Climate & Social Justice

Activists Lock Themselves to Construction Equipment to Protest Fossil Fuel Expansion


Three activists locked themselves to different pieces of construction equipment on Sept. 14 to protest natural gas projects in Burrillville. (FANG)

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Environmental activists again staged an act of disobedience on the grounds of a natural gas pipeline project and a proposed fossil fuel power plant.

Before sunrise on Sept. 14, Matt Smith of New Jersey, Nick Katkevich of Rhode Island and Keith Clougherty of Massachusetts locked themselves to construction equipment with fortified PVC pipes. Work was halted for nearly four hours until police removed them from the site at 8:45 a.m. Nearly 60 workers had to leave the compressor station during the incident.

The three were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. They were released later in the day from Providence District Court.

The expansion project at the compressor station, owned by Spectra Energy, will increase the volume of natural gas flowing along the 1,200-mile Algonquin pipeline that runs from New Jersey to a distribution hub outside Boston.

The protests was held to draw attention to the local and global environmental impacts of natural-gas extraction, distribution and use as a fuel.

“What happens in Burrillville doesn’t stay in Burrillville. This project hurts communities across the Northeast and climate change is already killing people around the world,” said Clougherty, who lives near a proposed compressor station and pipeline expansion project in Weymouth, Mass.

On Aug. 13, two protesters were arrested after locking themselves to the gate of the compressor station. Both were released the same day and eventually convicted of trespassing. One of the arrested was Peter Nightingale. The University of Rhode Island physics professor recently embarked on a series of fasts to coincide with several protests in Rhode Island and an ongoing protest outside of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency in Washington, D.C., that issues permits for fossil-fuel projects.

“FERC has a pattern of rubber-stamping fracking-related infrastructure and other fossil-fuel projects, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act as well as ancient, venerated legal principles,” said Nightingale, a founding member of the divestment advocacy group Fossil Free Rhode Island.

Activists have held regular protests at and outside the compressor station. In May, two protesters were arrested after a tree-sit at the edge of the compressor station. Civil disobedience has been on the rise since Gov. Gina Raimondo announced last month plans for a $700 million natural gas-fired power plant on land next to the compressor station.

National Grid recently unveiled plans for a $100 million gas-liquefaction plant on the Providence waterfront. A similar project is planned for New Bedford, Mass. A new gas-fired power plant also is being built in Salem, Mass., in tandem with pipeline expansion.

New England’s governors say the projects are needed to ease winter demand for natural gas and control price swings.

This latest protest was organized by Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG), a group with an active chapter in Rhode Island that has engaged in several protests against natural-gas projects across southern New England since it was founded in 2014.

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