The opposition to the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system) has been very strong in southeastern Pennsylvania, especially in Delaware and Chester Counties. But there have been numerous local efforts throughout the 17 counties traversed by the project, and they are gaining strength.
Sometimes, folks from other affected counties (and those who find themselves dealing with other pipelines, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere) see the progress we are making and want to know what has worked for us. This blog post is a summary of some of the things that have worked. We can’t tell you what to do in your local situation: some of these approaches may not work elsewhere, and most local groups won’t have the bandwidth to try to do all of these. Pick the ones that make sense for you.
Note that our emphasis has been on risk to human life. In your area, other issues such as damage to water resources or seizure of private land may be a more appropriate focus, and you will want to revise these suggestions accordingly.
- Building a community of committed and connected people. This is the key to success for every other effort we have made. You need people to understand how serious the threat is, why it is different from other pipeline projects, and how (despite Sunoco’s efforts to demoralize us) it can still be stopped. To be most effective, you need to build a strong base of people who are motivated to get involved. Involvement can take many forms: getting together in planning and informational groups; organizing and participating in weekly conference calls; showing up at township and schoolboard meetings to hold officials accountable; setting out yard signs; creating websites, Facebook pages, email lists, Twitter feeds, and so on. Facebook has proved particularly powerful for us in southeast PA. The key is to build a community of committed, connected people.
- Educating the public. We have tried to reach out beyond our core of committed activists to educate the general public about the pipelines. There are many ways to do this: public meetings, tables at farmer’s markets and community events, notices on bulletin boards, door-to-door leafleting, and just talking to friends and neighbors. The more people who know the facts about the pipelines, the better.
- Monitoring and reporting from the field. You can’t count on the government at any level to monitor the construction process. You need to have people willing to go out and check on Sunoco’s activities. Local people are usually the ones who have reported stream pollution, sinkholes, pipeline strikes by other utilities, and failure to control noise, dust, and runoff. Cell phone videos are very effective; a drone is even better. If you are not directly on the easement when you do your recording, you are within your rights and Sunoco cannot object. Don’t let them intimidate you. If something questionable is going on, you can livestream on Facebook. Publicize what you see.
- Advocacy with elected officials and candidates. Contact every elected official, from the school board on up, to find out where they stand and to let them know how important this issue is. Do your schools have the right emergency plans? Are your first responders prepared for an accident? Are your local officials willing to schedule public meetings about the pipelines? Do your representatives in Harrisburg support bills that will make pipeline construction safer? Ask the same questions of candidates for these offices. Public pressure has gradually converted almost every elected official and candidate in the affected areas of southeast PA into a pipeline opponent.
- Media relations. Get to know the reporters from the TV stations and newspapers that cover your area. They are always eager for a good story. The moment something happens that is newsworthy (a drilling-mud release, a problem with noise or pollution, bullying by a pipeline representative—and of course, your own protest events), send out a press release stating your position. Chances are, some of the news outlets will make use of it. Rarely does a week go by without one or two pipeline-related articles in the local papers in the southeast. There is almost always a statement by a pipeline opponent (often from one of our press releases) rebutting Sunoco’s claims.
- Legal and regulatory actions. Let the Department of Environmental Protection know of any construction activity that might damage wetlands, waterways, or aquifers or that might pollute the air. They have the duty to protect our clean air and water. Let the Public Utility Commission know about any potentially dangerous operating conditions (exposed pipes, sinkholes, evidence of leaks). They have the obligation to make sure pipelines are operated safely. If they don’t act as they should, you can file a formal complaint. If you have evidence that laws are being broken, contact your county District Attorney and the state Attorney General. Complaints with the PUC have proven to be an important aspect of pipeline opposition in southeast PA.
- Support for local candidates. If you have local races in which one of the candidates is a Mariner supporter, go door-to-door for the opponent. Spread the word about the risks associated with the pipelines and Sunoco’s disregard for the environment and the law. In southeast PA, several prominent officeholders who supported Sunoco have been replaced, and several more have decided not to run for re-election. In a few cases, pipeline opponents have actually decided to run for offices themselves after seeing incumbents fail to deal with the pipelines. Your local officials can and do make a difference.
- Public resolutions. Getting local jurisdictions (townships, counties, school boards) to make resolutions or send letters that point to safety problems has been a useful step. Delaware County recently passed a resolution requesting that Governor Wolf suspend construction and operation of the Mariner East system until it can be shown to be safe and emergency procedures are in place. This sends an important message to the public as well as the governor.
- Enforcement of local regulations. It turns out that there is more local control than we thought of some pipeline activities. For example, the DEP can’t issue some runoff permits without a letter from the township confirming that the plans in the permit applications meet local stormwater requirements. Also, townships routinely renew expired permits of various kinds, but they don’t have to. One township took Sunoco to court over noise ordinance violations and won.
- Non-violent direct action. Visible public action is an important step in community involvement and in combatting Sunoco’s PR machine. Rallies, protest marches, and events along the right-of-way can be very effective. Some people may be willing to get arrested for taking steps like blocking equipment access to the worksite; many others will not go that far, but will be willing to show up for rallies or to support those risking arrest. These are productive ways of expressing the growing level of frustration that many of us feel.
Stopping these pipelines is a difficult, daunting task. We all suffer from burnout at times, and need to let others take on our work until we recover. That’s normal. It may help to remember that this is a long-term project, and it will affect more than just Mariner East. The work we do now will reduce the chance that future generations will have to fight a fight like this.
The list above represents some of the things that have worked for us in Delaware and Chester Counties. It would be great to hear from those in other parts of the state and dealing with other pipelines. Use the comments section, below, to tell the rest of us what is working for you!