For months now, a motley crew of local activists has tried—and failed—to halt Dominion Resources’ Cove Point, a proposed $3.8 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, Maryland. On Sunday, the movement got a much-needed boost from some regional and national allies.
Braving the sticky summer heat of Washington, DC, over 1,000 activists from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic rallied on Capitol Hill before marching to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that’s expected to issue its final decision on whether to approve Cove Point sometime next month. Protesters called on FERC to reject the project—and the eleven other LNG export terminal applications now under agency consideration.
“It’s important for people that are fighting these things in their backyard to know they’re not alone in that fight and they’re connected to a much bigger movement, a movement that’s not only fighting natural gas, but a larger climate movement that’s going to stand with them,” says Tim DeChristopher, one of the event’s speakers, best known for serving twenty-one months in prison for bidding on $1.8 million worth of oil and gas leases without planning to pay for them.
The project’s opponents share a range of concerns: on the local level, they say, the plant poses safety risks for nearby residents. They worry, too, that Cove Point will encourage more hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, across Mid-Atlantic shale fields and prompt Maryland to drop its de facto moratorium on the drilling technique, which expires in August. Western Maryland sits squarely on top of the Marcellus Shale, a hotbed of fracking activity, but the land’s been off-limits to drillers, as a state commission wraps up its three-year study on the health and safety impacts of shale drilling.
Activists also argue that Cove Point—and other LNG terminals like it—will deepen the global climate crisis. Indeed, as a recent Department of Energy report suggested, the LNG export process—which involves extracting, piping, liquefying and shipping gas across the world, then re-gasifying and piping the product to consumers—has the potential to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than a coal-fired power plant of comparable power output. The heavy footprint comes largely from methane, which has about twenty times the climate impact of carbon dioxide.
“You can’t solve climate change by switching to a fuel that’s worse than coal,” says Mike Tidwell, head of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which has led opposition in Maryland and helped organize the rally.
Dominion, which declined to comment for this story, has consistently downplayed all of these concerns. It expects the plant to be fully operational by 2017.
If everything goes its way, the Virginia-based energy giant will soon take advantage of what a growing number of drillers and energy investors consider the next phase of America’s fracking boom. Before the so-called “shale revolution” kicked into high gear around 2008, there was still talk of building terminals to import natural gas. (Cove Point, in fact, was originally built in the 1970s to process LNG imported from Algeria.) But thriving production in places like Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania helped drive down domestic prices. No other nation has come close to replicating the scope of America’s gas boom.