So, family members and both local and out of town supporters have been congregating around a campfire on the property – often in temps in the single digits – telling stories, swapping jokes, eating hot chili and frozen donuts, and keeping an eye on the trucks carrying the out-of-state tree cutters around the area. On the warmer days, they were actually boiling the sap collected from the trees into syrup – a whole month earlier than normal. It’s been a ridiculously warm winter overall. Thanks, climate change – only to be made worse by the very act of building more gas pipelines.
The pipeline approved by FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, covers just 24 miles in PA, but a proposed hundred more in New York. It hasn’t been approved yet in NY, and it may not be, which would render the PA portion a pipeline to nowhere and obviate the need to cut the trees. Pictured left to right: Megan Holleran, a family member who acted as spokeswoman for the protest; me; Susie, a fierce organizer against the pipeline in NY, and my friend V. Just before we got there, a polite confrontation with the company ended with the tree cutters leaving the property (read about/listen to that story here).
We stayed at the beautiful home of Megan’s parents, with our own rooms (no grabbing floor space!) and a ping pong table downstairs (yay!). One night the stars were out and we saw lots of constellations – what a treat for someone from light pollution land. They made us feel so at home that we baked banana bread one night, using the bananas that froze on the food table at the protest site.
Megan and her family are not radical environmentalists. They have various connections to the world of fracking; they have gas wells on their property, and she told us that virtually everyone in the area does, too. Her brother works in the industry, and Megan herself is an archeologist – an independent contractor who works for companies all over the place, including the gas industry. She surveys proposed construction sites for evidence of Indian burial sites – the only finding that could keep a project from moving forward, she explained, at least at the preferred location.
They just don’t want to see their sugar bush destroyed.
A week after we left, Megan’s mom, Cathy, and her sister, Maryanne Zeffer, had to go to court to respond to Williams’s request that they be held in contempt and fined outrageous sums for every day the protesters successfully discouraged the company from cutting down the trees and moving the pipeline forward. The judge declined to do that, but he did rule that the family must allow the company onto their property. Here’s the latest from Megan, posted on Feb. 23 on their Facebook event page: No Constitution Pipeline in PA (which you can check for lots of background and updates):
“We received notice a few hours ago that Constitution intends to begin tree cutting on our property later this week and possibly continuing into next week. Looks like our requests for them to wait until cutting is necessary are being ignored. My family has decided to vacate the property at this time. This has been an incredibly emotional and stressful time and I honestly don't think any of us can stand to be present to witness the destruction of our home which we have fought so hard to protect. We will be shutting down our maple syrup operation on the property for now, though we hope to be able to continue producing on what trees are left to us later in the season. Thanks to so many incredible people for all of your support in this ordeal, it has made all the difference and has kept us going.”
The Zeffer/Holleran family’s warmth, generosity and commitment have been an inspiration to all of us lucky enough to have met them. Without pipelines to move the gas, there’s no point in drilling fracking wells. Without pipelines to move the gas, there’s no need to build giant LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals like the one under construction in Cove Point, Maryland. With pipelines, America is committing to at least 30 more years of drilling, transporting and burning fracked gas – which, with methane leaks at every stage of the process, recent studies show may be worse than coal from a global warming perspective. (Here is a critique of that view.) Not to mention the health impacts, or the damage to the earth – including these maple trees, which will likely be gone by the time you read this.