2007-02:Fight the Pipe (England)

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Fight the Pipe


Written by Sam Wilkinson

The news of a 197-mile (316km) long high-pressure gas pipeline is relatively new to most people, if they have even heard about it, as many still haven’t. For some of us though the story goes back nearly 5 years.

There are many reasons to be concerned about this pipeline. National Grid are taking many risks in attempt to monopolise the European Gas Industry, the pipeline is not a necessary development and will not benefit the residents of the UK, yet it is causing a great deal of upset to thousands of people. Why should you be concerned?

National Grid have successfully kept the development of this pipeline quiet, several years ago the government was put into a worrying position over the gas situation in the UK, it was realised that Britain now has a shortage of gas and that gas supply would have to come from external sources. With this panic in mind they basically told gas companies to do what ever they could to do ensure a good supply of gas.

National Grid’s plan is to create a 197-mile (316km) pipeline to supply 20% of the supply of gas in Britain. The pipe will transport Liquid Natural Gas from Milford Haven in Pembroke, South Wales, to Tirley in Gloucestershire. Gas will be transferred through a single 48" pipe at high pressure (94 BAR = approx 1,400 lbs per sq inch), which has never been tried before in the UK. The route will go through Pembroke, Camarthen, the Swansea Valleys, Brecon Beacons National Park, Hay on Wye, Ross on Wye and Gloucestershire.

This is the biggest extension since the late 1960’s with a cost of £800million for the pipeline and £6 billion for the terminal at Milford Haven.

Two gas terminals are being built in Milford Haven in West Wales where gas ships arriving at Milford Haven, eventually at the rate of six a week will come from Qatar and, in the case of the smaller terminal further into the harbour, Malaysia. Milford Haven will see around 600 LNG dockings each year under these plans. Ships carrying LNG will start arriving at Milford Haven by the end of 2007.

Why should this development come through the heartland of rural Wales? Reports suggest the terminal and re-gasification plant should be sited offshore and brought in somewhere along the Bristol Channel. This shows that corporate interests are at stake and even vie with each other to determine that the route of the pipeline does not go through their land.

The answer is that Qatar, which has the third largest reserves of LNG in the world after Russia and Iran, is the staunchest ally of the USA in the Middle East. Coincidentally the LNG company operating out of Milford is owned by the US giant Carlyle group, whose involvement with the Bush Neo-cons is well documented, and who stand to make enormous profits.

The pipeline is being built in two phases. Phase 1 is almost complete and phase 2 is likely to be finished by the autumn. There has been many set backs along the way for National Grid and some feel that they will be struggling to get the pipeline running by October 2007, the date the project must be completed by. For each month past the deadline, National Grid will pay £2 - £6million, up to a maximum of £36 million if the project isn't completed by March 2008.

On one side of the Tawe Valley, Cwmtawe, in Welsh, is a village called Trebanos. In the recent past, the local geology has been deemed so unstable that some residents of Trebanos have been refused a mains gas supply. To the surprise of many local people, National Grid's plan for the village was to use explosives to make way for its pipeline. In November last year, the DTI announced that it had ruled out any blasting in Trebanos, forcing the local route of the pipe to be prepared using a much slower technique known as "pecking". A letter from the department to National Grid said that Alastair Darling, the secretary of state for the DTI, had opted to "err on the side of caution". Councillor Huw Evans said the ruling proved "that local politics can work". The BBC reported that National Grid was "disappointed".

In November 2006 activists opposed to this project squatted the pipeline at Trebanos with the landowners permission. National Grid had misinformed an elderly landowner, leading her to believe that the pipes would be of normal size, as she has encountered before. Before she realised National Grid had dug up half her land and placed monster pipes in her garden. The activists remained in the pipe for 10 days until threat of arrest hung over the landowner.

Inspired by the initial protest, camps sprung up at Milford Haven, Trebanos and Cilfrew, with locals and activists regularly disrupting work. January saw a number of actions; Residents of Milford Haven pitched a tent along the closed public footpath that crossed the construction site. Several activists went to the construction site in Alltwen. Where they climbed onto a crane preventing work for 5 and half hours. National Grid showed their concern for their “safety is paramount” policy by starting the engine and moving the crane where one activist was attached by his neck, see the footage.

In Trebanos National Grid came back to their construction site after the Christmas break to find it housed two tents, over 10 protesters and three dogs. One tent was continually manned day and night, in miserable weather for 17 days until its eviction. Later on that month workers arrived at the construction site to start their destructive work only to find that during the night the fencing blocking the footpath had mysteriously moved, re-opening the site. The first hour of the workers day was spent re-arranging the fencing. At the end of the month five people were arrested on the Trebanos construction site for picnicking on the illegally closed footpath.

Brecon Beacons National Park Authority published a robust 70-page impact report. detailing its continued concerns regarding plans for a major new gas pipeline, 20 miles of which is proposed to run through the Park. The report, which provides details of the Authority’s views on a wide range of issues relating to the plans, including the pipeline’s effect on farmland, wildlife, woodlands, hedgerows, rivers, water table, geology, archaeology, rights of way, traffic, local economy and a whole host of other issues, is a response to National Grid’s published Environmental Statement for the 122 mile Felindre to Tirley pipeline.

Some of the 20 miles cutting through the National Park goes directly into part of the newly designated Geopark area, containing some of the most spectacular geology in the world. Brecon Beacons National Park Authority says, “We believe that this pipeline contradicts UK policy on sustainable development. Transco has scrapped earlier plans to run the pipeline through the south of the Park and the World Heritage Site owing to the number of environmental designations there. However, this new route still has to fulfil the rules of sustainable development, i.e. meeting economic, environmental and social needs – and we don’t believe that it does.” The Park Authority also says “We are also concerned by the speed at which the pipeline is planned to be constructed, which is going to make good quality restoration of the landscape very difficult to achieve.”

The pipeline is also to run through a section of the Brecon Beacons National Park, which is a Site of Scientific Special Interest. Just opposite the Brecon Tree Camp there is a beautifully maintained area with a sign that reads: “You are about to walk through an environmentally sensitive area that is classified as a SSSI. The area hosts a wide range of flora and fauna, and is a wildlife habitat for many species, including the otter, thank you for your help in aiding us to conserve this special environment.” The footpath from this sign leads to the Tree Camp. A little further up this path are badger sets, owl’s nests, and other habitats, ancient woodlands, untouched land and a stream. All of this will be destroyed in order for this pipeline to go ahead.

There are many other areas that National Grid are destroying, National Grid even believe that they can resort it back to its original natural beauty. It will take roughly thirty years for the land to develop back to what it was pre-national grid and another thousand years for the trees. There will be a corroding gas pipeline running beneath the surface of the National Park. Any damage to this pipe will affect the land surrounding it.

In January, protesters set up a tree camp in part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The protesters are trying to prevent the destruction of the beautiful ancient woodland and Sites of Scientific Special Interest. The tree site is in direct route of the pipeline and therefore eviction is necessary before the pipeline can continue. This site has become the new home for several protesters and there are many visitors supporting this tree camp. The camp is on the A40 approximately 5 miles west of Brecon. The people at the Brecon camp desperately need more donations of equipment, food and money. They also welcome other activists who want to stay and get involved.

Being on the Brecon site takes you on a journey through bureaucracy, human interaction and intervention, passion, apathy and so much spirit that words fail to reach. You experience the highs and lows of people that are so naturally in touch with their surroundings, who live in the outdoors, their life is protesting. Living on protest sites aims to instigate a more sustainable way of living that avoids the ripples we release turning into tidal waves in places we cannot see and have no connection with. On arrival the greetings are always ones of welcome and appreciation, no matter who you are or however long you plan on staying. One of the most warming things about the protest sites is the gratitude, sincerity and immediate sense of friendship gained. As soon as you arrive you are part of a unit where trust is paramount, but everyone is accepted unless they prove themselves to be detrimental to the group. Currently there are thought to be only 60 permanent tree protesters living on sites across the UK, of which there are 6; Camp Bling, Nine Ladies, Titnore Woods, Brecon, Bilston Glen and Tara Valley. At the moment Brecon and the pipeline protests are receiving the most attention and dedication as the threat and gravity of the pipeline is so huge.

In February, a group of activists went to raise awareness about the pipeline in Brecon Town Centre. They were joined by Rhythms of Resistance samba band who played alongside the stall and handed out flyers. Rhythms of Resistance also went to raise awareness at a car boot sale in Clydach the following day.

Work in Brecon started in April, nearby the Brecon protest site there has been spottings of protected species, badgers, owls and bats. National Grid will recklessly destroy their homes, they have been informed and they seem to care very little about it.

Earlier this year there was a march and rally in Trebanos to raise awareness and show opposition to the project. Claire Hall from Bristol’s Rising Tide cycled the route of pipeline giving out leaflets and talking to local residents. Along the route she met many people, most knew very little about the issues regarding the pipeline, including farmers who felt they had no choice but to give up their land to National Grid.

Despite all this most people in the UK have no idea this is happening. National Grid has insisted on ploughing on with this project regardless of public opinion. As this project has gone so far now those opposed to it understand it will not be stopped but they will carry on with the fight until the bitter end. The main aims now are to educate people about this pipeline so as future projects will come up against far more opposition much earlier on in the planning stages and to disrupt things for National Grid as much as possible so as they realise we will not let them just steamroller over our land with unsafe, ill thought out projects.

This is an edited version, for the full version email fightthepipe@hotmail.co.uk