Marcellus pipeline project spurs latest protest campout

By Jenny Mandel | 02/07/2017 07:04 AM EST

A group of pipeline opponents in Lancaster, Pa., have set Friday as the kickoff date for a planned "large-scale encampment" to protest construction of the Atlantic Sunrise project, a $2.6 billion effort to connect natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale formation to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

The Atlantic Sunrise project is being developed by a subsidiary of Williams Cos. and involves 183 miles of new pipeline to be laid in Pennsylvania as well as modifications to equipment and pipelines in its Transco system in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Once built, it would allow the company to deliver gas throughout the Eastern Seaboard and as far south as Florida.

The project won conditional approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday during the last hours before FERC lost its decisionmaking ability as a result of the resignation of its former chairman, Norman Bay. That departure puts major decisionmaking by the body on hold until the Trump administration is able to secure Senate approval of a replacement for him (Energywire, Feb. 6).


Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, said the next steps for the project will be to certify within 30 days its plans to comply with the environmental and safety conditions that FERC put on the project. The project has yet to obtain approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for wetlands crossings and from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for wetlands and waterbody crossings, he said.

Stockton said work within the fence line of existing facilities is expected to start by April, and the company hopes to proceed with so-called greenfield construction by the second half of this year, once those permits are obtained.

Stockton said he was unaware of any ongoing legal challenges to the project but declined to speculate on whether it would be challenged either through FERC’s appeals process or in the courts. "There are people out there who are willing to challenge just about anything they disagree with, so it wouldn’t surprise me," he said, but pointed to broad support for the project’s promised economic benefits in the areas where work would be done.

Stockton declined to say what portion of the pipeline’s needed right of way has been secured to date. Transco, the Williams subsidiary that is behind the project, typically acquires about 5 percent of a pipeline’s right of way via eminent domain, he said, noting that the legal tactic has not yet been used for Atlantic Sunrise because negotiations with landowners are still ongoing.

Digging in

In Lancaster County, those negotiations look to be in rough shape.

A group called Lancaster Against Pipelines has been organizing opposition to the project based on worry that it would bring safety and environmental risk to the area and threaten agriculture and the "rural way of life" of local communities.

Yesterday, the group live-streamed on Facebook a gathering of protesters at a farm that they said would be disrupted by the new pipeline route, inviting opponents of the pipeline to gather in opposition to the project.

"Starting Friday of this week, on Feb. 10, the Lancaster Stand encampment will officially open for campers and for supplies to be donated," an unidentified man read in a prepared statement.

A webpage for the group describes the gathering as "a peaceful gathering place formed in opposition to the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline," to be hosted on a private farm on the banks of the Conestoga River.

In the video, a woman who identifies herself as Malinda Clatterbuck, a founding member of the opposition group, said Lancaster Against Pipelines opposes the use of eminent domain for private gain — a rallying cry popularized in the fight against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that activist Jane Kleeb, founder of the Bold Alliance, has used to draw bipartisan opposition to pipeline projects (Greenwire, Sept. 19, 2016).

"We are forced to relocate our selves and our families out of our homes and live in the pathway of this route in order to protect what is most dear to us, and necessary for our health and safety," Clatterbuck said yesterday.

This weekend, opposition groups will host a two-day workshop on "nonviolent mass action scenarios" that they say will serve as an orientation to the encampment.