On Saturday, June 9th, over 150 “Pipeline Activist”, residents, and onlookers gathered outside Chester County old courthouse in West Chester borough to protest the Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline which, when completed, will cut through the very heart of Chester County. They have a fire in their bellies and a purpose worth hearing. The ultimate goal of the opposition is the total shutdown of the Sunoco Mariner East pipelines.
The rally started at 3:00 PM and completed shortly after 4:00 PM. It was comprised of seven primary speakers and various individuals holding signs, handing out information, and getting signatures.
The rally was kicked-off by Sam Rubin of Food & Water Watch, an activist group that organized the event, who introduced the first speaker, a passionate West Whiteland resident, Ginny Kerslake, a self-professed “unlikely pipeline activist.”
Opposition to this pipeline project has brought together many people from all walks of life, “…all because Sunoco and it’s Mariner East pipeline has brought us Destruction, Deception, and Danger to our community.”
Kerslake said that Sunoco had lied to her about the impact of construction but their most popular lie was: “You won’t see us. You won’t hear us. You won’t even know we are here.” But sadly, “the reality of this project has been a total disruption to our lives.”
The second speaker, Ellen Sue Gerhart, a retired special-education teacher, a resident of Union Township, Huntingdon County, and co-founder of Camp White Pine, reiterated Kerslake’s sentiments regarding disruption to life.
Gerhart outlined details of her hardship and total disruption to her life which had greatly impacted her family too. Her fight against the pipeline started back in February 2015 and is still ongoing. Gerhart empathized how stressful the fight has been. She noted that, “Pipeline and fracking companies devastated people’s lives in countless ways.” She further said, “[They] exact a toll on the mental, emotional, spiritual and financial health.”
Gerhard finish her time with some words of advice, “it is so crucial we all support one another,” because this is a “war” which “corporate profits have priority over the health and safety of the citizen of the Commonwealth.”
Doctor Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, author, poet, and cancer survivor, from Seneca Lake region of New York State gave a quick overview of the history of the natural gas found in the rocks in both Pennsylvania and New York. Steingraber writes and lectures on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and environmental links to cancer. During her speech, she noted details of the natural gas liquids (NGL)/liquid petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas) and how they are specifically exported to product plastics. Steingraber also gave the audience words of encouragement, by stating a “massive citizen upraising” put a halt to the fracking businesses in New York.
Wenonah Hauter, is an environmental organizer and author. Hauter currently serves as the executive director of Food & Water Watch, which she founded. She started her discussion about, “one of the villains,” James Ratcliffe a British billionaire chemical engineer turned financier and industrialist. Ratcliffe is the CEO of the Ineos chemicals group, which he founded in 1998 and which has been estimated worth over $65 billion. Hauter discussed the details of the transportation of the natural gas to Scotland to be used to manufacturer plastics.
Hauter finished her time with a battle cry, “We will not let these billionaires ruin our lives and ruin the future… …the people united cannot be divided.”
Next up was state Sen. Andy Dinniman, representing the residents of West Whiteland Township but emphasized the role everyone has as a larger community fighting for something that is right. As he stated, “Your voice is an important voice.”
Dinniman said, “This is an important a movement…” and he state there are two primary fundamental function of government:
- Public safety and protection of every citizen;
- Protection of Property Rights
He further said, “Eminent domain had been compromised beyond belief.” And the citizens have a constitutional right to protect the environment.
Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution states:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Eve Miari, an advocacy coordinator with event organizer Clean Air Council, talked about how and why she got involved, starting two years ago when she first learned about the easement agreement signed by local officials. These agreements placed highly volatile pipelines within feet of a school where her children attended. Eve, like many other residents, did not know much, if anything, about Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines but today see has become very knowledgeable, due in part, to her desire and passion to learn all the details. And because of this, she is working hard to fight for everyone.
During this time she gave an update of various actions of the Clean Air Council and other legal actions. But the most notable update was regarded an accident along the pipeline that occurred on May 21.
A sub-contractor for Aqua, Brubacher Excavating, hit the pipeline at 6.2 feet below the surface but had been previously informed by Sunoco that the pipe was buried 9 feet deep. The pipe was reported to have been “scratched” but the pipe itself was not damaged. Also, the line is not operational at this time. However, many dare to ask the question, “What if?” This is just one of many examples of events that leaves you wondering, how safe are we?
The final speaker, Bibianna Dussling, a resident of Middletown Township, Delaware County, founding member of the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, a veteran Naval officer, and “above all things” is a mother. She focused on constitutional rights and sacrifices she had to make to protect the constitution, through her personal service for almost a decade in the military.
Dussling stated, “it’s fundamental American values that we preserve for future generations. That we work together to establish safe, stable communities. That we protect the most vulnerable among us.”
But, she pointed out that our public officials from the local level all the way up, had failed us.
The rally ended with those in attendance chanting, “What are we going to do… Win! …Win! …Win!” With the reference to stopping the Sunoco’s Mariner East pipelines.
One resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, likened Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline project to that of, “Sherman’s March to the Sea.” He qualified his statement further saying, “…they just don’t give a damn about us. It’s all about slash and burn for profit.” He also stated, “They think they are immune from all the responsibility but from this day forward they own it because of Judge Barnes’s order.”
The speakers during the rally were passionate about protecting the one’s they love and there was energy pulsating throughout the crowd. There was a flame burning deep inside and you can see it in their eyes. They have a primary goal to permanently shut down Mariner East. But the questions is, are they too late?
By the end of this week we will learn about the Public Utility Commission’s decision. Will they uphold Judge Barnes’s order granting the emergency petition for construction to be halted until officials confirm the line’s safety? Or perhaps they will go one step further and actually halt the project completely?
Video of the rally can be found here