Pope Francis Comes to the Capital, FERC Protests Escalate

IMG_4711by Gabriel Shapiro, Hampshire College, gabeshapiro42@gmail.com

This past week, I took a trip from my school in Western Massachusetts to Washington DC, to hear the Pope’s message, to participate in Jewish Yom Kippur services in solidarity with the Pope’s call for climate action, and to support the Beyond Extreme Energy group as they neared the end of an 18-day water fast. They were fasting on behalf of communities across America that are being impacted by the fracking industry. At the confluence of the Papal visit to the capital and many interfaith climate justice actions leading up the event, the fasters were giving everything they had to the last couple days of prayer, in order to take a bold stand against the fracking industry.

Spending time with the fasters in the church where we were sleeping, at the climate justice rally in the National Mall and throughout various actions allowed me to ask questions and to understand the motivations behind the fast. Being with people who are fasting is odd, because you can tell that they are struggling but it’s not very visible on the outside. Through words, they shared the difficulties they were facing, the objectives of their actions, and the impact they hoped to make.

Steve Norris, one of the BXE fasters, noted how this method of protest was passed down from struggles in the past. “Gandhi said that fasting is the purest form of prayer,” he said, “This is a prayer we put out to the Universe.”

It is also a strategy, used to raise awareness and heighten the stakes. BXE is hoping to bring fasting back into the active toolbox for creating change in our modern world.

Why did these folks feel strongly enough to resist food for 18 days?

Hundreds of fasters will be breaking their hunger strike on September 25th at NOON

The Frack Attack

The past decade of increased domestic oil and natural gas extraction has resulted in a major build-out of related infrastructure, all across the United States. The flow of fracked gas to the shore for foreign export is never fast enough to satisfy the corporations at play. More and more transmission, compression and storage facilities must be built to support the corporate pursuit of profit and control over the market. We are in the midst of a global pipeline epidemic, none of these projects being limited by borders as they are connected to the trans-national energy market.

With little to no regulatory restrictions to adhere to, large energy infrastructure corporations, often based in faraway places are quickly establishing new pipeline routes and related infrastructure in a web stretching across all parts of the country. Each step of the process, from fracking to exportation of liquefied fracked gas provides an opportunity of profit for the extreme energy industry while exploiting and endangering communities. Even in the face of declining stock returns and even the threat of bankruptcy for some fracking companies, the industry continues to seek expansion, putting communities and the Earth in jeopardy. Helping to decline the financial stability of this industry is the renewable energy sector, which is enjoying unprecedented growth, creating new jobs and helping to transform the country’s energy profile.
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We Are Cove Point is a coalition working to stop a massive fracked-gas export terminal from being built by Dominion, centrally located in the town of Lusby, Maryland. The facility would be the first on the East Coast, its impacts would be felt by many.  Learn more: www.wearecovepoint.org
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IMG_5477Community Resistance and Movement Building

Communities across the United States are being faced with these large scale industrial projects which bring harm to their ways of life and the land they hold dear. They are being forced to organize themselves in opposition to projects, coming together in homes and churches to plan strategies. These communities are using scientific research to determine and make public that these projects do pose a serious threat to their lives and to the entire region. This research also clearly addresses the ways in which these projects would increase global CO2 emissions, contributing to widespread climate chaos.

Many of these communities are engaged in ongoing resistance campaigns, using a variety of tactics to protect themselves from the onslaught of the fracking industry. The individuals that make up the resistance campaigns have dedicated their lives to defending their communities.

These resistance communities often use a variety of tactics, carried out by volunteers, often whom have a deep connection to the land in jeopardy. While working painstakingly through the different legal avenues, many of these groups have also engaged in nonviolent direct action campaigns, feeling they have no other option to fight off the industry. These pockets of human resistance are forming multi-faceted social movements, each specific to its place and population. Looking at the vast number of communities engaged in this struggle, from those along the TGP pipeline route in Western Massachusetts, to those facing massive compression and treatment facilities in Philadelphia, to those facing the effects of local power plants switching to fracked gas, we ask what could allow a single industry to cause so many cases of human resistance in such a short time period. Who regulates this industry and why are they not doing their job?

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FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) has been organizing resistance to Spectra’s Algonquin pipeline, part of the AIM project. After many levels of escalation and movement growth, FANG delivered an official pledge of resistance to Spectra. Construction is set to begin… Learn more: http://www.fangtogether.org/

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IMG_5535FERC Doesn’t Work

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the government body responsible for overseeing the construction of interstate natural gas projects. FERC should be a federal agency supported by democratic process which represents the common good. To the contrary, it is lead by federally appointed officials who are not required to report to any superior government structure. It is tasked with researching and reporting risks associated with natural gas related projects, and using that research, along with public comments, to determine whether or not approval should be granted.

Unfortunately, the payment FERC receives from the very industry it is meant to regulate serves as a deep bias on the side of the corporations. FERC hasn’t denied approval of any natural gas project, at least in recent years. FERC consistently ignores hard, scientific evidence and thousands of public comments as well as direct actions at their doorstep, consistently for over a year, in order to give the fracking industry permission to expand, at the expense of many.

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We Are Seneca Lake is using ongoing human blockades to prevent trucks from entering a facility where Crestwood is planning to store vast amounts of fracked gas in unstable, underground salt caverns. Crestwood’s plan to industrialize the Finger Lakes puts the whole community in jeopardy.
Learn more: wearesenecalake.com
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#BXEFast for #NoNewPermits

“Everything that we’ve been doing for the past year in front of FERC has been to call for no new permits, to say that if we continue building out fossil fuel infrastructure, which is what this agency keeps approving, our world is going to be unlivable.” says Melinda Tuhus, a BXE organizer and member of the fast.

The Fast for No New Permits was organized by Beyond Extreme Energy, a group whose target is FERC for its role as a key player in support of the fracking industry. The fast was created to bring attention to FERC and to bring prayers together from numerous communities across America who remain at war with the fracking industry.

The members of Beyond Extreme Energy helped bring these prayers together in the form of a quilt with squares from different resistance communities, a 50 ft. hand painted banner called “The United States of Fracking Banner”, and the hunger in the bellies of those fasting. Stories were brought from the resistance communities, of permitting processes, public hearings, pipeline surveyors, stances of elected officials and the actions taking place to protect themselves from this persistent and destructive industry.

Lisa DeSantis, from the “frack fields” of Western Pennsylvania, joined the fasters to stand up for her community, a place transformed in recent years from a lovely countryside to an industrial maze of drill rigs, compressor stations and pipeline clearings. She was joined by representatives from many communities across the country.

“We are dealing with water pollution,” she says, “the first site that was drilled in my county in 2012 contaminated four known water wells. The sanitation department is taking the residual waste from the fracking industry and dumping it into our water, causing environmental damage all the way downstream in the Ohio river.”

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Millennium Pipeline installed a 12,260 horsepower compressor station in Minisink, NY, regardless of overwhelming evidence of negative impacts on the community. The resistance community continues to explore new ways to protest Millennium. More: http://www.stopmcs.org/
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18137358659_97167e1dae_kPeople vs. Power

Beyond Extreme Energy feels it has done everything it can through the legal and accepted means of delivering their opinions to FERC. Receiving no recognition or reply, these demands have evolved into action. The objective now is to raise awareness of the heinous set of practices and convoluted processes that make up FERCs work. This fast comes after disruptions of public hearings, a full week of direct action at FERC, and numerous other tactics over the past year, publicly pointing directly at FERC and demanding accountability and an end to permits for hazardous projects.

On behalf of those communities being negatively impacted by the fracking industry, these fasters remained strong and hopeful, even in the face of a powerful and rogue government agency.

“I think it’s a great tool” one of the fasters, who chose not be identified, explained, “it’s worked in the prisons of Northern Ireland, and it’s working in the prisons of Palestine, and it’s going to work here.”

At the end of the 18-day water fast, BXE, their supporters and individuals from communities impacted by fracking infrastructure held a rally outside the FERC headquarters in DC. Along with breaking bread to fill empty stomachs and impassioned speeches making the message clear, BXE delivered the Pope’s monumental encyclical, Laudato Si to the five FERC Commissioners.

At a time of climate chaos and a new era of human action to address it, the fracking industry remains in a state of growth, destroying the livelihoods of countless communities in its path. FERC is a part of the reason for this destruction. BXE and their supporters hope to put us on a different path, one that includes 100% renewable energy, decolonization, and re-localization of our economies.

“This fast, these prayers, are a stone we throw into the water, and there is no way to know how far the ripples will reach, or where they will go.” said Steve Norris, remarking on the impact of their actions. Their prayer was sent widely and the impacts are yet to be seen. For what it’s worth, these fasters successfully raised a major alarm at the headquarters of an agency whose time has most certainly come. It was a blessing to spend time with them and an inspiration to see the principled actions they continue to take for the creation of a better world.

To learn more about and to engage with Beyond Extreme Energy, visit: https://beyondextremeenergy.org/

-Gabriel Shapiro, second-year student at Hampshire College.
Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram ‘minimarv’, or e-mail gabeshapiro42@gmail.com