Broken, bloodied, my stomach churned to pieces. I stumble to awaken, one eye open gathering at fragments of memories. What had happened? My phone is filled with late night calls to any writers I could think of and though the conversations are forgotten their urgent message snaps back to the forefront of my mind:
A pipeline is coming to Florida and it stands a damn good chance of killing all of us.
This was the strong, overriding assertion riding a memory smashed by drink, but how had I come to it? I reached for a notebook stained brown with liquor and went over the events of the day as I’d lived them, hoping to find some purpose behind this dreadful feeling.
The day began unusually. I had been notified by an accomplice of mine that a group of activists were gathering to discuss something called “The Sable Trail Pipeline.” He wanted me to come along. Sure, I thought, why not? He arrived at my house in a red two-ton metal death trap with no ac, no back seats, and a bent wire maintaining the position of door handle. His girlfriend, an ex-Burner covered in a tattoos greeted me as I crawled into the back anticipating an adventure.
Tall, wearing goggles and a black metal t-shirt, my comrade is not the usual “protest-type” by any means. Death to him was no big deal, life even less of a concern. Many a drunken night I’d ranted and raved in a futile attempt to inspire him towards insurrection yet he’d always remain unfazed. His previous place of employment was picking up dead bodies for the local morgue, a grisly task that he’s much more eager to talk about instead of activism. What manner of trouble had this pipeline brought to his mind?
“First the fucking Zika virus, then the contaminated water. Now this fucking pipeline. I mean, is this all planned?”
He’s clearly angry, tight twists of the wheel sending the van across lanes of traffic. What was this contaminated water he spoke of? He needed no prodding from me and continued on his vehicular tirade.
“200 million fucking gallons of contaminated wastewater from a fertilizer plant got dropped into our aquafier, man. That’s the main source of our goddamn drinking water! And they’re trying to tell me it’s safe?”
A complete and utter disregard for Florida ecology? How was this anything out of the ordinary?
There would be no time for further questions–I was desperately trying to stop from sliding across the back and slamming into a door I wasn’s sure would stay closed. As I contemplated what would happen to my mortal coil if I hit the asphalt at 80 miles per hour my comrade had shifted gears to religion, talking of Cerberus and other keepers of the Dead. He describes visions of the Underworld he’s had since he was a child, the weird shades that haunt him, and the possibility that he had, in fact, seen the Grim Reaper kiss a corpse with his own eyes.
The question still hung in the air: what was this pipeline business about?
It all depended on who you asked apparently. According to the company it was 515-mile interstate natural gas pipeline that would bring “affordable, clean natural gas supplies to Florida.” Of course this was immediately suspicious because there is nothing “clean” about natural gas.
“Problematically, natural gas is prone to leaking from pipelines, wellheads, and the nooks and crannies of processing and storage facilities. ‘Accounting for methane leakage throughout the supply chain of natural gas, natural gas might actually be worse for the climate than coal,’ said Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Stop Dirty Fuels Campaign, at a panel on energy hosted by Politico.
As NOVA Next reported, it’s conceivable that leaked methane from the U.S. oil and gas sector is warming the atmosphere as much as America’s 557 coal-fired power plants.”
Do recall the same company that is building this “clean” pipeline was sold to Enbridge (the same company that is building the North Dakota pipeline) for $28 Billion dollars, the same firm famous for dumping 1,100,000 gallons of heavy crude in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
Then of course there’s always the possibility of the pipeline exploding at any minute.
“A natural gas pipeline explosion in Westmoreland County Friday morning sent an injured man to the hospital, damaged two homes, charred trees and melted a road, with the intense blaze that followed triggering waves of sound, heat and panic through the surrounding area.”
Clearly this matter would warrant further investigation if I manged to survive the ride, a proposition increasingly becoming doubtful. We’d now picked up a third comrade, adding fresh body heat to our intolerable mobile coffin. Cigarette smoke blinded my eyes as I gasped and struggled for air, my shades and bandanna becoming make-shift filters.
To make matters worse I had been drinking whiskey all day and had nothing but beer and a notebook in my satchel; water, the stuff of life, was practically being screamed for by my body and I had not a drop to drink. As a weird techno-track intoned the Lord’s Prayer over and over I was sure it was on omen from higher powers that my expiration was drawing near. I shot a quick text to my wife as I peered deeply into the void:
“I have made a grave error. I die a true American.”
Suddenly we’re there, and I leap out of the van to be greeted by the striking beauty of Wickham park. Fresh, clean air fills my lungs as I run headlong to the nearest fountain, greedily drinking the pure water like I’ve never tasted it before. I feel reborn, alive again, and thank the Good Spirits that delivered me from a man-made hell. I’d never considered just how precious the stuff was before, and now with pollution in the aquifer I wonder if I’m too late.
We’re the first to arrive so after cracking open a beer I take the place in. Huge pine trees jut into the air like sky-scrapers. Children at a birthday party are running on soft grass and splashing playfully in a nearby lake. There’s a drunk lady chasing a chihuahua around.
“Pebbles, Pebbles! Come here Pebbles!”
Energetically the place feels lived in, Land Spirits smiling as families return year after year to cook out, have fun, and relish the natural beauty of the Sunshine State. There is a harmony here, wild and cultivated existing side by side.
The folks stream in. First a few, then much more, until a solid group of about 16 people were huddled under a pavilion. A few faces I recognized, many I didn’t, and the aims and agendas each person shared came from different ideological grounds. Whatever our differences we were united in an utter contempt for anything that might despoil the beauty of our homes.
Carolina Griffith, an activist from the foreign forests of Mims, had called this meeting and carries a large basket of printed out documents. The case she will set out is nothing short of horrifying and with a fresh beer pulled from my bag I listen in to what will surely be the first shot of a long and arduous battle against the Energy Cartels of Capitalism.
The Beast, as I thought of it, would haul freshly fracked gas across State lines and over 630 bodies of water in Florida alone. One of them, the Green Swamp, was one of the largest areas for clean drinking water in the State. The people of Georgia had voted against the project, but through a legal injunction, the company had continued construction anyway.
Question: did we need the natural gas? Was Florida in some kind of energy crises?
The answer? No.
“Since 2013 Florida Power & Light Co. has built new combined-cycle gas-fired power plants at Cape Canaveral, Riviera Beach and Port Everglades at roughly $1 billion apiece, and a similar plant in Okeechobee is slated to go into service in 2019.
The company won’t need another major new power plant until 2024, and that will also be a combined-cycle plant that uses natural gas to produce power, FPL’s Steven Sim, senior manager of resource assessment & planning, told regulators.”
Followup: if Floridians didn’t need the natural gas, what purpose would this horrible, invasive pipeline serve?
“The U.S. DoE official in charge of natural gas testified to FERC’s oversight committee that fracking provides ‘unprecedented opportunities’ for profit through LNG export. She, like FERC, says the opportunities are ‘for the United States”, and they’re both wrong. Pipelines to LNG export that would raise domestic natural gas prices and take local land and pollute local air and water is not for the U.S..they’re for profit by a few fossil fuel companies and utilities….
New pipelines have nothing to do with domestic need, by Florida or anywhere else in the U.S. They’re about finding lucrative markets for fracked methane (euphemism: “shale gas revolution”).”
What this woman was saying was nothing short of astonishing. By now I was seething in anger, a riotous rage boiling in my stomach and threatening to take hold. Our waterways would be poisoned, thousands of acres cleared, and vast amounts of wildlife killed or made homeless all for a tidy profit. These people didn’t live here, they didn’t care about this park or this air. We were nothing to them but in the way of “progress.” As someone who could feel the spirits in the land and speak with the trees this was an assault on my very way of life.
Yet it would be worse. This Sable Trail Pipeline was something connected to a much larger, much more national indecency….