Natural-Gas Protesters Appear in Court

Peter Nightingale, on left waving, and Curt Nordgaard were arrested Aug. 13 during a protest in Burrillville, R.I. They recently received a one-year filing for willful trespassing. (FANG)

Peter Nightingale, on left waving, and Curt Nordgaard were arrested Aug. 13 during a protest in Burrillville, R.I. They recently received a one-year filing for willful trespassing. (FANG)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Two environmental activists who locked themselves to the entrance of two natural-gas projects recently had their day in court. Both Curt Nordgaard, a resident pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, and Peter Nightingale, a professor of physics at the University of Rhode Island and a member of Fossil Free RI, received a one-year filing for willful trespassing. Charges of disorderly conduct were dismissed. A one-year filing means the charges will be dismissed if the defendants have no other run-ins with the law.

Using u-shaped bicycle locks, they secured themselves to the metal gate of the Algonquin compressor station in Burrillville, R.I., just before dawn on Aug. 13. They prevented work crews from entering. Workers eventually unbolted the gate to allow vehicles to enter. Firefighters used a vehicle extraction tool to cut the locks. The two were brought by ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital. They manually released a sleeve lock after hospital staff were stifled by the device.

“This pipeline is immoral and unjust, and we will keep taking action until this dangerous project is stopped,” Nightingale said.

The arrest was Nightingale’s second for civil disobedience. He was arrested last December with other protestors following a sit-in at the Providence office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. He paid about $400 in fines and court costs for that incident.

The protests were two of many organized in the past two years in opposition to natural-gas infrastructure expansion across the Northeast. New natural-gas pipelines, compressor stations and storage projects have drawn criticism from environmentalists and social justice groups. Among several actions in Rhode Island, a protester was a arrested in May for a tree sit-in at the Burrillville compressor station.

Plans for a liquefied natural gas facility on the Providence waterfront and a $700 million Clear River power plant in Burrillville are drawing opposition.

Political leaders have supported the projects, saying more natural gas will lower prices. They haven’t explained how the pipeline projects and other natural-gas infrastructure will be funded.

Opponents say the projects pose health and economic problems and hamper efforts to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. They also object to using fracked natural gas from the shale-gas fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio. New England gets more than 50 percent of its power from natural-gas power plants. Rhode Island relies on natural gas for more than 95 percent of its power. Opponents also believe that the pipelines are being built to export natural gas to shipping terminals in Nova Scotia.

At an Aug. 26 Burrillville Town Council meeting, Nightingale joined about 25 residents who expressed their opposition to the compressor station project and plans for the state’s largest power plant at the same site. Concerns were raised about noise from the compressor station and pollution from both projects.

“People were getting emotional, people were crying, people were angry,” said Nick Katkevich, an organizer for the Fight Against Natural Gas (FANG), a group opposed to the projects.

The compressor station, owned by Spectra Energy, is undergoing a major expansion as part of a $1 billion project to deliver more natural gas through the Algonquin pipeline. The pipeline delivers shale gas from Ohio and Pennsylvania through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

"Spectra Energy will construct our facilities to meet or exceed all federal safety regulations and requirements," said Spectra Energy spokesperson Marylee Hanley.