Fracking: 'It's Cheaper to Pay a Fine Than Fix a Leak'

While members of the House and Senate, as well as Presidential candidates, dither about whether or not climate change is real, folks on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.

Ordinary people, concerned about the safety of their communities, realize that they have to be part of the solution. Two stories from different states have come to my attention. There is a common thread:

• Citizens are advocating for their rights, researching and learning the laws, and working to make change via hyperlocal politics.
• These grassroots groups are joining with larger organizations to create national activist networks.

Kathy Martley, who is located in Rhode Island, is the founder of Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion (BASE). The town is home to the Tennessee pipeline, two methane compressor stations, and the Ocean State power plant owned by TransCanada. They are fighting against the enlargement of the interstate Algonquin pipeline.

I reached Martley by telephone, just hours before she attended the local Town Council meeting to advocate for her concerns.

"The Algonquin pipeline has been here since 1953. I was told as a kid not to go near it," Martley related. "In the last four years, the noise from the compressor has increased at times up to 73 decibels. There's a constant gas smell, and the windows shake from the compressor's activity. They are adding 16,000 Horsepower turbines to the 22,000 we already have. Spectra Energy is putting an adjacent pipeline in the woods, where no one can see what they're doing." She explained, "It's called looping. It changes the direction of the flow of the fracked gas -- for export."

Burrillville is 57 square miles. "This is zoned farming land. The residents are middle and low-income," Martley said. She is anxious about potential health risks, the condition of a half-century-old pipe, and what might happen moving forward. "We asked the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for local testing," stated Martley, "and were told there would be no testing unless something happens." The group has contacted elected officials at all levels, without receiving any responses.

Martley lives in the house that belonged to her grandfather, surrounded by woods, nature, and birds. "It started in my backyard," she reflected, "and then it got bigger than that."

Residents in Franklin, New York, founded Compressor Free Franklin (CFF) in 2014. They have put together a robust website with a quality video asserting, "Eminent domain for corporate gain is not small government."

The CFF goal is to protect Franklin's "rural way of life." The key pieces to their equation are eminent domain and maintaining a "Greenfield" designation. The latter references land that has not been previously used for any kind of utility infrastructure.

I reached out to Don Hebbard, a leader with CFF to get a deeper account.

At stake is the proposed siting of the Constitution Pipeline and the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (originally the Tennessee), along with a 30,000 Horsepower compressor station. Hebbard reeled off a series of companies involved in the undertaking, many overlapping from one project to another. "It's the same fingers in every pie," he said scathingly.

Hebbard, 71, owner of a dairy farm for thirty years, discussed how the "pre-filing of the two proposed pipelines did not create much discussion locally." This was despite a history of problems with exposed pipelines, the result of rainstorms creating dirt erosion.

The pipelines remained an "out of sight, out of mind" situation for most people, Hebbard noted. However, the proposition of an above-ground compressor that would be noisy, and leak methane and other VOCs, became what Hebbard called "a rallying point."

The proposed route of the Constitution pipeline through Franklin would change the "Greenfield" status. Hebbard underscored:

"There are no utility rights-of-way on that route. It is critical to not lose that designation. Once the Greenfield status has been lost through a pipeline construction, that right-of-way is then available for other utilities to use." In others words, "Once the Constitution pipeline gets in, all the battles are lost."

When Hebbard got started on the "eminent domain" issue, he said pointedly, "It's the taking of private land for private gain. The gas company is making money!"

"We are a poor county with less jobs," Hebbard continued. "People are being threatened with legal action, while others are selling their land because the offer -- though low -- equals two years of income."

Hebbard has done his homework. He had stats at his fingertips about methane emission percentages from compressor stations, and was particularly troubled about what he termed "blow-down events." This is the venting of natural gas into the air, from maintenance work activity -- or in the event of an emergency. "Gas companies are getting a pass, due to the Halliburton Loophole, for a full range of exemptions from environmental laws." He added with palpable outrage, "It's cheaper to pay a fine than to fix a leak."

With fourteen grandchildren and a great-grandchild expected in February, Hebbard is anxious about the world the next generation will inherit.

"All of this global infrastructure is making runaway climate change," he said. "Everyone needs to get involved at some level. We are all going to be affected."

This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force

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