Protesters march on Washington, DC to oppose fracked gas exports

Protesters march through downtown Washington, DC. Creative Commons: Sat Jwan Ilke-Khalsa, 2014

Protesters in downtown Washington, DC. Creative Commons: Sat Jwan Ilke-Khalsa, 2014

Hundreds of activists gathered in Washington, DC on Sunday to speak out against a proposed natural gas export facility slated for Lusby, Maryland—just 50 miles away from the American capital.

A coalition of more than 40 environmental and grassroots groups organized the Stop Fracked Gas Exports rally, which called upon President Obama and the Federal Energy Regulations Committee (FERC) to halt the approval of the proposed Cove Point facility and prioritize investment in clean energy.

If built, the $3.8 billion Cove Point facility would liquefy natural gas for export to foreign markets in India, Japan, and elsewhere.

As a result of the shale boom that has spiked domestic fossil fuel production and made the United States the world’s top natural gas producer, energy companies has been pushing for expedited approval of export facilities. Natural gas prices in Europe are about three times higher than US prices. In Asia, prices have been as much as nine times higher than US prices.

While American energy companies are champing at the bit to start selling natural gas abroad, the protesters who gathered on the National Mall on Sunday urged the Obama administration to consider the costs of scaling up the production and shipping of natural gas. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said:

The damage that this project would bring to the Maryland coast as well as the disastrous effects of the fracking boom on communities in states like Pennsylvania make it clear that exporting liquefied natural gas is bad news for Americans’ air, water and health.

It is expected that the new export facility—which would be the first on the country’s east coast—would further accelerate fracking operations around the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches over several eastern US states, including Pennsylvania.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves injecting a mix of water, sand, and toxic chemicals into the ground to extract oil and natural gas. Opponents of the controversial procedure say that it contaminates groundwater, pollutes the air, and places industrial operations in dangerous proximity to residential areas.

Fracking has also been found by several studies to cause earthquakes.

Opponents of the proposed facility also point to its expected impact on global climate change. If built, the Cove Point facility and its supporting infrastructure would send over 2 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year, releasing more carbon pollution than many coal-fired power plants.

The climate consequences of exporting liquefied natural gas also extend far beyond any one facility. A report released by the US Energy Department found that the climate benefits of natural gas—which is cleaner at the point of combustion than coal—are offset by methane leaks during the extraction and transportation of the fuel.

From a climate change perspective, natural gas leaks are far from trivial. Methane traps 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time scale and 34 times more heat over a 100-year period.

Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the climate justice group Peaceful Uprising, said:

President Obama can’t solve the climate crisis while overseeing a massive expansion of fracked gas infrastructure. As long as our political leaders continue to fail to offer an energy plan that is appropriate for the climate crisis, we have to resist every new project that would lock us into decades of more dependence on fossil fuels.

Even before Sunday’s march, public opposition to the project was running high. In Maryland, organizers have staged peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins against the Cove Point facility. Meanwhile, during a recent public comment period, over 150,000 comments opposing the project were submitted to FERC.

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