The morning of October 5, UUYACJ member Lee Stewart locked himself to a tour bus carrying natural gas executives from Washington, D.C. to Cove Point, MD as part of an action with We Are Cove Point, a group acting to stop construction of a new liquefied natural gas export terminal. The executives were on their way to tour the terminal, owned by power and energy company Dominion Resources, Inc, to conclude the North American Gas Forum, a 3-day annual conference in D.C.
This fight is personal for Stewart, who is originally from Loudoun County, VA. “When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Dominion a permit to build the Cove Point export facility in Lusby, the permit also stipulated upgrades to several compressor stations connected to the facility, including one near where I lived in Loudoun County,” he said via email. “The thought of something as evil as fracking infrastructure being in the county where my family lives, where I grew up, and where some of my relatives are buried, is unbearable.”
Dominion, based in Richmond, VA, plans to build the $3.8 million dollar fracked gas export facility in Lusby, MD in a residential area on the Chesapeake Bay. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the expansion in September 2014, and construction began a month later. If completed, the facility would be able to import fracked gas sourced from the Marcellus Shale Field and export it to markets in India and Japan. While the original infrastructure could revert liquid natural gas into a vapor, the expanded facility would be able to supercool natural gas into a liquid at minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing the gas volume by a factor of 600, making it easier to ship. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane, which impacts climate change 25 times more potently than carbon dioxide on a pound for pound basis over a 100-year period. The company plans to have the facility completed by next summer.
“Because so much is going on in the fight against the fossil fuel empire, it was hard to find enough folks to make the bus blockade possible,” Stewart said. He and his friend Gabe Shapiro committed to the blockade, receiving legal and logistical support from others.
Leading into the action, there were many unknowns. The group didn't know what the bus would look like, where it would be loading, if there would be security, or how to they would be able to lock-down – but Stewart and Shapiro felt it was too important an action to skip. They figured Dominion and Kiewit, the lead construction contractor for the project, would present a biased version of the project to executives, and they wanted to challenge this “illusion,” as Stewart put it. They figured out enough logistics from the conference's website, arriving at 6:30 a.m. before the bus loaded. After waiting for people to get on, Stewart was nervous as he approached the bus.
When he first attached himself to an interior pole with a bike lock, nobody noticed. He told the bus driver they were canceling the tour, though he didn't register it immediately. The driver said he would leave with Stewart attached, and walked away, so Stewart tried to re-lock himself to the steering wheel. Several people – conference attendees, not police officers – grabbed him, one person even choking him. After they left, he ran back to lock himself to a side mirror. During the 45 minutes or so he was locked in, people took pictures, and Stewart and Shapiro tried to engage people talking about the movement, but most were dismissive. One man wanted Stewart to pose for a picture, which he refused. “When I asked him who he was, he said 'your friend.' Later, someone told me he was Langtry Meyer, CEO of Texas LNG, a liquefied natural gas facility folks are fighting in South Texas,” Stewart said.
The police clipped the lock and the bus continued, passing more protestors. Stewart was not arrested.
He has been part of We Are Cove Point for the past two years, and is also active with Beyond Extreme Energy, an activist network trying to stop new fossil fuel permits. Since We Are Cove Point began, dozens of people have been arrested in attempts to temporarily halt construction of the project. The group has used a variety of tactics, such as “banner hangs, trespassing onto construction sites, climbing a construction crane, and blockades. It has also involved petition drives and visibility events such as holding light signs along a roadway near the construction site, a banner drop at a popular national football game, and kayakers going out onto the water to hold up signs,” Stewart said. Right now, We Are Cove Point are calling on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to order an honest safety study of the project, since one has not yet been completed. “If the study is done, there is no doubt it would reveal the project is too dangerous to go forward,” Stewart said.
“This facility is a form of violence. It pollutes the air and water, and it pollutes the climate. It puts lives and livelihoods in danger,” Stewart said. “The movement of folks rising up to protect the communities they love is the side of this fight to be on.”
More information on this action can be found here and here.
Follow We Are Cove Point here. Sign the petition for a safety study here. Donate to campaigns here.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to We Are Cove Point as We Are Cave Point, misspelled Loudoun County and Shapiro's name.