Daring banner drop protests Bank of America’s investment in fracked gas export terminal
As many as 74,000 football fans at a Carolina Panthers game witnessed two people rappel from the upper deck in the pouring rain.
The “fracktivists” suspended themselves in front of the press box and unfurled a banner reading, “BoA: Dump Dominion, WeAreCovePoint.org.”
After dangling in front of the press box for several minutes, the protesters were lowered to the deck below, arrested and charged with multiple misdemeanors. Four people were arrested in total.
The stunt was broadcast live on Monday Night Football, which had an audience of 12 million last week.
Carried out during one of the biggest match-ups of the season between the Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts, the banner drop was designed to shame stadium sponsor Bank of America for its financial backing of a gas liquefaction project on the Chesapeake Bay.
Dominion Cove Point, now under construction, is poised to become one of the first LNG terminals in the United States to export natural gas. It is so far the only terminal geographically situated to export gas produced by the expanding hydraulic fracking industry of the Marcellus Shale.
A press release by organization We Are Cove Point identifies the rapellers as Rica Madrid and John Nicolson. “Bank of America is financing the Cove Point LNG plant, and the surrounding community in Southern Maryland is forced to bear the human cost,” Nicolson is quoted in the press release. “This is unacceptable.”
Cove Point LNG’s parent company, Dominion Resources, has been trying to raise the necessary $3.8 billion to get the terminal up and running. Bank of America is one of Dominion’s major backers. It owns shares worth more than $623 million, loaned Dominion $380 million in 2013 alone, and bought $275 million in bonds largely dedicated to capitalizing the Cove Point LNG venture.
Although the natural gas and LNG markets are weathering tough times, Dominion Cove Point could still be a gold mine because of the contractual agreement with its two customers. No matter how much gas they ship, GAIL Ltd. and Sumitomo Corporation must pay the same toll to Dominion.
But that gold mine will sit on a powderkeg of 14.6 bcf of LNG, 410,000 gallons of propane and two 87-megawatt combustion turbines squeezed into the existing 130-acre site. Nearly 2,500 residents live within one mile of the terminal and could bear the brunt of a potential massive industrial catastrophe in their neighborhood.
A local Assistant Fire Chief, Mickey Shymansky, even resigned in protest because he believes emergency responders would be unable to handle an LNG conflagration. “This place is sounding the alarms on so many different levels,” Shymansky said in an interview. “They’re allowing themselves to build the perfect storm.”
The high level of emissions produced by the plant is also a concern. Dominion Cove Point will become the fourth largest polluter in Maryland, producing 20.4 tons of toxic and cancer-causing pollutants each year. Environmentalists point out that the lifecycle emissions of LNG export, from fracking well to the ultimate destination in Asia or Europe, are worse than coal. Recent studies have shown that emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, exceed previous estimates.
This isn’t the first daring maneuver designed to draw attention to Dominion. Last February, two activists climbed the arm of a crane and dropped a banner at a construction site; they were subsequently convicted of trespassing.
UPDATE: On November 3, Dominion released a statement regarding the protest: “The Dominion Cove Point natural gas liquefaction project has been approved by federal, state and local governments. It is about 47 percent complete. Dominion had all the necessary permits and authorization before beginning construction in October 2014. Dominion has also had its financing for this project in place and 20-year contracts with customers signed before it began project construction, which is occurring at the existing LNG terminal that began operating nearly 40 years ago in Lusby.”
Dominion Resources filed with the SEC to form Dominion Midstream (NYSE:DM), a Master Limited Partnership, to raise about $400 million dollars in an initial public offering. Net proceeds from the offering would be used to fund a portion of development and construction costs related to the liquefaction project, the company said in the filing.
Dominion Midstream, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, is a preferred equity interest in the Cove Point LNG facility. Yesterday, in its third quarter earnings conference call, Dominion reported on Dominion Midstream’s progress. A year after construction began on Cove Point, Dominion Midstream continues to sell common units for capital expenditures for the project.
NOTE: This article was updated to reflect the protesters’ arrests and charges.