‘Putting a wrench into the gears of the pipeline machine’


The movement against dangerous oil and natural gas pipelines is spreading. And what’s truly remarkable is that the epicenter of the movement is developing along the Gulf Coast, a region that historically has not been known for a strong environmental community. Clearly, the catalyst for that movement has been the historic protests — led by the Native American community — against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Bakken oil field in the northern Great Plains. That movement — and the dramatic images of police and security guards siccing dogs and turning water cannons on protesters, much as was seen during the civil rights protests of the 1960s — has inspired activists elsewhere. Over the last month, national attention has turned toward Louisiana and the growing uproar over the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline, as residents have said their worries over the future of the wetlands of the Atchafalaya Basin outweigh any limited, short-term job gains the project might bring.

It seems clear that a corner has been turned. A growing number of Americans are coming to believe that the risks of a catastrophic oil or gas spill, or an explosion, from a pipeline running through their community simply isn’t worth it. This weekend, the pipeline protest movement sprouted in Tampa. Florida:

The clash over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota — and the success opponents have had temporarily blocking it — has inspired a Florida group opposed to a controversial new pipeline cutting through North Florida. They’re planning to hold a major protest this weekend.

Construction has already begun on the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail Pipeline, a 515-mile conduit for natural gas that when completed will snake through Alabama, Georgia and Florida. At 268 miles, the Florida section is the longest, and will involve drilling beneath the state’s most famous river, the Suwannee.

The protest, which formally begins with a sit-in on Saturday, was scheduled for this weekend because that’s when the drilling under the Suwannee is supposed to begin, said Panagioti Tsolkas, former editor of the Earth First! Journal and an organizer of the Sabal Trail Resistance group. The fact that it’s also the start of the weekend celebrating civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a bit of serendipity, he said.

Their goals, according to their Facebook group, is “putting a wrench into the gears of the pipeline machine” with a mass sit-in.

Just as in North Dakota, the Sabal Trail Pipeline fight is sparking confrontation between protesters and the authorities:

Among those arrested already: St. Petersburg resident Katherine “K.C.” Cavanaugh, 33, who has hiked — and sometimes danced — along 250 miles of the pipeline’s Florida route. When asked why she danced, she said “I wanted to give back to the Earth.”

But she said she was neither hiking nor dancing when she was arrested last month in Gilchrist County.

Cavanaugh was helping escort some reporters along a public road near the construction site to take photos when she said a deputy ordered her to stop and hand over her driver’s license. When she asked why, she said she was again told to hand over the license. A third try asking why, she said, resulted in her arrest for obstruction.

“We weren’t even protesting,” said Cavanaugh, who said she ended up spending the night in jail in the small town of Trenton, near Gainesville.

There are many good reasons to oppose the Sabal Trail Pipeline. The project aims to rob Florida of some 900 acres of valuable wetlands, the project’s current route criss-crosses Florida’s springs, which are a major source of drinking water, and there are fears that the construction will also create sinkholes. But more importantly, a sea change in public opinion may be underway. America’s addiction to fossil fuels can only be fed by these massive pipelines. By blocking these projects, everyday citizens are saying to their leaders: It’s time to find a different way.

Read more about the Florida pipeline protests from the Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/mass-sit-in-targets-controversial-sabal-trail-pipeline-at-suwannee-river/2309433

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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