FERC Teaches Oil And Gas Industries To Silence Protest

| Resist!

WASHINGTON, DC–At the Natural Gas Roundtable luncheon in DC on Tuesday, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Norman Bay announced his agency would soon issue a ‘best practices manual’ to help the gas industry win permits for fracked gas infrastructure projects. As he spoke to a packed audience of gas lobbyists, industry representatives, and their supporters in Congress, Bay echoed advice he received from a gas pipeline CEO. “While you certainly want to receive a certificate from FERC, you also want to earn a social license from the communities along the path of the pipeline,” he said.

That FERC operates as an arm of the fracked gas industry comes as no surprise to many communities that have contended with FERC-approved projects firsthand. Ann Nau is a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, a group in Myersville, Maryland that has unsuccessfully fought FERC for years to stop fracked gas compressor stations in their town.  

“FERC holds free three day interactive seminars where it teaches the industry to ‘successfully’ navigate the FERC Process,” Nau said. “They go so far as to invite the industry to sponsor snack times and evening social gatherings. They hold ‘pre-conferences’ where FERC staff ask ‘Do you have conflict in your pipeline  work – maybe with a property owner’ and offer to ‘strategize for dealing with difficult behavior using your examples.’  Affected communities on the other hand get a brochure. It is obvious FERC looks at communities, at people, who are adversely affected by these projects as problems.”

The schedule for FERC seminars can be found at http://fercseminar.nrg-llc.com/. The next one is from October 6-8 and will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Little known to those who attended the Tuesday luncheon, three organizers with the group Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) were not allowed to attend, despite having registered. Although the luncheon was held at the University Club, it was monitored by FERC’s internal security personnel. One member of BXE was asked to leave by FERC security because the lunch was “over capacity.” The other two members were escorted out because their clothes did not meet the club’s standards. Once removed, the building’s doors were locked and five security officers were stationed at the entrance.

“I was told my shoes precluded my participation from the event,” said Jimmy Betts, originally of Nebraska. “After volunteering to change my shoes which I could have easily done, a ranking Roundtable member proceeded to change the request again, this time asking if I had already paid. I attempted to pay the fee in cash, but was again denied entry with them simply saying it would not be possible to accommodate me for this event.”

“I’d hoped to turn attention to the injustice done to communities and mother earth, but unfortunately was asked to leave first,” said Debbie Wagner of Maryland, who was also not permitted to attend the luncheon.

“This type of citizen restriction and suppression seems to be a standard, or ‘best practice,’ that has been a long-standing FERC tradition and is now understood to be drafted into a formal industry manual.  Which may be to say: what’s good for the FERC is good for the fracker,” Betts said.

There was little question that FERC wanted the public excluded.

BXE is only one of many groups that are organizing to stop FERC’s alarming practice of rubber stamping fracked gas infrastructure projects.  A growing body of research shows how leaking methane from fracked gas infrastructure is a more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. With the Pope calling human-caused climate change the moral issue of our time, and leading climate scientist James Hansen warning of possible catastrophic sea level rise in the near future if we can’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, FERC finds itself in an increasingly untenable position.

Earlier in the week, Senate and House members from New Hampshire released a letter calling on federal watchdogs to look closely at FERC pipeline reviews to make sure the public has sufficient say, including around possible environmental impacts. Fracking infrastructure exacerbates climate change, but it also leads to air and water pollution, and a slew of localized health impacts that leave communities on the frontlines suffering. Headaches, respiratory issues, and even cancer are the dangers of living near fracking infrastructure, not to mention the dangers of explosion. The letter emphasizes the importance of public input especially in light of the fact that FERC authorized construction allows for private land to be taken through eminent domain.  

In September, members of BXE, including the three who were excluded from the luncheon, are planning a month-long water only fast outside FERC to call for an end to all new permits. “We need escalated non-violent actions that fit the extremity of the crisis,” said Thomas Parker, originally of Alabama, at 19 the youngest person to sign-up for the fast. “I feel obligated to put my own comfort aside and take a stand,” he added.

The BXE fasters cite Pope Francis in their call to action on the Beyond Extreme Energy website.

It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn,” Francis said.

It remains to be seen if FERC’s earthly sojourn can be anything but a blight on humanity. At this time of crisis when everyone must take sides, FERC is standing with the industry. In their eyes, people who love their family, friends, and the places they live are a problem. The real question is whether enough people will wake up to this troubling reality in time to stop it from causing more suffering and death.

  • DDHelfrich

    Well said, and more importantly, well done, Lee. FERC must be thoroughly reviewed and all the industry apologists and the morally bankrupt actors must be purged so that this organization serves the public interest. Thank you.

  • Tribalscribal

    Another captured agency moment!

  • paulroden

    Federal Energy Resources Commission = FERC They don’t regulate, they promote extraction by expediting pipelines and pumping stations. They are foxes guarding the hen houses. They exist to give the appearance of regulating and protecting the public. If regulations and permits were really set up to protect the public and the environment, then their seminars, meetings and workshops would be more open to the public. If they had nothing to hide, there would be more openness and transparency. It is the lapdog of the greedy, dirty, energy extraction industry.

  • mwildfire

    Thing is, most, if not all, state and federal agencies are captured. It’s how our system WORKS. When the politicians are all beholden to the moneybags that elected them (voters are a minor technical component), they appoint agency heads who can be relied upon to supply the policy the funders want, while giving lip service to environmental concerns and public health, etc. I’ve come to think that public hearings are held for two reasons: because it’s written somewhere in the code that they’re required, and/or because it gives activist groups a good way to waste precious hours and resources that doesn’t threaten the outcome–how often have you seen a permit denied? In twenty years of activism mostly in WV, I don’t believe I EVER have. Including in cases where the DEP reps listened to all day outpourings of passionate opposition. If we want to actually block the actual, physical harms of fossil fuel industries, we need to first get more of the public on our side, meaning outreach and education, but also a concerted campaign to build up alternative energy and living arrangements…and then we need to engage our larger numbers in more effective tactics than public hearings, speaking to “our” representatives, or starving ourselves.

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