mains” and typically serve as the middle step between low-pressure service lines and high-pressure transmission lines. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) further details that “more than 1,100 local distribution companies deliver natural gas to end users through hundreds of thousands of miles of small-diameter service lines.”

The EIA chronicled the expansion of the integrated network transporting natural gas across the country, and found that “a large portion of the 1.3 million miles of local distribution pipelines that receive natural gas from the mainline transmission grid and deliver it to consumers was also installed between 1950 and 1969. The period of greatest local distribution pipeline growth happened more recently. In the 1990s, more than 225,000 miles of new local distribution pipelines were installed to provide service to the many new commercial facilities and housing developments that wanted access to natural gas supplies.”

Fundamentally, these pipelines are the safest vehicles to transport natural gas – thanks in large part “to the fact that the infrastructure is fixed, and buried underground.”

Bentonite is Benign & Naturally Occurring

The increased discussion of the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) for pipeline construction warrants a discussion of what exactly bentonite is and what it is used for.  Let us take a moment here to shed light on exactly what bentonite is.

Bentonite is a benign and naturally occurring substance. According to owner and president of Geo Logic Environmental Services Bill Godsey, “some news reports describe the release of bentonite clay in a way that makes people think of oil spills, likely because much of the general public is, understandably, not deeply educated about common construction practice. An inadvertent release of bentonite occurs when the pumped clay gets into a fissure underground. The pressure pushes it out and sometimes the fissure leads to the surface or to a body of water just like any other liquid in the ground.” Godsey further stresses that, “the release of non-toxic bentonite is nothing alarming, or even unusual, in infrastructure construction – in this case pipelines. One reason bentonite is used is because it is safe and non-toxic so that when there are discharges, there is no long-term impact to the environment.”

Construction can be messy, from highways to pipelines. The release of bentonite clay during HDD activity in pipeline construction is not uncommon, which is why pipeline companies and regulators develop plans for how to respond and mitigate such events. Moreover, HDD is commonly employed in pipeline construction in order mitigate the impact of construction on environmentally sensitive areas – such as rivers, streams, and wetlands.  The alternative, of dry-ditch open cutting, can have more lasting impact on sensitive areas.  HDD is the industry standard to protect sensitive resources, and bentonite is used because it has no long-term impact to the environment when discharges do occur.

When confused, don’t spurt out misconceptions – ask and ground your opinion in fact.

The New Front of the Radical Environmentalists

Anti-pipeline protestors tout messages of environmental conservatism that fester misinformation through selective application of the facts and encourage illicit activities to further the cause by any means necessary.

A recent piece in Townhall highlights that this “war on pipelines” is waged by “radical environmentalists”, for whom “no evidence to the contrary will budge them from their hysteria-laden talking points on looming climate cataclysms.”

The piece stresses that “Even more important, some activists are now going far beyond mere rhetoric and protests – and engaging in sabotage of pipeline construction equipment and even pipeline safety valves. These intolerable acts should be met with police action, major fines and jail terms. Free speech and peaceful protests are absolutely acceptable. Eco-terrorism and threats to public safety cannot be tolerated.

It is increasingly difficult to empathize with such groups who employ methods that undermine public safety and ignore reality – Pipelines are needed to get gas to market, and it is the safest mode to do so. End of story.

Unlawful Actions Employed to Halt Infrastructure Development

It has become common practice for anti-pipeline groups to push unlawful actions in their ideological quest to halt infrastructural development.

Today, the Philly Anti-Capitalist group posted a blog detailing how, “Earlier this week we took our first steps against the Mariner East pipeline in Pennsylvania, U$A. On the eve of the fall equinox, we approached several excavators and a flat bed truck on an active ME2 construction site in Media, PA and filled their fuel tanks and other liquid receptors with sand and sugar. After removing the fuel tank lid (there are diagrams about how to do this online), we recommend removing the filter just beneath it before pouring in these abrasives, for maximum damage to the whole machine, and being careful not to spill or leave other traces which would tip off the workers inspecting the machines the following morning. Human-caused ecological collapse and mass extinction are upon us, and we feel we must push ourselves to escalate the fight against it. We take this action in solidarity with Camp White Pine, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya in Iowa, Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp, and struggles against ecological devastation and settler colonial violence everywhere.”

Looking at these unlawful actions in light of sustained efforts by the Gerhart family and Camp White Pine to oppose Mariner East construction through any means necessary, resulting on multiple occasions in several arrests, it paints a concerning picture of destructive and often dangerous methods employed by some ideologically-driven anti-pipeline groups to hinder infrastructure development across Pennsylvania.

What Exactly is “Loss of Circulation”?

Penn Live published a piece by Bill Godsey, owner and president of Geo Logic Environmental Services and former geologist for the Texas Railroad Commission, focusing on the development of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania and elucidating on the construction process therein.

Godsey explains that one thing that has been reported on in recent news cycles on the construction process is the occurrence of “loss of circulation” – But, what exactly does this mean?

Godsey details that “According to DEP and the pipeline construction company, “loss of circulation” is an “indicator of drilling fluid migrating out of the borehole into the ground water.” It cannot be observed from the surface because it’s all happening underground. This is a common occurrence during the pipeline construction known as horizontal directional drilling (HDD). This kind of drilling is the most up-to-date and safest-known method for constructing underground pipelines. It is the best option for minimizing chances of water contamination, though of course no method can possibly be 100 percent accident proof. It requires mud containing non-toxic bentonite — which will not cause any long-term harm to the environment — during construction.”

Godsey concludes that loss of circulation is a “common, predictable and non-threatening mishap” that pipeline companies are well prepared for.

Speculation Does Not Amount to Fact

When analyzing pipeline opposition efforts across the board, it has become increasingly common for groups to post speculative assertions in lieu of having real facts on the situation at hand.

Across Pennsylvania and Ohio, anti-pipeline groups habitually post photos and graphics depicting a range of allegations against pipeline companies, which are shared across social media platforms and cited in news outlets. Rather than confirm the story behind the photo, these groups perpetuate extremist ideas and false legal claims against the pipeline companies.

Increasingly, these groups take photos of pipeline construction sites and caption with subjective conclusions about the scene in question. Taking an out of context photo and posting an opinion through social platforms does not make it verifiable – and these speculative social media posts do not count as legitimate sources for local and national news outlets covering respective pipeline developments.