How Do You Stop a Pipeline? The Power of Community.

In partnership with the Massachusetts State Divestment Coalition, on Saturday, April 23, four New England ACE Action Fellows gathered to protest the construction of the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, which would carry natural gas directly through a densely-populated urban area in Boston.

The pipeline is being constructed by Spectra Energy, a Houston-based company that has given little, if any, attention to the concerns of the West Roxbury community. Elected officials representing West Roxbury - from its city councillors to its congressman - are opposed to the pipeline, and the strong showing at the protest was evidence that the officials are reflecting the frustration and nervousness of the community. And the community has every right to be afraid of natural gas.

With community comes passion, the kind that can’t be matched by an obsession with corporate profits. 

While the rising perception is that natural gas is a cleaner form of energy that can serve as a bridge fuel from oil and coal to cleaner energy sources, this simply isn’t true. Though natural gas emits fewer carbon dioxide emissions when burned, the extraction and transportation of natural gas leaks massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas more than 80 times as powerful as CO2.   

Furthermore, the extraction process of natural gas - fracking - is nothing short of horrifying. Fracking involves pumping tons of water and chemicals into the ground to break up rocks in order to get the natural gas inside of them. This leads to the contamination of water supplies. In addition, research suggests that fracking leads to minor earthquakes, as shown in Oklahoma, the new earthquake capitol of the world, despite the fact that it is nowhere near a major fault line.

If any of the normal consequences of fracking weren’t frightening enough, take into consideration that the West Roxbury pipeline will be built directly across the street from an active quarry. Natural gas explosions are occuring around the country, including one at Spectra’s own pipeline earlier this month in Pennsylvania. With constant quarry explosions happening just across the street, an explosion along the high-pressure gas pipeline planned for West Roxbury is not out of the question.

Even if Spectra doesn’t understand this, the community does.  

On this Saturday morning, hundreds of optimistic protesters decided that, despite the constant rain, their display of community solidarity and people power was more important than their wet clothes. The gathering of several hundred protesters - young and old, from near and far - started with a march that stretched approximately a mile from a park to the site of the construction.  Holding symbolic torches made of paper and cardboard along with other signage, protesters heard honks of solidarity from passing cars.

Arriving at the construction site, it was interesting to see that there were no construction workers present, suggesting that perhaps the presence of the protesters was enough to shut down construction for the day. Through speeches and chants among the hundreds gathered at this small West Roxbury lot, it became clear that the frustration of the protesters was not about the inconvenience of the construction or a bad business deal. The fight to stop this pipeline is personal.

What will stop this pipeline in the end is something that Spectra does not have: community. With community comes passion, the kind that can’t be matched by an obsession with corporate profits. With community comes solidarity, the kind that not only shows strength in numbers, but encourages one another to raise their voices as loud as they can. With community comes the intelligence and courage of the people. You can join the community of climate action through the Get Loud Challenge and support this and other campaigns for climate solutions. United, the community is what will sustain this fight. And we will win!

Brian McDermott is ACE’s Youth Organizing Associate.  He recently completed the 2015-16 ACE Fellowship in New England and will be attending American University in Washington, D.C. beginning in the fall.