“I wouldn’t work for a company that I didn’t think was headed in the right direction”, an engineer for Williams energy company said. I was talking with him at a Williams Open House in Susquehanna County about Williams’ latest project—a 178 mile pipeline cleverly dubbed the Atlantic Sunrise that seeks to pass through five Pennsylvania counties, including Lancaster, my home for the past four years. The pipeline will bring natural gas to markets and consumers along the eastern coast of the U.S. via export terminals such as the proposed Cove Point, Maryland LNG export terminal, which will ship liquified gas overseas to feed the international hunger for fossil fuels in China and other developing countries.
According to the man I spoke to, the Atlantic Sunrise project should be filed by March of next year and be in service by July 2017. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the body in charge of approving the project, as always, and past approvals suggest this pipeline will be approved. Unfortunately, those affected by this pipeline aren’t aware of the risks it poses to residents and surrounding areas, as 80% of landowners have given Williams survey permission.
Habitat and species loss are only one of a few risks this pipeline could cause. Other risks include severe health impacts, groundwater infiltration, and an increase in air emissions. For example, several families across the U.S., who live within close proximity to compressor stations and pipelines, have already seen headaches, dizziness, and multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms, as a direct result of pipeline activity and shale-gas infrastructure more broadly. In fact, if you’re curious as to who’s been affected and how, be sure to check The List of the Harmed: a compilation of personal narratives detailing these damaging impacts and how they’ve affected the lives of those who stand in the way of massive corporations and their quest for dirty energy domination.
A common theme of the conversation was that natural gas is “cleaner than coal” and therefore an appropriate transition fuel to lead us into a renewable energy future. There are at least three problems with this statement:
- Coal was a ‘transition fuel’ too and look where we are now with increased asthma and cancer rates due to coal-fired power plants.
- A renewable energy future is not something we need to wait for, it’s happening right now, all around us—every day, more and more people are becoming aware that renewable energies provide the comfort of affordable energy without the dangers of fracking and other fossil-fuel-related infrastructures.
- If fugitive methane emissions from the pipeline are over a certain percentage then the emissions can outweigh those of coal.
As was customary at a smile-like-you-know-everything gig for the 4th largest pipeline operator in the country, the Williams representatives I talked to were determined to prove this process was going “above and beyond” the necessary regulations, according to the engineer I spoke with. He assured me that these representatives, who can more accurately be described as walking industry puppets with memorized cue cards are “willing to work with you.” I smiled when he said this, knowing in the past three months alone Williams has experienced three accidents in rapid succession including explosions, flying shrapnel, injuries, and evacuations—sounds like another friendly day in frackland. In fact, in one instance among many, Williams didn’t even notify neighbors about equipment failures and gas releases despite knowing about them for a full two months.
Williams’ spokeswoman Michele Swaner says that safety is Williams’ number one priority. She goes further to say that one incident is too many. How can these statements be true if Williams continues to disregard safety protocols and refuses to answer questions about what causes their accidents (or even that the accidents exist, for that matter)? How can we trust a company that directly contradicts itself by declining to comment or pay for the damages and harm they’ve caused to the environment and the communities in ‘Gasland’ Pennsylvania and elsewhere?
Routing a pipeline around a migratory bird habitat is nothing to pat yourself on the back for if the pipeline ruptures and the birds are disintegrated by fire anyway. Successfully digging under a wetland is nothing to shake hands over if fugitive methane leaks contaminate the fish habitats above. The completion of a pipeline is nothing to toast drinks to if farmers’ crop yields are suffering; if community members’ health records show traces of carcinogens.
If these companies and their business-as-usual practices remain uninterrupted, soon Gasland will become a nationwide poisonous circus. Soon the entirety of our water and land will become toxic cesspools. Soon our energy-addictive attitudes will sink us. Soon there will be no running away from the deadly frackasaurus we’ve unleashed upon future generations.
Photos by the Author and Shutterstock