On Monday, 10 people locked themselves to construction equipment and other apparatuses at a Mountain Valley construction site in Elliston, Virginia. The group blocked construction for 8.5 hours and were joined by nearly 100 pipeline fighters in support of them. All 10 people who locked down to block construction were later arrested.
Their target, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), is a 42-inch diameter, 300-plus mile, highly volatile, fracked gas pipeline that runs through West Virginia and Virginia. It’s one of many extraction projects connected to the larger buildup of fracking in the Marcellus and Utica Shales in Central Appalachia.
The devices that Monday’s protesters used to prevent pipeline construction reflected Appalachia’s extensive biodiversity. They brought in two wooden structures that blocked vehicles from entering the worksite. They resembled the Candy Darter fish, a native species which is facing extinction and is threatened by the MVP, and a yellow finch. (The finch was reminiscent of the Yellow Finch Camp tree-sit blockades, in which people held off construction on an area of the MVP not far from Monday’s action.)
Daryl Downing, a 24-year retired Air Force Officer of Richmond, Virginia, locked himself to one of these devices.
Downing spoke to Truthout about swearing an oath to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. “(I’m) protecting my country and protecting my fellow citizens from a domestic enemy, in this case a fossil fuel company,” he said. He said he felt the need to take bold action in the face of imminent crisis.
“The existential threat of climate change is upon us, and shame on me if I sit at home writing my Virginia delegate,” Downing said. He was charged with two misdemeanor charges of obstruction of free passage and trespassing and released on his personal recognizance.
Five other people locked themselves to construction equipment, including a sideboom, which is used to carry and lay pipe. Peatmoss, who chose to use a pseudonym, one of the protesters who locked down to equipment, stated before the action, “When the cops tell me to unlock myself from this equipment, I will refuse. Despite the vast power of the state, I have the power to refuse in ways that cause real disruption, and you do too.” Peatmoss was charged with two misdemeanor charges of obstruction of free passage and trespassing a felony charge of misuse of a vehicle. They were released on $2,000 bail.
Police, including Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department officers and Virginia State Troopers, arrived soon after the group took over the site. People present counted at least 23 police cars and two transport vans, and advocates reported that police harangued local businesses into harassing the pipeline defenders and non-related customers. Those that weren’t locked down to devices were eventually moved by the police across Highway 460 in front of a Dollar General store.
Stephanie Thomas of Serve the People Cleveland, an organization that provides mutual aid, harm reduction, direct action and political support,
told Truthout that officers from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department were patrolling the local Dollar General store, pushing customers out of the store and blocking the door from being entered.
All of those locked down received two misdemeanor charges of obstruction of free passage and trespassing. Kricket (a pseudonym) also received a felony charge of misuse of a vehicle. All arrested were either released on their own personal recognizance or received bail.
Resistance to the MVP is not a new phenomenon. It began in 2014 when the project was first proposed. The struggle has included a number of construction blockades, rallies, local art-based actions, protests outside Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners’ homes and tree-sits. After 932 continuous days, the Yellow Finch Camp is one of the longest running tree-sits in the country.
The criminalization of MVP protesters is not a new phenomenon, either. The Yellow Finch tree-sits were dismantled by Virginia State Police after Wren and Acre, two tree-sitters who blocked construction, were extracted by police on March 23 and 24, 2021. They both pled guilty to two misdemeanors of interfering with property rights and obstruction. They were held without bail for a month and a half in Western Virginia Regional Jail before being sentenced. Acre was sentenced to over two and a half additional months and Wren to approximately one more month of jail time for being in the tree-sits.
These charges and sentences are part of a larger pattern of the state suppressing protests targeting resource extraction. For instance, activist Jessica Reznicek was recently sentenced to eight years in a federal prison for damaging the Dakota Access Pipeline.
However, these acts of state suppression don’t appear to be slowing down those fighting the MVP. Monday’s action comes on the heels of another direct action held on August 6, in which two people were arrested and charged with various misdemeanors for obstruction, trespass and conspiracy.
Those involved in the MVP resistance emphasize that their target is not simply the pipeline — it’s resource extraction on a larger scale, which is fueling the climate crisis.
“Right now, we’re looking at a future with extreme water shortages, accelerating difficulty in growing food, mass human displacement due to natural disasters and manmade disasters caused by pipelines like these,” said Amanda Cochran, a pipeline fighter who locked down during Monday’s action.
Currently, there are wildfires across 15 states and large areas of British Columbia. As a result, the air quality on the East Coast has become even more polluted and toxic. Water Protectors in northern Minnesota are currently fighting Enbridge’s treaty-violating Line 3 pipeline, running from so-called Canada to Lake Superior, Minnesota, and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The MVP is owned by a joint venture, but EQM Midstream Partners, a Pennsylvania-based company, will operate the pipeline and own a significant interest. The pipeline’s construction is several billion dollars over budget and still missing important water-crossing permits, including for the Jefferson National Forest. In a letter dated May 27, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not grant MVP a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit, stating, “EPA has identified a number of substantial concerns with the project as currently proposed.” Hundreds of violations have occurred during construction, resulting in over half a million dollars in fines in West Virginia and over $2 million in fines in Virginia.
Those resisting the MVP say they’ll continue until the project is halted.
“When the pipeline was proposed they said it would be done in 2018. Three years past its supposed end date and it is nowhere near finished. The fight against it is not finished either, and will not be finished until the project is finally dropped,” said Maxwell Shaw, an activist who locked down to construction equipment in Monday’s action.