From March 17 to 20, hundreds of people marched through Western Massachusetts to increase public awareness of the negative impact brought on by the Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline and fracked gas and to highlight the consequences of continued fossil-fuel use and global climate change. The four-day, 53-mile intergenerational walk followed roads near the proposed route of the NED pipeline, beginning at a proposed compressor station location in Windsor, Mass., and ending at a proposed compressor station in Northfield, Mass.
Various community organizations in the 10 towns on the walk helped feed walkers and provide places to sleep. This example highlights the wide support that the march received. The walk was organized by the Sugar Shack Alliance, a climate justice group affiliated with organizations and individuals throughout Western Massachusetts that is organizing a nonviolent direct action campaign to prevent the building of the Kinder Morgan NED pipeline. The name “Sugar Shack” comes from the sugar maple trees that are keystone species in the deciduous forests of the region.
Those who oppose the proposed building of the NED pipeline and other fracked-gas infrastructure argue that the infrastructure is unstable and risks leaks and explosions, that the construction would harm ecologically sensitive areas and that it would lock Massachusetts into energy systems reliant on fossil fuels rather than on renewable energy resources, furthering the destructive effects of climate change. Several of the College’s students and faculty, as well as local residents, attended. They were joined by several students for fossil fuel divestment as well as other student groups from various colleges in Western Massachusetts including Hampshire, Smith, Amherst, University of Massachusetts and Sterling.
Professor of History and Africana Studies Shanti Singham connected her presence at the march to larger issues of environmental impact. “This is not just so that we can protect our water from contamination,” she said. “It is a moral obligation we have to the rest of the world, since the brunt of the destruction caused by fossil fuels is on the poorer countries which have done the least to cause the problem.”
Members of the student group Divest Williams for Climate Justice were among those that participated. Sophia Wilansky ’16 connected the walk to on-campus efforts for fossil fuel divestment. “It is important that, as students who believe in climate justice, we ground ourselves in local and regional resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure while we simultaneously push our schools to play their part by divesting from extractive industries,” she said.
Members of the local Pittsfield node of the climate action group 350MA also participated in the march. The group organizes around several environmental issues, one of which is the proposed NED pipeline. On March 29, the first Department of Public Utilities (DPU) hearing was held in Pittsfield concerning whether Tennessee Gas Company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, would be granted permission by the DPU to survey private properties where the pipeline may be built. Activists and landowners attended the hearing and spoke about the reasons for their opposition.
In these early stages of many pipeline campaigns, landowners begin by opposing “eminent domains” issued by the involved construction companies. These essentially claim that the land can be used “for the public good” to build fossil fuel infrastructure.
The Kinder Morgan NED pipeline is just one of several pipelines that are either proposed or are already being built in Western Massachusetts. Climate action groups are also resisting the CT Expansion pipeline affecting Sandisfield, Mass. in southern Berkshire County. Like the NED pipeline, it is a project run by Kinder Morgan. Located farther east in Mass., the Spectra Algonquin pipeline expansion would bring fracked gas up from Appalachia.
Pipeline opposition happens on multiple levels, including town, state and nationwide. Town-by-town efforts have included passing non-binding resolutions against the construction of the pipeline, and local Boards of Health have also passed resolutions testifying to the health hazards of fracking gas and fracked-gas infrastructure.
The four-day march and other pipeline resistance efforts in Massachusetts fit into a larger nationwide push against fossil fuel infrastructure.