By Melinda Tuhus, Between The Lines
On Feb. 3, an anti-fracking activist climbed a 150-foot crane on the site of Dominion Resources’ liquid natural gas – or LNG – refinery and export terminal under construction at Cove Point, on southern Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shore. Carling Sothoron, 27, works as a teacher at a farm school in Baltimore and is a member of the group SEED – Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction. It’s one of many organizations – local and regional – campaigning to stop the $3.8 billion LNG project.
Opponents say the LNG terminal will bring noise and dangerous pollution to residents living near the site in the town of Lusby; greatly increase fracking throughout the Marcellus shale region where natural gas is extracted and blow a hole in any attempt to rein in carbon pollution to keep climate change from going into overdrive.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who has worked on the Cove Point issue, spoke with Sothoron after she was brought down from the crane, arrested and released. Here, she explains what motivated her to engage in this civil disobedience action and what she believes is at risk if the export terminal is built.
CARLING SOTHORON: Heather Doyle and I entered the Dominion Cove Point site and we proceeded to climb onto the crane structure and Heather was my belay person as I climbed to the top of the crane. And at the top, I unfurled a banner that read, “Dominion Get Out” and “Don’t Frack Maryland” and “No Gas Exports” and “Save Cove Point.”
BETWEEN THE LINES: How did you get down from the top of the crane?
CARLING SOTHORON: I tried to come down on my own by asking for my rope back. The end of my rope – the part that Heather was attached to – once Heather was removed from the crane, the police officer tied off the end of my rope so I couldn’t retrieve my rope to allow myself to come down on my own. So they lowered the crane with me on it. So I felt a bit unsafe because I didn’t know what was happening.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What led you to take this kind of action, which could be pretty risky to your safety and also carry a legal risk?
CARLING SOTHORON: I’d actually been out of the country for a little while and I returned back to Maryland this past summer, and pretty soon afterward I found out about Dominion’s project in Cove Point. For the last few years I’ve been learning more about natural gas fracking and its impacts on the environment and the communities where this process is happening, and have felt very strongly against the practice of natural gas drilling. And when I found out about this project, the more I was learning about the impact it would have, the more I wanted to do something about it. So I found a group of people that were actively working on stopping this project from happening, and in the past few months there’s been a lot of activity as far as protests and actions taken to raise awareness about what this project is going to mean for nearby communities, but also the region, and even beyond just Maryland.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think those impacts are, or would be?
CARLING SOTHORON: In the immediate region, they’re clear-cutting lots of land for this project. They’re not even hiring local folks, and to send natural gas abroad means that the price of natural gas here in the U.S. is going to go up. It also means if we’re starting to ship natural gas outside of the U.S., we’re going to need to be producing more natural gas in the U.S. Right now, there is no fracking happening in Maryland, but it seems like it will be on the table shortly, especially with a new governor who supports it. So in western Maryland there is the Marcellus shale, which is an area where a lot of natural gas exists underground that is somewhat easily accessible. So the likelihood that natural gas fracking will start happening in western Maryland seems very high. And once that happens then the natural gas needs to get to export facilities somehow, and that would be through pipelines, so there’s going to be thousands of miles of pipelines built to transport this gas to the export facility. Also, at this particular Cove Point facility, they have to build a plant to change the gas from gas to liquid. The liquid makes it easier to ship; there’s lots of negative environmental impacts associated with that process. So on various levels, there’s not going to be any benefit to the community.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The Cove Point LNG export terminal has gotten all its approvals and is already under construction, so do you really think there’s any chance of stopping it?
CARLING SOTHORON: If I didn’t think there was a chance of stopping it, I wouldn’t have done what I did the other day. I absolutely believ we have the power to cancel this project, to stop them where they’re at now. I believe in the people who are putting their lives on the line and that are organizing. I believe in our power of community to make sure Dominion doesn’t move forward with this project. I think it’s a big challenge and Dominion has a lot of money, but there’s a lot of willpower and we’re willing to fight and we know what’s at risk, and we’re going to do what we can do stop it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Sothoron was charged with trespassing and failure to obey a lawful order – both misdemeanors – and has a court date in March. Several other activists who also disrupted construction at the site go to court on Feb. 23. Learn more about groups opposed to natural gas fracking by visiting SEED, Stopping Extraction and Exports Destruction, at seedcoalition.wordpress.com.