The Origins & Work of Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, Inc. in Lebanon County, PA
by Michael Schroeder, Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, Inc.
Nestled in a mostly agricultural region blessed with some of the most fertile, non-irrigated farmland in the world, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania sits square in the crosshairs of a Pipeline Revolution – smack-dab in between the Marcellus Shale fracking zones in northern and western PA and the processing and export facilities of the Eastern seaboard. This Pipeline Revolution began in earnest more than four years ago, in spring 2014, when Williams/Transco announced plans to build a 200-mile, 42-inch diameter, high-pressure (1,480 p.s.i.) underground natural gas pipeline with the Orwellian-sounding name “Atlantic Sunrise” as a shortcut to whisk fracked natural gas to points south – mainly Cove Point just south of Baltimore – for export. See map below for more context.
That’s the north-south axis of the crosshairs. East-west, for starters, is the 8-inch diameter, cast-iron Mariner East pipeline, which has traversed the state since the late 1930s, carrying gasoline from the Philadelphia region to the Pittsburgh area. Also around spring 2014, Mariner East’s owner-operator, Sunoco Logistics, announced its Mariner East expansion project: to stop carrying gasoline, reverse the flow, and start streaming natural gas liquids (NGLs – mainly propane, ethane, and butane) from the fracking zones of western PA to the Marcus Hook export facility outside Philadelphia. Also planned were several new larger-volume pipelines to be laid in the same easement – Mariner East 2 and 2X – along with their corresponding pump stations.
The two major transmission pipeline projects cross on private land atop a forested hill in Lebanon County’s South Londonderry Township – making “in the crosshairs” an apt metaphor for where we stand in relation to the Pipeline Revolution.
In response to Williams/Transco’s announcement in spring 2014, activists in neighboring Lancaster County organized the grassroots citizens’ group Lancaster Against Pipelines. We soon followed suit, holding our first organizing meeting in April in humble surroundings, an artist’s loft in downtown Lebanon. After a democratic vote,we called ourselves Lebanon Against Pipelines and began meeting bi-weekly with a core group of 8-10 people.
By summer 2014, we adopted what we felt was a more positive and publicly acceptable name in our strongly conservative county, one more in keeping with our core mission of raising public awareness about the immensely destructive power of fracking and pipelines: Lebanon Pipeline Awareness.
Over the next year, a core leadership emerged. With the pro-bono help of a local attorney, we became a 501c(3) non-profit corporation with officers and a board of directors, making it possible to apply for much-needed grants after our meager, mostly self-funded beginnings.
Realizing the importance of strength in numbers, from the outset we reached out to collaborate with other groups. We’ve had many key allies in this fight, especially our sister organization, Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County (CCLC). Focused on Sunoco’s Mariner East projects, CCLC has focused mainly on the judicial system to challenge the absurd notion that this project merits status as a “public utility” – most notably by pursuing civil action against Sunoco for not obtaining the proper permits before building its new pump station in West Cornwall Township.
Bringing About Change
How have we worked to raise public awareness? In most every way we can think of, given our limited resources.
We still lack a website, but we have developed and curated a highly active Facebook presence (with nearly 800 “likes” at present). We’ve designed, printed, and distributed widely an attractive tri-fold brochure and our own eye-catching logo. We’ve set up tables at most every available community event (National Night Out in Campbelltown; Historic Old Annville Day; the Lebanon County Fair; and others). We’ve organized protests and demonstrations, often in tandem with Lancaster Against Pipelines and other allied groups. We have sponsored film screenings, public safety forums, speakers from allied organizations, and informational meetings for local landowners and other concerned citizens.
We’ve attended local municipal meetings to encourage local authorities to pass resolutions opposing the pipelines traversing their municipalities – in two cases successfully. We’ve filed dozens of Right-To-Know requests, developing a rich archive of construction violations and disseminating our findings publicly. We’ve brought our concerns to the county commissioners’ meetings, prompting them to write letters of concern to state and federal officials and add an informational “pipelines” tab to their website. We have developed a robust presence in local media outlets – issuing press releases and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, and inviting reporters to the events we sponsor – including local newspapers (like the Lebanon Daily News), regional digital media platforms (like NPR’s StateImpact), local TV and radio stations, and more. We’ve even hosted a few tours for national photographers and reporters.
Working with Others
In our interactions with local governmental authorities, we consistently act respectfully and courteously and try hard not to blindside anyone. Before attending a public meeting, we’ll send a courtesy note to the relevant authority, detailing our concerns and summarizing what we’ll be saying and asking for. When speaking at public meetings, we’re civil, crisp, and respectful – though, when necessary, we have engaged in peaceful acts of public protest (like duct-taping our mouths shut when prevented from speaking at a township meeting because we’re not township residents).
We’ve also met with all of our state representatives, either in individual meetings or during town hall-style meetings with constituents. We’ve expressed our concerns to members of Governor Tom Wolf’s staff, his Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force and other Department of Environmental Protection officials, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and other public bodies.
Innovative Pipeline Monitoring Program
More recently, with pipeline construction well underway, we’ve developed a pipeline construction monitoring program, undergoing rigorous training and developing official badges to identify ourselves and our organization. We also register all of our monitors with the county commissioners’ office (to prevent imposters from engaging in nefarious acts in our name). (See badge, right)
And it’s made a difference.
I remember well our first outreach efforts in summer 2014 at events like National Night Out in Campbelltown, where we were met with a fair amount of open hostility. “Why do you oppose American energy independence?” people would ask. “What about all the jobs the pipelines will bring to local workers?” After four years of respectfully but insistently hammering on these issues, the public tenor has shifted. Very rarely do we encounter outright hostility anymore. The public has grown increasingly receptive to our message – especially now that construction has begun and folks can see that what we’ve predicted is now coming to pass.
Respect and Reciprocity
We’ve worked very hard to cultivate a respectable public persona and reputation, and we’ve largely succeeded. As best as we can tell, the predominant public perception is that Lebanon Pipeline Awareness is run by a group of dedicated and well-informed volunteers with an important message to share. In fact, two of our leaders were singled out last year by the local newspaper for recognition as providing a positive impact for our community. Our core group, which generally meets twice a month, has expanded to include upwards of 15 committed local activists.
We’ve also worked hard to always couple our anti-pipeline message with a positive message about renewable energy – repeatedly emphasizing that wind, solar, geothermal, and other green energies represent an increasingly viable alternative for energy and for jobs.
In It for the Long Haul
So that’s where we in Lebanon Pipeline Awareness stand at the beginning of our fifth year. Because we have every reason to expect this insane pipeline buildout to intensify, we know we’re in it for the long haul. Our goals for the coming year are to expand our membership; build on and extend our alliances even further; intensify our outreach efforts and our pipeline construction monitoring program; and continue to host public meetings for concerned property owners and citizens.
We also plan to expand our activities to include direct action campaigns like CHISPA – “Challenge in the Streets to Pipelines in PA” – where every Friday afternoon from 4-6 p.m. we’ll be lining five miles of westbound Route 422 from Lebanon to Annville with volunteers bearing provocative protest signs that challenge the thousands of passing motorists to think in fresh ways about issues like climate change, jobs, eminent domain, property rights, renewable energies, and more.
Lebanon Pipeline Awareness is but one of dozens of grassroots citizens’ organizations that have emerged across Pennsylvania over the past decade to resist the Fracking and Pipeline revolutions and insist that we follow “a better path” (the name of an emergent coalition of anti-fracking and anti-pipeline groups from across Pennsylvania). We have lost many battles against our vastly more deep-pocketed and powerful adversaries, but we’ve also made a substantial and positive difference.
Will we win the war? Yes, eventually, as global climate disruption makes increasingly clear that our most pressing need as a species is to leave the remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground. In the meantime, win or lose, our efforts continue – and will continue as long as these insane Fracking and Pipeline revolutions continue to imperil humankind and the web of life that sustains us all.
by Michael Schroeder, Vice President, Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, Annville, Pennsylvania