A small flotilla of activists in kayaks launched into the Patuxent River at Solomons, MD on March 13 in a demonstration of support for locals battling a liquefied natural gas facility under construction in their residential neighborhood. From the Thomas Johnson Bridge, twenty-one kayakers paddled by the pier where barges have delivered massive cargoes too big to transport to the Dominion Cove Point terminal over land.
As they proceeded down the river’s broad, shallow channel toward the Chesapeake Bay, a police boat shadowed their movements. (Sheriff’s deputies were at the helm of the custom vessel bought by Dominion, the terminal operator, for marine security.) Six police vehicles had been stationed at the boat launch, where officers took photos of license plates.
The police however did not interfere as the kayaks rendezvoused with about 50 comrades gathered on the Solomons boardwalk. Making their way into formation, kayaks lined up side by side, with six kayaks serving as spacers for a banner which read, “Dominion = Disaster.” Slowly, all the kayaks drifted sideways with the current into alignment with the group on the boardwalk.
Paddle on the Patuxent
The coordinated combination of onshore and marine demonstration heralded the arrival in Southern Maryland of kayak activism, or “kayaktivism,” a tactic that has been used worldwide to challenge fossil fuel extraction and profiteering by corporations.
Kayaktivism was recently implemented with great success on the West Coast when oil company Shell parked its oil rig, the Polar Pioneer in Seattle on its way to drill in the Arctic (the participation of more than 200 kayaktivists became known as the “Paddle in Seattle”), and again when Shell’s icebreaker ship required emergency repair in Portland.
Sunday’s demonstration was the culmination of Cove Point Spring Break, a week-long community-building camp for activists concerned about extreme extraction of fossil fuels. For the participants learning the techniques of kayaktivism during camp, it was an opportunity to try out new skills.
Cove Point activists learned these skills from a team of trainers from Backbone Campaign, seasoned veterans from the deployment of Seattle and Portland’s fleet of kayaks. Bill Moyer, co-founder of Backbone Campaign, called kayaktivism a new tactic in a fundamentally moral battle.
“We have to win with love,” he said. “And so we have to harness the love and the relationships that people have to their place and community.”
The Disaster Next Door
Taking to the water seems only natural in this area of Maryland, where freshwater rivers and creeks meet the salty brine of the Chesapeake Bay. If completed, the expansion of the Cove Point LNG terminal—which takes its name from the bayside community it occupies—will draw tankers from Japan and India to fill up with super-cooled liquefied gas. One fear is that these tankers will release contaminated bilge water into the Bay as they go.
Even larger concerns are contained in the risks of the energy-intensive, noisy and air-polluting process of liquefying gas, never before attempted in such a densely populated area.
“This facility will put out 22 tons of toxins every year,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, who attended the boardwalk rally. “[They] are going to cause childhood leukemia, asthma, and other illnesses in this community, as well as a hazard of explosion or fire.”
Calvert County locals have been fighting the terminal for two and a half years. But, as Dr. Flowers pointed out, the effects of Cove Point’s operation would extend far beyond Southern Maryland. “It will also drive fracking, compressor stations and pipelines all up and down the East Coast, which will hurt people in those communities as well,” she said.
Kelly Canavan of SEED Coalition and AMP Creeks Council appreciates the solidarity activists share. “It’s not just the mid-Atlantic but the entire country that has their eyes on this project,” she said. “It’s awesome to work with other people who are fighting these same fights and realize how connected they are.”
Stefanie Herweck, from Save RGV from LNG and the Lower Rio Grande Group of the Sierra Club, traveled from Texas to participate in the Cove Point camp. She is facing a cluster of LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast as well as pipelines transporting gas from Eagleford shale fracking wells.
Another speaker, Ted Gleichman from Oregon, was flush from a recent—and unexpected–victory. After fighting the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal for a decade, he received word on Friday that a federal agency had refused to certify it when the connector pipeline failed to contract customers and persuade enough landowners to lease to them.
The lack of customers may reflect the woeful state of the international LNG market, which was only recently regarded as a goldmine of profits for the U.S. fracked gas industry. Likewise, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been under fire for never turning down a single gas industry project.
Perhaps the example of Jordan Cove demonstrates that in the midst of transformational change, it is difficult to realize that it is actually happening. Bill Moyer, though, believes in the ability of people to create transformational moments themselves.
“We have the potential to take the things we’ve been told are impossible to do,” Moyer said. “Fights that we’ve been told are impossible to win–and make them inevitable.”