MONTPELIER — Hundreds of environmental protesters occupied the governor’s office on Monday, demanding that Gov. Peter Shumlin reverse his support for the natural gas pipeline through Addison County, and oppose any other fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Vermont. State regulators approved the project last December, and the company began construction this summer.
The protesters danced, sang and played instruments to protest Vermont Gas’ 41-mile pipeline from Colchester south to Middlebury. They brought sheep, dogs and children. Some slipped past security and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor of the Pavilion Building.
Kathleen Tumulty, 16, told a 40-person crowd of high schoolers, college students and residents that she quit her job to stay at the protest. The Berlin resident said she enjoyed her job at Village Pizza, but ditched work for the movement.
“We don’t have the right to do that to our Earth,” she told VTDigger. “It’s important for the governor to see that the people do care.”
At least 40 protesters had agreed to be arrested. As the evening waned, Shumlin administration staff bought the protesters salad and pizza. In a statement, the Vermont State Police said 64 people were escorted from the building and issued trespass citations.
Shumlin who was away on the campaign trail in Rutland on Monday said in a statement he supports the right of all sides to be heard, and appreciates the protesters’ decision to act respectfully with state staff and law enforcement.
“While I agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world, I disagree with the protesters’ position on the natural gas pipeline, which I believe will help hasten our state’s transition away from dirtier fuel oil and help our economy,” he said.
Environmental groups opposed building fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont, arguing it conflicts with the state’s renewable energy goals. Protesters say the process of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial water- and chemical-intensive process of oil and gas extraction, releases methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
Vermont Gas contracted a study that found 1.4 percent of the methane contained in natural gas is leaked during production and transportation, but still accounts for fewer greenhouse gas emissions than No. 6 fuel oil, which is used for industrial purposes.
Opponents cite a 2010 study that finds methane leakage as high as 7.9 percent, which would emit more heat-trapping greenhouse gases than coal.
Vermont Gas says natural gas is safer, cleaner and about half the cost of fuel oil and propane. Company spokesman Steve Wark said without natural gas, the state will continue to use fuel oil and propane.
“Natural gas can play an important role in Vermont’s transition to renewables as a bridge fuel,” he said.
The company has started a pilot program to deliver biomethane from landfills in Quebec. The state is asking the company to add more biomethane to their supply if the company’s second proposed project is approved.
Vermont Gas is proposing a second project that would connect Middlebury to a paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., which regulators will review next year. The company is also planning a project to bring gas to Rutland, and hopes to eventually connect to a natural gas pipeline network in New York or Massachusetts.
As the group of about 35 waited to be arrested, they clapped and sang familiar refrains: “We shall not give up the fight, we have only started.”
Traven Leyshon, 67, of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said the protesters will engage in “escalating actions” until the pipeline is stopped.
“Next time expect more people and likely different tactics — that if need be, we can play hardball,” he said, noting that he was speaking for himself and not the Vermont Workers’ Center.
He said pipeline opponents are united by nonviolent principles, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t engage in civil disobedience. We have to change what’s politically possible.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott praised law enforcement agencies for their handling of the event.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how those in charge of the operation handled themselves, as well as how the officers on the ground reacted to the developing situation,” Scott said in a statement. “The level of cooperation between so many agencies was both inspiring and comforting; the safety of our State and its citizens is in good hands, and I thank them for their efforts.”