As hundreds of UCF students gathered around the Reflection Pond for Spirit Splash, a small group of environmental activists held up signs and voiced their opposition to two fossil fuel pipelines that are under construction which they say will be ecological catastrophes.
The Campus Peace Action held up signs and invited students to learn about and sign petitions against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Sabal Trail pipeline, the latter of which is set to run natural gas through Central Florida and much of the southeast United States. The DAPL has been a subject of national discussion about hydraulic fracturing for oil, after the Standing Rock Sioux protested against the pipeline’s path, from North Dakota through Iowa to Illinois, which they say threatens sacred Native American land. While standing in solidarity with the Sioux, the CPA’s members expressed environmental concerns.
“Fracking delays the transition to renewable energy sources,” Blue Kaufman, the group’s director of sustainability, said. “It has also been shown to cause seismic activity and water contamination.”
While the oil and natural gas extracted by fracking techniques would provide the US with an abundant and competitive domestic energy industry, there are some environmental consequences. Indeed, the Seismological Society of America confirmed that fracking can cause earthquakes, albeit with the caveat that “it remains rare.” And last April, the British newspaper The Guardian reported on a study which suggested that fracking in Wyoming contaminated one of its fresh water aquifers, including with the flammable liquid benzene. The DAPL’s route would cross rivers and waterways 202 times.
Much of the conversation related to the DAPL has focused more on the solidarity movements with the Sioux rather than the broader environmental concerns. Tribal officials allege that the construction of the pipeline destroyed Native American burial and cultural sites. Confrontations between protesters and private security guarding the construction site became violent after security dogs and pepper spray were used to disburse crowds. The project gained even more media attention after Democracy Now! anchorwoman Amy Goodman had an arrest warrant issued against her for criminal trespassing while reporting on the protests.
Actress Shailene Woodley was arrested this week during her participation in the protests.
The issue has hardly been mentioned during this election cycle. While the Obama administration did step in last month to delay the construction of the DAPL, it was not enough for critics of the pipeline.
“It was respectful for Obama to delay the construction, but he could have done so much more, like calling to end it entirely,” Kaufman said.
Still, with the upcoming election, environmental protection is a key issue to the CPA.
“Trump has come out saying he wants to cut the size of the Environmental Protection Agency,” CPA Director of Operations Casey Brock said. “Whereas Clinton has been part of the most forward-thinking administration in history when it comes to the environment.”
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this week rejected the Sioux’s request to for an injunction to halt the pipeline’s construction. This means that construction can continue on the private land acquired by the project’s financiers while they wait for a decision by the Obama administration and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding their continued use of federal land.
The Sabal Trail Transmission pipeline, a much less known project, has also been a subject of controversy. Trailing from Alabama, through Georgia, and into Florida, it would provide natural gas for Floridians, but not without any consequences. While the companies backing the project — namely Florida Power & Light, Spectra Energy and Duke Energy — are facing similar criticism for their project as the DAPL, many Floridians are facing eminent domain lawsuits filed against them.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that about 25 of these lawsuits were filed in March, but many people affected by them are only disputing the value of the property and not whether Sabal can legally seize the property.
“They have the federal right to seize the property. We had spent months trying to get them to move the pipeline, but we’ve given up the battle on that. I have signed a letter to allow them to enter our property,” Gerald McGratty, a court-appointed receiver who oversees the proposed community known as BK Ranches, told the Sentinel.
The CPA’s aim, however, is to end the pipeline altogether.
“We’re trying to raise awareness so we don’t have these problems in Florida, especially with our freshwater aquifers,” Kaufman, the sustainability director, said. “We want students to support legislation that promotes environmental protection. We’re trying to get the word out and get people to educate themselves.”