Along Pipeline Route, ETP Steps Up Bullying Tactics in Pennsylvania

Facebook live feed from press conference outside the Huntingdon County Courthouse.

On Wednesday May 9, people from across Pennsylvania and beyond came to the Huntingdon County Courthouse to support Ellen Gerhart, a grandmother and retired special ed teacher, who has been battling to stop Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) from building a fracked gas liquids pipeline through her property in South Central Pennsylvania.

Ellen was scheduled to go to court that morning because Sunoco, a fully owned subsidiary of ETP, the notorious company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), claims she violated a court-ordered injunction prohibiting the Gerharts from being on portions of their own land and interfering with construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The Gerharts never signed a lease with Sunoco but the company was granted eminent domain to seize their land and build the pipeline, despite the fact that there is no public benefit and the fracked gas liquids that will be transported by the pipeline will be exported.

The hearing was rescheduled that morning to July 9, which Elise Gerhart, Ellen’s daughter, noted would be after construction on their property is complete. Ellen faces 6 months in jail without a trial and could be forced to pay restitution.

“From the start we’ve said that these guys are bullies,” Ellen said at a press conference outside the courthouse. “They come in and say you know we’re going to take your property through eminent domain and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

But the Gerharts refuse to be bullied. For over two years, tree sits in the path of the pipeline halted construction on their property, but those were cut down April 8 and since then ETP has increased security along the easement.  There are now multiple security towers along the construction route, ironically running on solar panels, and the Gerharts have reported drones flying over their property even outside the easement.

The Intercept reports that ETP has hired the private security firm Tiger Swan, the same company they used in North Dakota for DAPL.

The Gerharts say that the increased security and taking Ellen to court are bullying tactics the company is using to try to intimidate them.  Families taking a stand against pipelines all across the country are facing similar intimidation tactics.

The Reilly family in Virginia was fined for having tree sits on their property that they did not coordinate. Their land was also seized by eminent domain to build the Mountain Valley pipeline, which will transport fracked gas from West Virginia to Southern Virginia, cutting through the Reilly family farm.

Families like the Gerharts and Reillys are having to raise funds for their court fees, a daunting task when up against billion dollar fossil fuel companies and all the while they are being treated like criminals. 

Ellen was arrested on her own property two years ago for warning the company that they were about to cut down one of the anchor trees connected to the tree sit her daughter was in. She never crossed into the pipeline right-of-way but was held for three days in solidarity confinement. All chargers were later dropped. 

Meanwhile Sunoco has racked up more than 50 violations during construction of the ME2, caused sinkholes, over 100 spills and multiple cases of water contamination. Ralph Blume spoke at the press conference. He hasn't had water on his farm for over 6 months when construction on the pipeline contaminated his well water.

The Gerharts and Blumes have little faith that the State of Pennsylvania will do the right thing and shut the pipeline down. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has halted construction on the pipeline temporarily multiple times but then lets construction continue after the company pays a nominal fine.  

Still, after three years of intimidation by Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners, Ellen Gerhart seemed as determined as ever to refuse to be bullied. 

‘It’s like with any bully,” she said. “You just have to stand up and at some point put your foot down and say no.”