Determined to disrupt the interstate transport of oil and natural gas throughout the United States, a network of environmental activists is openly threatening to resort to sabotage to achieve their ends. And having let their intentions be known, they are crying foul now that law enforcement officials are taking their threats seriously.
Indeed, the recent past foreshadows what is to come. In October 2016, a group of five demonstrators cut through padlocks and chains to enter the flow stations of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dubbed Valve Turners, they shut off the pipeline’s valves, temporarily stopping the flow of oil through the pipeline. Local law enforcement officials in North Dakota apprehended the group. A court found two of the protestors guilty of felony charges, two more are awaiting trial, and a fifth was found guilty of second-degree burglary.
The Valve Turners were hardly the only protestors to turn to sabotage in the name of combating climate change. Anti-pipeline activists set fires and caused $2 million in damages near Standing Rock in North Dakota. Elsewhere, two women from a social justice charity proudly told the Des Moines Register how they had used oxyacetylene cutting torches to attack another stretch of the pipeline in Iowa’s Mahaska County. In another incident, damages to pipeline construction equipment in Iowa reached $2 million.
Concerns over Eco-Terrorism
Eager to spare local communities the vandalism and violence that marked the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Oklahoma enacted legislation earlier this year stiffening penalties against protesters convicted of trespassing at critical infrastructure facilities. These include pipelines, railways, refineries, power plants, chemical plants, and liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals.
Alarmed that acts of vandalism against public and private installations will not go unpunished, groups that can best be described as “Green Antifa” are conjuring up visions of noble activists facing police-state tactics.
“This crackdown is happening, because activists have been successful, and because industry realizes that protest is a threat,” Kelsey Skaggs, executive director of the Climate Defense Project, recently told ThinkProgress.
On the contrary, officials and lawmakers are rightly concerned that acts of sabotage pose a threat to public safety. Anti-pipeline protesters have the right to free speech and free assembly; they do not have the right commit acts of sabotage, arson or trespassing.
In mid-December, eco-activists opposing the proposed construction of two natural gas pipelines in Virginia trespassed on the Norfolk property of a woman serving on the state’s Water Control Board. They hung a giant anti-pipeline banner on her front porch which read “Stop Poisoning Our Community.”
Boasting about the exploit on an organizing website, someone identified only as “Anonymous Contributor” also urged activists to target LNG export terminals along the U.S. coast. The anonymous author then added ominously:
“When we have done everything we can to prevent this pipeline with legal means, we will resort to sabotage and we will defeat this symbol of domination, exploitation, global capital, global pillage…”
Citing the spate of sabotage and arson attacks against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Department of Homeland Security last spring warned that the same could be in store for the $900 million Diamond Pipeline, which will carry crude oil from Cushing, Okla. to a refinery in Memphis, Tenn.
DHS said that such attacks would “likely be simple and designed to damage physical infrastructure or equipment by sabotage or arson” targeting “law enforcement, private security guards, or construction personnel” as was the case in earlier attacks. The DHS report explained that “environmental rights extremists have a long history of using arson to inflict economic damage or disrupt projects they believe present a danger to the environment.”
In Harm’s Way
The coming year may bring many blessings. But if the reckless rhetoric and acts of sabotage already committed are any indication, eco-terrorism could also be coming our way. People working in, or living close to, the facilities being targeted could find themselves in harm’s way. Public officials, along with the private operators of our energy infrastructure, have good reason to be worried.
This article originally appeared in The Hill