During the November 2, 2015 Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts, a small group of protesters rappelled from the upper deck and unfurled a banner directed at Bank of America, one of the largest employers in Charlotte, NC, the site of the game.
The banner said “BoA Dump Dominion wearecovepoint.org.”
The game continued; seats below the climbing protesters were cleared. After about 45 minutes, the protesters let themselves down and were promptly arrested. You can read more details about that event at ‘Monday Night Football’ protest aimed at stopping Md. natural gas project.
The stated goal of the highly visible direct action was to draw attention to the fact that Bank of America is providing a major portion of the financing required to convert the Cove Point LNG terminal from an import facility into an export facility. The project is budgeted for close to $4 billion dollars. The project is “bankable” because it is supported by credible 20 year contracts for the full capacity of the terminal, mostly to European customers.
The activists are concerned about the health and safety implications of a busy LNG export facility and about the long term implications of the increased demand for fracked gas, most of which will be extracted from a continuing drilling program in the Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and western Maryland.
A web publication called The Public Herald interviewed one of the activists soon after he was released from jail. The interview is available in both audio and text form at Exclusive Interview: Activist Who Shocked ‘Monday Night Football’ Reveals Story Behind @BankofAmerica Protest.
This story captured my attention because of the “wearecovepoint.org” URL at the bottom of the banner. The Cove Point facility has been on my radar since the late 1970s.
Aside: I must confess that it also caught my attention because I’ve been watching Monday Night Football for nearly 50 years. It’s a popular show with pretty good ratings. Monday’s game was one of the best in the long series. End Aside.
I used to live in Maryland and have visited Calvert County, the location of the Cove Point facility, on a number of occasions. My wife and I have hiked the trail in the state park next door to the facility. It leads to a beach where one can see the receiving pier a hundred or so yards off shore. I’ve also sailed past the facility dozens of times over several decades, starting when I was a member of the Naval Academy’s offshore sailing team.
Most of the times when we visited or when I sailed past, the Cove Point LNG facility has been idle.
When I heard that Dominion Resources, which had purchased the facility from Williams, was converting it to an export terminal, it was in the context of trying to find out when Dominion would finally begin construction of the long planned and frequently delayed project to build North Anna 3. My sources told me that the final investment decision for that long overdue expansion of the North Anna site — which was originally designed to have 4 units — would not be made until after the Cove Point conversion was completed.
At the time, it was disappointing to hear that the plant I’ve been interested in seeing built for so long had been temporarily superseded by a project to export natural gas.
I think that is a bad idea. The gas made available by hydraulic fracturing is a large, but limited resource. It is selfish for people who are currently living to seek to convert it to cash as quickly as possible; that gas could be useful raw material for many future generations.
We would be far better off by building new nuclear plants that could supply clean electricity to a growing base of customers and help our domestic manufacturing industry compete by supplying affordable, reliable electricity. The project would also provide thousands of workers with good jobs that would help them develop valuable, exportable skills and would help create a competitive supply chain of nuclear plant related products.
I understand that the beancounters at Dominion have difficulty quantifying or placing a corporate value on those future prospects, especially when compared to the ease with which a spreadsheet model can show rapid returns on a smoothly completed natural gas export project.
Some Atomic Insights readers will probably think that I’m nuts and others might be actually angry at me for questioning their decision processes, but I decided that it might be worthwhile to attempt to contact the people who are so passionate about stopping the Cove Point project that they planned and performed an action they knew would land them in jail. They seem willing to accept the consequences, including the probability of fines and possibility of more jail time.
Here is the comment that I posted on the Public Herald interview of John Nicholson, one of the climbers who unfurled the “Dump Dominion” banner on Monday night.
Thank you for telling the story about John and his organization’s efforts to halt the Cove Point conversion to an LNG export facility.
It gives me an opportunity to briefly explain the often overlooked way that the business of supplying power to people is interwoven in complex ways.
Starting in about 2006, I’ve been intermittently involved in an effort to push Dominion Resources towards completing a much needed clean energy supply project in central Virginia.
The project was begun in the 1960s and is still only half finished. As it stands, it reliably provides my current home state with about 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year without producing any greenhouse gases or other types of air pollution. Since it was halted after completing only half of the planned units, there are another 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity being produced somewhere else to meet the needs and wants of Dominion’s customers. Those additional kilowatt hours are produced by a combination of plants that burn coal or natural gas and produce substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, fly ash, SOx, NOx, and mercury.
The company began efforts to complete the facility about ten years ago, but it has been a slow process. Part of the slowdown has been due to organized resistance from people who claim to be afraid of the new unit even though the existing facility has an admirable record of being a good (locally popular) neighbor, paying good salaries, providing reliable power, participating in the local community, paying large tax bills, keeping both workers and the public safe and healthy and even providing a warm place to water ski in the cooler months of the year.
I suspect that at least some of the resistance is also coming from the people involved in the business of supplying the coal and natural gas to the plants that would be made redundant if the clean energy facility is completed. There are big numbers involved; the amount of fuel burned in the plants that could be displaced produces several hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue.
The permitting and construction process for the expansion of the existing clean energy facility has also been slowed because Dominion accountants, planners and decision makers convinced themselves that their stockholders would see more immediate profit from fracking, building pipelines, and converting the Cove Point facility into an export terminal than completing a facility that would supply a couple million of my fellow Virginians with 60-80 years worth of clean electricity.
The financials associated with the projects needed to make that export facility work look good because it enables irreplaceable American natural gas to be sold at higher prices under 20-year contracts with European customers than can be obtained in our temporarily oversupplied market at home. The project that I and my loose network of associates want Dominion to build is in a queue of capital investments; it will only be started after the Cove Point project has been completed — or abandoned. There is no an infinite supply of capital or human resources; companies have to make choices about how to best deploy their limited assets.
I’m an independent small businessman who has far too much to lose to be involved in actions that break the law. It is also difficult to capture attention and find fellow activists who want to help push a company towards building a needed facility instead of organizing them to stop building something. I’m not sure why that is true, perhaps you can help me understand.
The facility I want Dominion to build is North Anna Unit 3, a 1500 MWe nuclear power plant that will be capable of producing perhaps 12 – 13 billion kilowatt-hours per year of emission free electricity.
I hope this comment is a step towards making contact with passionate people like you and John to explain how we can help each other and make the world a cleaner, safer, and more equally prosperous place.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, the Atomic Show podcast