VT Gas pipeline protesters occupy governor’s office

Protesters marched into the Pavilion in Montpelier on Monday to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline.
Protesters marched into the Pavilion in Montpelier on Monday to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

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.”

Protesters marched into the Pavilion in Montpelier on Monday to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline.
Protesters marched into the Pavilion in Montpelier on Monday to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline.

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.”

Eric George, a Burlington-based folk artist, joined dozens in the governor's office to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline on Monday at the Pavilion in Montpelier.
Eric George, a Burlington-based folk artist, joined dozens in the governor’s office to protest the Vermont Gas pipeline on Monday at the Pavilion in Montpelier. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

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.”

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  • Ryan Gillard

    Great job to all the protestors! That is the type of grassroots organizing and direct action that we need! Keep the pressure on to stop the tracked gas pipeline and ban new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in VT!

  • Jane Palmer

    Couple of boo boos, John. Residents do not burn No 6 fuel oil, which is a much dirtier fuel than No 2 which is now low sulfur and blended with biofuel so is cleaner than ever (some studies even claim the emissions are no worse than the emissions of burning “natural” gas.) No 6 fuel oil is so thick and tarry it has to be heated before it will flow to be burned and the only entity that I know of that burns it is International Paper…our resident polluter of the skies and water. But IP has promised to stop burning No 6 even if the pipeline does NOT get built. So that bit of propaganda is bogus.

    I do appreciate that you mentioned that Vermont Gas contracted the study that says NG is cleaner…there are a lot of that sort of slanted “facts” presented in this argument. But the PSB and other government offices disregard any information presented by those that oppose the project solely on the grounds that those that oppose “think the project does not make sense.” (see the last paragraph of the order the PSB issued denying to open the CPG on account of the huge cost increase)

    I also want to point out that the “cut your heating bill in half”statement is a gross exaggeration and many “converters” do not experience anywhere near that much savings…yet VGS gets to keep saying it along with other falsehoods like the biogas they are going to add that will amount to less than .007 per cent of the total gas mix. Just because VGS has spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising so those figures are in people’s minds, doesn’t mean they should be repeated in by supposedly unbiased media sources.

    • Kyle Kubs

      Well said Jane. Appreciate your time in keeping the facts straight.

  • The governor appoints the head of the Public Service Board so that person is merely a mouthpiece for the governor. The head of the Public Service Board is NOT an elected official, and therefore it is UN-constitutional for them to make any rules, regulations or decisions that affect people.

    Unfortunately, any wild animal can be trapped with food as a lure, so if protesters want to make a bigger statement, bring your own food and beverage, bottles with lids to urinate in and toilette paper if you can’t get access to a bathroom during the protest; and good luck with the next protest in Williston, VT on Nov. 1, 2014!

    • Robyn Joy

      We actually DID have our own food, but it was a welcome surprise to have pizza as an added bonus.

  • Neil Gerdes

    i support the long term goals of what the protestors are trying to convey, but this action won’t convince anyone to change their minds, and will reinforce the feelings of those who don’t support it.

    • Jane Palmer

      So, Neil….What do you suggest? Ignoring the situation and not saying anything? Just accepting whatever our corrupt government wants because we don’t want to offend anyone?

      • Scott Markoski

        I suggest doing the more difficult work of finding a viable alternative so that these pipelines and things are the less appealing alternative. Anyone can march into a government building and sing protest songs. That’s easy. Actually solving the energy problem at hand is hard. Really, really hard. But it’s what actually needs to be done, and doing so would put a definitive end to the question of pipelines such as these.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    In PRO-CHOICE Vermont, shouldn’t people have access to and be free to choose which of the commonly available fuels with which to heat their living space? If someone CHOOSES to avail themselves of Planned Parenthood for reproductive planning methods, most people dont think they should have to walk through a gauntlet of protesters who wish to narrow their options.
    Pro-choice activists cry foul when laws are changed that create geographic barriers to accessing abortion services. So why should piped natural gas only be available to those in northwest Vermont? Cant access to the fuel of one’s choice be added to Vermont’s ever expanding list of “human rights”, right up there with food, shelter, health care and the demand that employers provide mothers with a nursing lounge? Just think what those protests must be doing to harm the self esteem of those who currently heat with natural gas.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      I’m all for choice but I think it’s folly to TAX current ratepayers (call it what you want but the funding for this project is no different from a tax) to the tune of 121 million dollars (so far) in order to offer service to 2600 homes. That’s $47,500 per household. Think the health care debacle is expensive? Even it’s not this bad.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Oh, and by the way, it’s not the self esteem of current ratepayers that’s being harmed, it’s their wallets.

    • Tyler Bosley

      I appreciate your concern for Vermonters to have a choice on what fuel they chose, but you don’t understand how bad hydro tracking is. This particular gas is being fracked in Canada and is being sent down to Vermont. Hydro fracking uses high pressure water that is sent down underground into gas holding shale pockets/layers that breaks the rock up sends the gas up to the surface. The water also contains roughly 500 other chemicals used to help dissolve the rock. This basically reverses its lithification process. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and cancer causing. Now one of the big problems is that many of the casings around the wells are not engineered correctly and cannot withstand the constant high pressure of the water that is being pumped into them. These wells typically fail in just over 1 year and decrease their production by about 80 percent. THATS A LOT OF GAS LEAKING! Methane is over 3x as powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 and that means climate change is exponentially increased. This gas enters ground water aquifers were it is then used by homeowners and land owners. Even the pipelines they use leak gas. I know someone who works for Exxon Mobile that has to cover up crude pipeline leaks. It happens more than you think. It not just the poor targeted but the natives and even the rich. These companies don’t care, they just want their gas and their money. Would you want to drink milk from a cow that had to drink fracked ground water that had methane and 500 other chemicals in it? Imagine being a farmer who has no other option to give their crops and animals the water because of the extreme burden of shipping water in. This hurts our farmers economically and our nation. This is only possible because fracking companies don’t have to abide by the clean water act. This was signed by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. So when this arrives at your door step and you have cancer and no voice, they you will realize why these protestors were there. They are not dirty hippies. Many were college students, teachers, and even college professors. They care about you, your children and future generations. It makes no sense to argue the right to burn gas when in possibly 50 years we won’t even have a home and a planet to burn it in. You cannot think short-term. That is just plain selfish of you to everyone on the earth. Be lucky that you live in a state where fracking is banned. You are privileged. PRIVILEGED.

    • Jane Palmer

      Rich Lachapelle,
      Do you really believe that line that VGS is putting in the pipeline so Vermonters have a CHOICE? Because, believe it or not, most Vermonters will never be offered service.

      You use the comparison of reproductive rights often when commenting on the pipeline issue. Do you think the option of family planning should only be offered to a small percentage of Vermonters?

      And I ask you the same question I asked of another commenter. What do you think should be done if the 248 process is biased and heavily favors the utilities, and homeowners and residents have followed the rules but their views are ignored? Should we all just accept what the government hands out without protesting? You have the choice of doing nothing…but that doesn’t mean others will not choose to speak up.

  • David Rogers

    Homes use #2 Low Sulfur oil IP uses #6 (Bunker Oil) but if I was given a choice for my home I would switch from oil to gas and most people are making that choice when a pipeline comes to their neighborhood ask the people in Enosburg their thoughts on the mater. Natural gas is a transition fuel till the next technology comes around it will give you a 30% small carbon footprint it will save me lots of money that I could use for my Education property tax

    • Kyle Kubs

      David, fracked gas does not in any way reduce your carbon footprint. Not when you look at the pollution along the entire line of how they get this gas in the first place. The industrial solvents that they pump into the ground, under extreme pressure, non of which have to be disclosed to anyone, thanks to bought and paid for politicians, are as toxic as anything on earth and they don’t just magically disappear once the gas comes out. I am unfortunately familiar with many of these chemical solvents, they are some of the biggest cancer causing agents in existence.

      • Paula Schramm

        “David, fracked gas does not in any way reduce your carbon footprint.”

        Kyle Kubs is making a very important point here. We are being told again & again that “natural”gas is a “transition” fossil fuel – by everyone from Pres. Obama to Gov.Shumlin, and of course all the industry lobbyists. This euphemistic phrase is meant to give the impression that it is a better choice for climate change & global warming than other fossil fuels. This just isn’t true. In fact the real amount of methane that gets leaked into the atmosphere through both the fracking process and getting it through pipes to the user has not begun to be thoroughly studied enough. How will we know if and how much it leaks into the lake for instance ? Who will be studying that, and who will be held accountable ?
        This doesn’t even address the other dangers of the fracking process. Why do we want to encourage the increase of this practice that both depletes water and pollutes it with carcinogens ? This is what we will be doing by allowing Vermont to become the conduit for fracked gas from Quebec to Massachusetts and New York…..and what do we get out of being the interstate highway for fracked gas ? They are not building it for Vermonters, but for the profits they reap through their ultimate goal of getting connected to the big populations beyond us.

  • I agree with, appreciate and respect the efforts of the protestors. It is time to halt pipeline talk and consider the rights of Vermonters to property ownership and a clean environment.

  • Brenda Pepin

    I really want to know who paid for the salad and pizza……really hoping it wasn’t taxpayers….

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Nope, the taxpayers are doing enough by footing the 121 million dollar bill for the pipe.

  • Respectfully….comparing natural gas to #6 oil is not a fair comparison.

    On July 1, 2014, a Vermont law to reduce the sulfur content of oilheat went into effect. (Governor’s Shumlin’s announcement can be watched here:

    Oilheat providers in Vermont are selling a product with near-zero emissions that is increasingly blended upstream with biodiesel. This is not dirty fuel. It is not #6 oil.

    As demonstrated in testimony before the Vermont Public Service Board, low sulfur biodiesel blended heating oil is cleaner than natural gas.

  • Pete Novick

    Well, the pipeline is a done deal, as many people now realize.

    So look at the bright side. Had Chris Christie been Vermont governor, he probably would have called in the state police in full military gear who would have been told to bust some heads in the process of arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters.

    Ain’t Vermont a great state, or what?

    • Kyle Kubs

      That kind of thing happens often in NJ because the militarized, steroid soaked police know they are the only ones carrying firearms and that their illegal violence isn’t likely to be met by armed citizens giving them the choice to stand down or be put down. Jerseyans just stand around and take video while the police beat people to death for no good reason. So, Yes, Vermont is a great state.

    • Colin Flood

      The pipeline is not a done deal as long as I have breath in my body.

  • Steph Holdridge

    Fracking poisons the water of the communities around it. The CEO of Exxon wouldn’t permit fracking near his Texas ranch because it was harmful for his livestock.
    It is just wrong to support the fracking in the communities of our neighbors in Canada for both people and animals.
    Winter is coming. Let’s at least put this on hold and do more research before millions and millions
    are spent on fossil fuel infrastructure.

  • Kevin ellis

    How did they get past security. Did they sign in? Did the gov let them in? If so why? If not, strange how how they got upstairs… And dangerous.

    • Anne Donahue

      I agree: this is a critical part of the story that has been left unreported. Anyone who visits the Pavilion building knows the security changes of the past several years. The elevators don’t work without an electronic key coded for the specific floor a person is visiting, obtained after showing ID and signing in with Security. The stairwell is locked to ingress. This is a big hassle for visitors, but is in the name of safety.
      So there was a security breach of some type that enabled access beyond the lobby, for those who did go to the upper floor where the governor’s office is. There may have been no danger presented by peaceful protesters, but the ability to get past the security measures has serious implications. I hope this is being thoroughly reviewed, and I hope an explanation, and the followup response, makes it to the public.

      • Angelo Napolitano

        Thank You Anne…. I was wondering that myself…. in order to get into the stairways someone needs a key..Kinda makes ya wonder if someone let them in…..

        Also I want to thank the protesters for the added police and the added expense to all of us Vermonters to pay the police……..

        • Jeff Noordsy

          While we’re at it, let’s thank the Governor, his faithful servants at the DPS and others for hanging a 121 MILLION dollar tab on current ratepayers while guaranteeing the gas company more than a 10% return on their investment. Call me crazy but that trumps the couple of thousand bucks it MAY have cost for the added police of which you speak.

          • Melanie Peyser

            And, there is no guarantee that the 15% plus rate increase is the last. Possible construction on the TransCanada pipeline that brings gas to Vermont could spell huge (over 100%) increases in the cost of natural gas to VGS customers. Customers in Chittenden and Franklin counties are being asked to pay more than the service they receive for an expansion into Addison County that will bring no discernible benefit to old customers or new customers. This is not to mention the fact, that ratepayers are going to be charged extra for over 30 years! Now that there is a substantial risk that gas will cost the same or more as fuel oil what could possible move the Governor to continue his support for this project? And, the biggest myth of all perpetuated by those, who support the pipeline, is that current customers could get cut off from gas service if this pipeline isn’t built. That is simply not true. The only difference is that new people won’t get hooked and then get stuck with the same home heating bills they had with petroleum products before the natural gas price hikes and the current drop in oil prices. If ratepayers are going to be asked to spend $121.6 for energy infrastructure it should be help them weatherize and shift to renewables.

  • Kim Fried Newark, Vermont

    Bet nearly everyone at the protest votes for Shumlin. Is there some thing wrong here? You want change you need to get out and vote this guy out and hopefully the PSB makeup will change to reflect what is right for Vermont.

    • Colin Flood

      Actually Kim, I was at the protest and I will not be voting for Shumlin. Hard to believe that needed to be said.

      On the other hand, when Shumlin first ran against Brian Dubie, I did vote for Shumlin, and I volunteered for him. Not because I supported his corporate agenda, but because I knew that if Dubie were governor, the liberals would just blame everything on him and ignore the larger issue — which is that both parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of international corporations.

  • Kim Fried Newark, Vermont

    Colin, thanks for the reply. I’m happy to hear that some of the protesters see the wider political picture. “Salad and pizza” for what I still think is “nearly” all the others that will be voting for the guy who has made them so mad that they are willing to be arrested.

    • Paula Schramm

      ” you need to get out and vote this guy out”

      Kim Fried – I’m another who is very frustrated with Gov.Shumlin…. but that sure doesn’t mean I’d vote for Milne ! ( duh )
      When I see the wider political picture, I certainly vote for Dean Corren, who is willing to understand the problems with the fracked gas pipeline.
      By the way, the salad was part of the food provided by the Rally participants. Shumlin’s staff members bought a few pizzas – a very nice gesture, but not one to get too worked up over….

    • Colin Flood

      Kim, I really doubt that any of the protestors will be voting for Shumlin. People have realized that the government is not theirs, and is an obstacle to meaningful change — that’s why they are engaging in civil disobedience and direct action. I hope to see you Saturday at the Williston pipe yard.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    The idea of providing pizza is just an attempt at reinforcing the philosophy that democrats have embraced for decades now: if you want to win the hearts and minds of simple minded people, just give them free stuff. I would still like to see an accounting of who actually paid for that pizza.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      The pizza was purchased by Shumlin’s chief of staff. Well documented.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      And as far as “giving free stuff,” the pizza pales in comparison to the free ICE CREAM offered by the gas company to the neighbors of the Williston pipeyard.