In a series of environmental demonstrations Tuesday in the Champlain Valley, activists called for an end to what they dubbed the “extreme” extraction, transportation, and use of fossil fuels.
In the morning, in Williston, Vermont, protestors with the group Rising Tide Vermont aimed to delay construction of a natural gas pipeline from Chittenden County to Addison County. The group claims Vermont Gas is degrading the environment and suspects ratepayers will be left footing the bill for the cost of the pipeline.
That demonstration at the construction site ended with four arrests for charges of trespassing, Rising Tide Vermont said.
In response to the protest, Vermont Gas countered that natural gas is a more affordable way of heating properties than many homeowners in Addison County currently have access to. The utility has also said that many customers have long wanted natural gas service to come to their community.
Later Tuesday morning, in Ticonderoga, New York, a coalition of environmental advocates from both Vermont and New York gathered to warn of what they see as a potential disaster in the Champlain Valley in the form of a derailment of train cars carrying crude oil.
Several participants said they fear a repeat of the 2013 explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when improperly-secured rail cars carrying crude oil rolled free and derailed, igniting immense fireballs that killed 47 and destroyed much of the downtown.
The environmental activists in Ticonderoga honored those lives lost in Quebec by counting out loud to 47.
“This is an accident waiting to happen,” said Meaghan LaSala of the Maine group Seeds for Justice, one of the event’s organizers, describing the transportation of oil by rail. “This is just one example of the ways which our communities are treated as expendable in order for the fossil fuel industry to make a profit.”
The western Champlain Valley is a route of transportation of crude oil from the Dakotas. Cars carrying millions of gallons of oil each week travel across Canada and back into the United States through New York, WPTZ-TV has reported.
Because of the tracks’ proximity to Lake Champlain, protestors at Tuesday’s demonstration said they fear a possible derailment could impact the water.
“That's something a lot of Vermonters hold dear,” said Maeve McBride of South Burlington. “We're putting millions of dollars into the lake to clean it up, and here we have this fairly new risk to Lake Champlain.”
Since the Lac-Mégantic disaster, WPTZ-TV reported that tracks owned by CP Rail running through the New York portion of the Champlain Valley have been upgraded to more modern rail. The station also reported that tanker owner Global Partners said it retrofitted its cars to make them puncture-resistant.
WPTZ also reported that New York State has added rail inspectors and has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard to develop emergency response plans to the possible release of oil into the water of Lake Champlain.
In recent years, champions of U.S. fuel production have pointed to new jobs created by the industry, and have argued that benefits of North American fuel sources include lower home heating prices and stronger national security, because less oil will be imported.
The activists at Tuesday’s demonstration in Ticonderoga insisted the only safe oil train is no oil train at all.
A third action Tuesday took place in West Addison, Vermont. Activists with the groups Earth First! and Trans* and/or Women's Action blocked a truck carrying compressed natural gas as it was en route to a delivery in New York.
One of the more than 40 participants, Damien Gabriel, agreed to be chained to the back of the truck. The action delayed the compressed natural gas delivery for several hours, according to the protestors. Gabriel and four other activists were arrested, the group said.
The natural gas supplier, NG Advantage, is the largest customer of Vermont Gas, according to a Vermont Gas spokesperson.
NG Advantage has said it provides a greener fuel source than its customers’ alternatives, and one that helps firms such as International Paper in Ticonderoga reign in fuel costs to remain competitive.
Based on the scope of the environmental demonstrations Tuesday in the Champlain Valley, it appears the debate over fossil fuel consumption is becoming even more passionate.