By James “Spider” Marks
Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and strategic advisor to the GAIN Coalition — Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.
Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have proposed ambitious plans for phasing out oil and gas products and shifting solely to renewable energy sources. Notably, not one of their proposals endorses assaulting pipeline workers, lighting fire to equipment, creating human blockades, living in trees, or chaining people to excavators.
Yet, regrettably, all these tactics have recently been employed by protesters of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a $4.6 billion project that is more than 80% complete and will carry clean-burning natural gas from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia after going into operation next year. The project has successfully navigated a process full of rigorous regulatory scrutiny with developers working closely with regulators to meet the proper standards and facilitating an agreement for the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. Despite these diligent efforts, environmental groups continue to call for the project to be shut down while protesters take matters into their own hands.
The dangerous protest tactics activists have deployed are not only unlawful but also ineffective. Increasingly they put pipeline employees, law enforcement, and innocent bystanders at risk. Just recently, a protester was charged with assaulting a pipeline worker after being advised he was breaking the law by blocking a roadway.
However, this latest incident shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the long string of protester antics that have bombarded the project in the last six months. In late June, local law enforcement resorted to using a mechanized lift to remove an unruly protester who had refused to come down from the top of an excavator for six hours. That came on the heels of another incident in which a protester barricaded himself inside a section of the pipeline in Summers County. And in perhaps the most severe act of protest thus far, law enforcement is investigating a February arson that damaged half a million dollars in equipment at a construction site.
While many activists argue the U.S. does not need natural gas or that it is harmful to the environment, they often overlook its important role in fueling the American economy and helping meet our nation’s modern energy needs. For example, natural gas is responsible for generating more than 35% of the United States’ electricity. The activists protesting pipelines like Mountain Valley unrealistically contend that wind and solar will be able to replace sources like natural gas within the next decade, despite their current role of only producing little more than 8% of our electricity needs. Their environmental concerns fall flat when you consider that natural gas has served as a crucial bridge-fuel replacing less environmentally-friendly sources and helped lower carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector by nearly 30% since 2005.
More broadly, from a national security perspective, it is paramount that the United States reduce its energy dependence on unpredictable foreign energy sources — and we are already headed in the right direction. Recent statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicate that U.S. monthly crude oil imports from OPEC nations have reached a 30-year low while U.S. natural gas production and exports hit a record high.
Activists may disagree about the importance of natural gas production and reliable energy infrastructure to transport fuels to American consumers in need, but breaking the law and putting innocent people at risk are not reasonable courses of action. Federal, state, and local regulators carefully review pipeline proposals before granting permits. These regulators welcome public input and concerns during a designated public comment period. Vigilante regulation is not a sustainable, or legal, option. It’s imperative that national and local officials prioritize safe investment in our critical energy infrastructure network and denounce the dangerous tactics that protesters are utilizing. They jeopardize the safety of hard-working pipeline employees and law enforcement while serving no useful purpose other than grandstanding.
Such unlawful and disruptive conduct should not be rewarded. The Mountain Valley Pipeline deserves to receive fair treatment from regulators and officials and reach a successful completion of the construction process.