Category Archives: Fracking

Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition calls for agency to ‘start over and do a proper’ environmental study on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

By Michael M. Barrick

MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) is again challenging the work of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). In a news release, Rick Webb, program director for DPMC, said, “If built, the ACP could mar the beautiful, unfragmented viewshed of the southern end of the proposed 90,000-acre Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area that stretches from Rt. 250 north to Rt. 33 on the western side of the Shenandoah Valley.”

Shenandoah Mountain

Shenandoah Mountain. Photo by Brad Striebig

He explained, “The Natural Gas Act requires FERC to assess impacts to scenic areas and recreational trails. Yet, the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the ACP does not consider impacts to this special area which was proposed for congressional designation by Friends of Shenandoah Mountain a decade ago, recommended by the 2014 George Washington National Forest plan, and endorsed by over 280 diverse organizations and businesses.”

Webb continued, “In addition, the DEIS ignores impacts to the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail and dismisses Forest Service requests to re-evaluate wild brook trout stream crossings on Hankey Mountain.”

According to Webb, a new utility corridor across the Braley Pond area and Hankey Mountain would:

  • diminish scenic beauty
  • degrade popular recreational resources
  • fragment core forests
  • damage wild brook trout streams
  • industrialize a major gateway to the scenic area

Consequently, he noted, “A permanent corridor of this magnitude could degrade the natural and scenic characteristics of the proposed National Scenic area to the point where it could jeopardize its viability for congressional designation.”

Webb argued that FERC has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He argued, “In order to comply with NEPA, FERC needs to start over and do a proper DEIS that fully considers significant impacts to one of the largest, mostly unfragmented tracts of national forest land east of the Mississippi River. The proposed scenic area and its water and recreation resources are revered by the public and deserve due consideration in the DEIS.”

Webb noted that the DPMC has created an online Story Map – “Proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area and the Atlantic Coast pipeline.”

Learn more about the DPMC here or contact Rick Webb at rwebb.dpmc@gmail

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Dangers of fracking, benefits of Clean Energy in West Virginia are covered in the 28-page newspaper, Renew West Virginia

By Michael M. Barrick

OVEC Renew WV.png

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One of the most established and influential environmental and social justice organizations in West Virginia is printing and distributing 29,000 copies of its own newspaper – Renew West Virginia.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) stated in a news release, “The publication … examines the health and pollution impacts of the fracking boom in other areas of West Virginia, and details fracking-related projects proposed for the greater Huntington area. It also explores the nationwide growth of renewable energy and related jobs, with a focus on the renewable energy efforts underway in Cabell and Wayne counties.

It will be distributed to residents of Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Jackson and Roane counties.  It is being sent to those “ … who reside near some of the proposed pipelines and their associated compressors stations,” explained OVEC in the statement. It is also available online.

OVEC pipeline map

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline, as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The newspaper has been published, said OVEC in its release, to answer the question, “What is our energy future?” The question is timely, argued the organization. It noted, “A total of nine large diameter pipelines are proposed to come through the Huntington area. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, which are largely completed already, the fracked-gas pipelines proposed for the Huntington area are not yet in construction, and some are still in the planning phases.”

It continued, “Columbia’s Leach XPress pipeline is planned to bore under the Ohio River near Camden Amusement Park, and Columbia’s Mountaineer XPress pipeline is currently in the public comment phase. There is also industry discussion now about fracking the very deep Rogersville Shale which underlies the Huntington area.”

As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.” – OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson

There is a better way, argues OVEC in Renew West Virginia. OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson said, “All across the United States, a new energy for citizen action is emerging. We need to tap into that energy and work with others concerned about the severe climate impacts of these planned developments in our neighborhoods.” She continued, “As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.”

Robin Blakeman, OVEC’s project coordinator, added, “We see the problems our neighbors in north central West Virginia have faced with the rise of deep shale fracking-related activities. We’ve published Renew West Virginia because we want to make certain that people know deep shale fracking-related activities are not the same as our grandfathers’ oil and gas industry.” She added, “Renewable is doable! We can choose to move West Virginia’s economy into the 21st century by embracing cleaner renewable energy.”

OVEC grandfathers well pad.jpg

Graphic from Renew West Virginia. Courtesy of OVEC.

Indeed, the impact of fracking upon the state’s northern counties, as well as residents in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere are revealed in the newspaper. On page 3, under the headline, “Not Your Grandfather’s Oil and Gas Industry,” a new fracking well pad dwarfs an older well. With that startling contrast catching your attention, readers are informed, “To learn what this oil and gas rush would mean for our communities, we look to our northern neighbors. Explore these pages to learn more about what our region faces, about fracking-related activities, and about cleaner, healthier alternatives.”

A number of topics are covered, including the growth of renewable energy. There is also a section on the Rogersville Shale field – 12 to 14 thousand feet under about 12 counties in West Virginia and several more in Kentucky – which is in the sights of the gas industry. The Marcellus Shale, in contrast, is about 5,000 feet below the surface. The publication asserts, “If the Rogersville Shale is extensively developed, the Huntington/Wayne County area would be harmed by unprecedented deep fracking, with much of the oil and gas apparently slated for export overseas.”

OVEC Well pad flaring

A modern well pad. Note the flaring. Dangers also include storage tanks for explosive, volatile natural gas condensate. Courtesy of OVEC.

Additionally, the publication points out that much of the gas being extracted from the West Virginia shale fields are earmarked for export, despite federal regulations designed to prevent that. It shows how a state court victory for citizens could thwart industry plans to export the gas they seek to extract. The ruling prevents gas companies from accessing private property. Hence, depending upon other factors, the ruling could severely limit construction, and hence production and, ultimately, export of the fracked gas. Consequently, the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, not to mention the many adverse impacts of fracking, could conceivably be severely restricted by West Virginians firmly standing for their rights.

In that decision from a case in Monroe County, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Monroe County Judge Robert A. Irons ruling that landowners do have the right to prevent pipeline surveyors from coming on their property to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). This was a clear win in checking gas companies’ abuse of eminent domain. He ruled what MVP’s attempts to get on private property without permission based on the premise of eminent domain is illegal because it was “private taking for private use.” In other words, the pipeline is not for public benefit, affirmed the court, but for the profit of the energy companies building them.

Other issues explored include public health and environmental complaints in Pennsylvania; the impact upon water supplies from depletion of lakes to pollution through leaching; earthquakes occurring where none had before the fracking boom; public health impacts, ecological risks, and overall nuisances of fracking well pads; and, a review of the impact of nine proposed pipelines, many of which would run under or near the Ohio River.

OVEC cluster of trucks

Fleets of various large trucks, oversized for the two-lane highways of West Virginia, many hauling hazardous and radioactive materials, clog the northern counties of West Virginia, as well as part of other central Appalachian states. Courtesy of OVEC.

Readers are also encouraged to know and defend their rights. “Folks in West Virginia living along the paths of these proposed pipelines are advised: If pipeline land men come looking for you, know your rights! OVEC can suggest knowledgeable and trustworthy lawyers.”

The dangers of compressor stations are illustrated vividly through the photo of a child who was part of a health study in New York. As noted in the caption, residents suffered from asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and rashes. On the same page, readers learn. “The Pennsylvania Medical Society has called for a moratorium on new shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

OVEC child with bloody nose

A child that was part of a health study in New York about the public health dangers of fracking. Photo: Minisink, N.Y. health study.

In-depth reporting is provided on the “typical steps” for a Marcellus Shale gas operation. Numerous photos tell their own stories. Radioactivity in fracking well waste is explored. The paper notes, “In December 2016, the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters reported on a study that found some well waste from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania contained radioactive material not previously reported, with the potential for leaching from landfills into the environment.” Over two pages, Renew West Virginia thoroughly reviews the science that proves fracking creates radioactive waste. Furthermore, they note that disposal of it is barely, if at all, regulated.

The newspaper also includes news of grassroots victories against pipelines; points out that the clean energy economy employs four million people in the United States; and, provides extensive analysis of solar energy.

Informational Meeting

OVEC will distribute copies of Renew West Virginia at an informational meeting at 6 p.m. on Wed., March 15 at the Main Cabell County Library, 455 9th Street (at the corner of 5th Ave. and 9th St. in downtown Huntington).

Learn more

To contact OVEC or to learn more about Renew West Virginia, click here.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also heaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

OVEC fracking process

Source of graphic: ProPublica; used with permission. Use does not imply ProPublica’s endorsement of any content of this newspaper.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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An Open Letter to W.Va. Governor Justice and DEP Secretary Caperton

On behalf of all West Virginians, I challenge you to serve the people, not your cronies in the fossil fuel industry

By S. Tom Bond

 Note: I have penned the following Open Letter to Governor Jim Justice and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton; I encourage you to do the same or join us in signing this by contacting the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance at MLPAWV@gmail.com or use the contact page. 

Editor’s note: Both Justice and Caperton have long careers as energy company executives and have records’ – including recent firings at WV DEP – that the state’s environmental groups find counter to the DEP mission as does the Charleston Gazette-Mail. To get a sense of how things operate in Charleston, read this admission by former DEP Secretary Randy Huffman that the DEP is compromised by crony capitalism.

Tom bond

Lewis County Farmer Tom Bond tells his story in the Documentary Film ‘In the Hills and Hollows’ by Keely Kernan

Dear Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton:

How is the air down there in Charleston?  Still clean? Do you plan to move out into the country near some of the new Marcellus drilling industry? Maybe near a compressor station with eleven of those big engines, roaring and belching 24 hours a day?

jim-justice-3-mug

Jim Justice

Or perhaps near a well pad where there is 24 hour light and noise and chemicals and diesel smoke with lots of PM-2.5 coming out the exhaust. Particulate matter 2.5 microns or less is now known as a cause of Alzheimer’s-like effects, you know. Going to bring along your grandchildren and your Mom along? Families like that live out here, and the young and the old are particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals, smoke, fumes, and dust.

Maybe you are like the famous story on Rex Tillerson, who has inflicted that kind of misery on many thousands of people. Then he complained when a water tower to enable fracking was erected in sight of his own piece of earth.

Do you think those who drink water without the taste of chlorine shouldn’t complain when their well is poisoned with a complex mixture of water slickers, detergents, and anti-oxidants, antibacterial compounds, and God-only-knows what else? Maybe they deserve car-busting roads and interminable delays when they use public roads too?

I can see you demurring all the way from here. I think that you are like Rex Tillerson, the ultimate not-in-my-back-yard guy!

austin-caperton

Austin Caperton

So you are going to govern the state for all the people.  For all the people of West Virginia – like John J. Cornwell was governing West Virginia for all the people, including the miners, at the time of the battle of Matewan? Oh yes! Those corporations provided good living for officers and investors, but not miners. It’s been like that since West Virginia was established. Wealth carried off, mostly north and east, but occasionally to build a motel in Florida.

So I’m being a little hard on you. You are just doing it to bring jobs, jobs, jobs, you say?  You do realize gas and oil extraction are capital intensive and labor weak, don’t you? That once the drilling is done by those fellows brought in from elsewhere, they will go away and leave few permanent jobs? You certainly know several companies are developing automated drilling, so drilling labor will go the way of coal labor, too.

Oh yes! Obama killed coal the fable says. You really know better than that, don’t you? Coal companies, going to more mechanization, especially long wall and surface mining that can use huge equipment, killed coal jobs. That Obama fable was a tool, using prejudice and diversion of the truth, to affect voters who were slow to catch on.

What moral code do you have that allows collateral damage to rural residents in peacetime to profit private industry? Forget for the moment all the externalized costs, the true cost of the extraction, the damage to other industries, global warming, destruction of surface value for farming and timber, recreation and hunting.  What justifies forest destruction, land disturbances, public annoyances, and public health for fossil fuel extraction? Especially when last year 39 percent of new electrical capacity was solar and 29 percent was wind power.  (Coal has been showing a decrease for the last two years.)  There is no CO2 from the renewable resources!

HAOL DCWA

West Virginia residents stand in solidarity against fracking at the first “Hands Across Our Land” fracking protest iin 2015. Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

How do you decide people are unworthy of protection? Simply because of rural residence? Those who can’t afford to move elsewhere, or too attached to the family plot?

Hey guys, people out here are probably more astute than you think. Some of us don’t think very far ahead, and few are articulate, but, given time, it all becomes too clear.

West Virginia has the highest rate at losing population in the nation.  We have the lowest ratio of employment to employable people in the nation. College kids have been heading for the door, and so are a lot of high school grads.

Is corrupting the environment and allowing the wealth of our state to be carted off by favored industries your best game? That is the past, present (and future?) of Almost Heaven! We country folks keep hoping for better!

S. Thomas Bond is an eighth generation West Virginian writing from his farm in Jane Lew, W.Va. He is a farmer and retired chemistry professor. He is interviewed in Keely Kernan’s Documentary Film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” which is about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia. 

Postscript: Please note the irony of the slide show of beautiful West Virginia scenery on the governor’s website. Let’s not let him have a pass on using the state’s natural beauty to disguise the extreme damage he has done to the people, environment and legal system of West Virginia. – M.B.

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FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

Hundreds of Nonprofit Organizations Join to Demand Reform of ‘Rogue Agency’

WASHINGTON – More than 180 organizations representing communities across America, including West Virginia, called on leaders in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold congressional hearings into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) extensive history of bias and abuse. The groups are also requesting reform of the Natural Gas Act, which the groups say, gives too much power to FERC and too little to state and local officials.

“The time has now come for Congress to investigate how FERC is using its authority and to recognize that major changes are in fact necessary in order to protect people, including future generations, from the ramifications of FERC’s misuse of its power and implementation of the Natural Gas Act,” says Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a primary organizer of the effort.

“The Greenbrier River Watershed has two pipelines proposed: Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley, yet FERC refused to do a Programmatic EIS to look at the need for two pipelines,” says Leslee McCarty, coordinator of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association.  “We hope Congress, instead of speeding up approvals for these projects, will force FERC to look closely at need, especially in light of global climate change.”

“The FERC represents the epitome of what the world has come to recognize as a rogue regime: unbridled power over citizens and unquestionable allegiance to and cooperation with unethical, socially unjust and environmentally dismissive corporations,” says Monroe County, WV resident Laurie Ardison,  co-chair of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights).” For the citizens of this country to be victims of the FERC is unconscionable. Congress must reign in this agency which left unchecked, will continue to foster incalculable harms as the fossil fuel industry develops beyond need.”

McCarty adds, “Fracked gas may prove to be even more of a dirty fuel than coal. Yet in the US, and especially in West Virginia, we are asked to embrace this dirty business as our savior. It is a testimony to slick public relations and strategic campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies, and keeps us on a dangerous path to certain disastrous climate change and boom and bust economic development. This is the time for West Virginia to look to revitalize our energy portfolio and keep sustainable jobs, not continue to be led down the painful road we have traveled in the past.”

The letter to Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairwoman Lisa Murkoski (R-AK), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), signed by 182 community organizations representing communities in 35 states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia as well as the District of Columbia, argues that FERC’s review and approval process for jurisdictional pipeline projects is infected by bias; and that it is resulting in uncontrolled and irresponsible proliferation of unneeded natural gas pipelines. Finally, the letter charges the agency with misusing provisions in the law to strip people and states of their legal rights, to prevent fair public participation in the pipeline review process, and to improperly use the power of eminent domain to take private property and public lands in a way that inflicts unforgivable harm to rights, jobs, and communities.

The letter details how FERC has implemented the Natural Gas Act in ways that deliberately undermine public input. FERC has prevented communities from challenging projects before the exercise of eminent domain and pipeline construction, made decisions to benefit its Commissioners, and used conflicted consultants to handle much of the review process.

In addition to calling for hearings into FERC and the Natural Gas Act, the letter opposes any further advancement of language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 meant to shorten critical pipeline review periods. Signers of the letter argue that the proposed law should be held in abeyance until after the hearings, where Congress will learn “how people’s rights, state’s rights, and the environment are already being abused under the implementation of the Natural Gas Act and so will be further harmed by passage of provisions proposed in the new law.”

Upon Congressional review, DRN and fellow parties demand the reforms necessary to address FERC’s extensive abuse of power, which requires revising the Natural Gas Act to prevent the misuse and exploitation that has been rampant. Additionally, the organizations seek affirmative action to remedy FERC’s problematic funding structure.

“FERC is corrupt and needs to be reformed,” says Paul L Gierosky, cofounder, Coalition to Reroute Nexus. “The evidence is overwhelming and clear as is set forth in the request for Congressional Hearings. It is time for Congress to hold FERC accountable.”

“The number of frack gas pipelines is exploding and the feds are not only not applying appropriate oversight, but are in fact also enabling the trampling of people’s property rights, public health standards, and environmental protection,” says David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director, Clean Water Action. “This letter is a clarion call to action for Congress to rein in this modern day Wild West that if left unchecked will lead to even worse abuses and explosions.”

 

A pdf of the letter is available here:
http://ohvec.org/ferc-hrg-sign-on-letter/

Is This Fair?

It is time to eliminate the outrageous subsidies and entitlements for the gas industry

By Tom and Becky Berlin 

WESTON, W.Va. – Here is a little something for all you land owners, farmers, small business owners, and tax payers to think about.

If you own a bit of land for a hay meadow, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your hay meadow.

Volk Farm

A farm in Lewis County, W.Va. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

If you buy a tractor and some equipment so you can harvest your hay, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your tractor and equipment.

If you build a barn in which to keep your hay and your farm equipment out of the weather, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your barn.

If you buy a cow to eat your hay and maybe give you a calf to sell, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your cow.

Other small businesses are in much the same situation. You pay property taxes on your business property, buildings, equipment, and inventory.

If, on the other hand, you are a huge corporation and you build a multimillion dollar piece of profitable infrastructure, like Momentum and Stonewall Gas Gathering LLC and their newly constructed pipeline, you will not be assessed and will not pay a penny of local property taxes on your pipeline. Nothing.

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The Stonewall Gas Gathering line under construction in North Central West Virginia in 2015. The company building it was cited by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for numerous violations during construction. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

Even worse, the land under which that multimillion dollar pipeline lies has been forever rendered unproductive. Nobody will ever be able to build a house on that land, build a barn, build a farm pond, drill a water well, grow an orchard, grow timber, cut an access road to the other side of your farm, or make any improvements that might interfere with the pipeline company. For every mile of pipeline right of way that Stonewall Gas Gathering has, they have permanently destroyed the utility and value of about 10 acres of land, which will ultimately show up as decreased property value and decreased tax revenue for the county. If you do not think the property value has declined on that land, survey off an acre of that right of way, put it up for sale and see what the market value is now.

Does that seem fair to you? Speak with your elected representatives and candidates and demand that this outrageous subsidy and entitlement be eliminated.

Tom and Becky Berlin are farmers in Weston, W.Va.

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Citizens Encouraged to Request Public Hearings about MVP

West Virginia Department of Environment Protection needs to hear more voices

By John W. Cobb, Jr.

IRELAND, W.Va. – With 11 counties in West Virginia projected to be affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) route should it receive approval, voices from one end of the state to the other must be heard. The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection (WVDEP) needs to hear from citizens while there is still time. The potential impacts to water supplies (aquifers), streams, wetlands and rivers is significant; therefore citizens need to write the WVDEP to request public hearings in the affected counties.

So far, such requests are working.

Mountain-Valley-Pipeline-Map

Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route (in green). Note that it runs from near the Pennsylvania and Ohio state lines in the north to the Virginia state line in the south. Courtesy: FracCheckWV

The WVDEP Division of Water and Waste Management (DWWM) will be extending the public comment period on the State 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed MVP project until further notice. It takes only a few minutes to send them a letter or email requesting a public hearing in your county so you can learn and get answers to your concerns.

Originally, the public comment period, which is required under state regulation 47CSR5A, would have ended next week, but because of widespread public interest in the proposed project, DWWM will be scheduling public hearings to discuss certification of the proposed project. Information about the dates and locations of those hearings will be made public as soon as plans are finalized.

The WVDEP says they will likely prioritize holding public hearings based on the counties generating the most comments. For now, those are from Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. We need more folks along the MVP Route to respond now. We need to help get the word out to folks further up along the proposed route, including Wetzel, Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette counties. Every citizen along the route needs reasonable access to public hearings. By writing the WVDEP, it will increase the chance that no citizen will be left out.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a $3.5 billion project, developed by EQT Corp., and it involves a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that would run 301 miles south from the Equitrans L.P. transmission system near the MarkWest Energy Mobley Complex in Wetzel County to a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This project is one of multiple pipeline projects currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) one of the other projects is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will run somewhat parallel and north of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

When issuing certification, DWWM’s 401 Certification Program may consider the proposed activity’s impact on water resources, fish and wildlife, recreation, critical habitats, wetlands and other natural resources. In its 401 certification application, EQT anticipates that the MVP project will have temporary impacts to approximately 49,892 linear feet of streams and 18.9 acres of wetlands and permanent impacts to approximately 3,125 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands within the Mountain State.

Comments and information relating to the certification should be emailed to DEP.comments@wv.gov, with “MVP 401 Certification” in the subject line or mailed to:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management

401 Certification Program

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304

Responding now with a request for a public hearing in your county will give you and your neighbors a chance to express your concerns to the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection.

(C) John W. Cobb, Jr., 2016. Mr. Cobb writes from his home in Ireland, W.Va.

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Note: The original version of this article listed 12 counties. The correct number is 11. We regret the error.

Virginia Officials Agree to Demands from Advocacy Group about Pipeline Deliberations

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition petitioned state official to make public information about pipeline regulatory reviews

MONTEREY, Va. – On May 5, 2016, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) sent a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Injunctive Relief to Angela Navarro, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, and David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to compel the state to provide information about regulatory reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) proposals. The Petition, prepared for filing in the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond, describes how state officials have violated duties under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The next day, Friday, May 6th, Deputy Secretary Navarro and Director Paylor responded through their counsel, Assistant Attorney General, David Grandis, indicating that they will provide the requested documents early this week.

JB 2

Pristine streams such as Mill Creek, in Randolph County, W.Va., would be significantly impacted by construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Photo by Michael M. Barrick.

Before the state indicated it would provide the documents, Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, said, “We are disappointed that Virginia’s environmental officials have failed to live up to a law designed to give Virginian’s open access to their own government. Nearly three weeks ago, we asked for public records that would help us and other citizens understand what the State intends to do to protect citizens and the environment from damages the pipelines could cause.” He continued, “Officials are supposed to respond to such information requests within five business days but we received no reply for nearly three weeks. Finally yesterday (May 4) they acknowledged they’d received our letter but did not offer to provide the information we’ve requested.”

The Virginia DEQ has a duty, under the federal Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Protection laws, to review the gas pipeline proposals and ensure that no project goes forward unless all water quality standards will be met, argued Webb. However, as DPMC’s April 14 letter recounts, Virginia DEQ seems to be willing to cover both ACP and MVP under “general permits,” essentially rubber stamping the projects under blanket approvals issued in 2012 and intended only for small projects that pose little risk to waters, Webb argued. DPMC sought public records through the April request to clarify the state’s positions and to question whether the DEQ is able to justify its approach.

The Petition can be accessed here. The FOIA request was included in an April 14th letter, which can be accessed here. The letter objected to the state’s apparent intention to certify the ACP and MVP under general permits issued in 2012. The FOIA request sought information related to the following questions concerning both the ACP and MVP:

1) Has DEQ deemed the Joint Application and/or other information submitted for the projects to be complete and accurate such that DEQ is able to make a formal finding as to the projects’ eligibility for coverage under Virginia’s blanket 401 water quality certification?

2) Has the Corps of Engineers indicated to DEQ that the projects meet the Corps’ requirements for coverage under the general Nationwide Permit 12?

3) Has DEQ made a tentative or final finding that the projects comply with the conditions of the blanket 401 certification for Nationwide Permit 12?

4) Has DEQ requested and/or received additional information from the applicants, in addition to that contained in the Joint Applications, to reveal proposed construction and detailed pollution control methods and analyze possible water quality impacts?

IM000674.JPG

Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County, W.Va. with heavy sediment resulting from pipeline construction in the summer of 2015. This would be the fate of thousands of miles of watershed should the ACP be built. Photo by Michael M. Barrick.

According to DPMC, this is the second time this year that Virginia officials have violated the Freedom of Information Act after DPMC requested records on the gas pipelines. In an earlier case, Carlos Hopkins, Counsel to Governor McAuliffe, failed to provide records within the required period. On March 4, 2016, David Sligh of DPMC wrote Hopkins: “I believe the Governor’s Office is now in violation of the time requirement for response to FOIA requests, under 37 § 2.2-3704. You informed me that the check sent on behalf of DPMC was received at your office on February 15 or 16. Therefore, the records or an appropriate response should have been sent no later than Feb. 23.”  Less than two hours after receiving Sligh’s note, Mr. Hopkins provided the documents but failed to explain the failure to abide by the law.

“This legal action is about much more than an arbitrary deadline or a technicality,” Rick Webb stated: “It’s about the McAuliffe administration’s respect for the rights of citizens trying to play their proper roles and protect their communities and natural resources. The law says a failure to properly respond to a FOIA request is the same as refusing the request outright. We won’t accept a refusal of our rights.”

Deerfield - Augusta County

A screen shot from the DPMC”s new interactive web mapping system. This is of blast radius and evacuation zones for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Courtesy DPMC.

New Layers Added to DPMC ACP map, including blast radius and evacuation zones

According to DPMC, additional map layers have been added to the ACP-Environmental Mapping System. Features include:

1) Estimated blast radius and evacuation zone for the proposed ACP.

2) Updated ACP construction corridor and access roads for the 10/30/15 and 4/15/16 submissions to FERC.

3) Direct and core forest loss associated with the proposed ACP construction corridor and access roads.

4) Virginia property parcels.

5) Stream crossings. (Information on crossing methods and environmental factors will be added).

The current version of the ACP-Environmental Mapping system can be accessed via the DPMC website, www.pipelineupdate.org. The link is in the right-hand sidebar.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.

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West Virginia Catholic Diocese Challenged to Reject Coal’s ‘Dirty Money’

The Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment

By Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va.  – During this presidential campaign, a light is being shined on the way corporate and other wealthy donors influence the political process. We have woken up to the fact that money corrupts politics. During this month of the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster, it is important, too, to see the corrupting influence of coal money on our churches.

Michael J Iafrate

Michael J. Iafrate

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have been admirably engaged in the work of charity in the state of West Virginia. Yet, they have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.

For example, the takeaway from the Bishop’s pastoral letter on mine safety, issued after Upper Big Branch, was that the tragedy “raises concerns.” But the coal industry itself says that such accidents “raise concerns.” The death of so many human beings at the hands of a systemically negligent industry should do more than “raise concerns.”

Whether faced with the coal industry’s repeated attempts to cheat retired miners out of their pensions and health care packages or the ongoing devastating stories from communities affected by mountaintop removal mining, the Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment. Even after the release of Pope Francis’ powerful ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, Bransfield downplayed its message for West Virginia, promoting instead the myth of “clean coal.” And the Diocese has yet to make any comments about the dangers of fracking which increasingly affects people in West Virginia. Why is this?

People of faith in Appalachia often suspect that dirty money from the fossil fuel industries compromises the church’s prophetic voice. Pope Francis has spoken about the corrupting influence of “dirty money,” saying, “I think of some benefactors of the Church, who come with an offer for the Church and their offer is the fruit of the blood of people who have been exploited, enslaved with work which was under-payed. I will tell these people to please take back their cheques. The People of God don’t need their dirty money but hearts that are open to the mercy of God.”

MTR 2_OVEC

A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

We must ask about the relevance of Francis’ words for the church in West Virginia, as it in fact has financial ties to the coal industry. Diocesan officials have stated publicly that the church draws money from unspecified “fossil fuel investments,” but will not disclose any further details about these investments or about its endowment in general, and one of the four lay members of Bransfield’s finance council is a former lobbyist for the National Coal Association. In 2008, according to multiple sources, Bransfield gave the green light to Sacred Heart Parish School in Williamson, W.Va. to accept charitable gifts from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, including the funding of a brand-new gymnasium for the school, brand new sports equipment, and full scholarships for 12 students for their six-year education.

One would think that after Upper Big Branch the church might be more reluctant to accept any more dirty money from coal barons. Yet, Catholic Charities of West Virginia opened a new facility in Greenbrier County in 2013 funded by a donation from mine owner Jim Justice, whose mines have been cited for hundreds of labor, safety, and environmental violations and for failure to pay various debts and taxes.

People like Justice and Blankenship give monetary gifts to the church to improve their community standing. For precisely this reason, Blankenship’s charitable activity was cited in over one hundred letters to U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asking for more leniency in the lead-up to his sentencing.

Despite its continued economic decline, Big Coal wants a return on their investment in the church. What kind of return are they getting? A diocesan spokesperson told me that the church opposes the abuses of the fossil fuel industries, such as mountaintop removal and the abuse of workers, but that it does so “quietly” because “banging a drum” about it would “not be prudent.” But what is the value of opposition that is not made public?

Such responses suggest that the Diocese is very concerned about how the church’s social justice teachings would be received by powerful industries in West Virginia if we were to preach them strongly and in public. When church leaders consistently accept money from coal barons, the “prudent” approach muzzles any social justice teaching the church might offer in defense of workers or of Earth’s ecological integrity.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have … have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.”– Michael J. Iafrate

Many West Virginia Catholics would like to see their leaders boldly choose the side of justice and to “let justice speak loudly,” as the Appalachian Catholic bishops put it in their 1975 pastoral letter “This Land is Home to Me.” We do not expect the church to call for an immediate end of the coal industry, even as we transition to more diverse, life-giving economies. But we insist that the church must do better at denouncing—without ambiguity—this industry’s abuses.

Specifically, is it too much to wish that Bransfield condemn mountaintop removal and fracking and to apologize for promoting the lie of clean coal? Shouldn’t he promote clearly the church’s teaching on workers’ rights and oppose the continued attack on those rights that we saw in West Virginia’s recent legislative session, especially in the passing of the Right to Work bill? (The brief, vague diocesan statement issued on the legislation will not do). Might we expect him to join so many others explicitly calling for tougher penalties for those who violate mining regulations?

To do any of this, however, the church must be free of the corrupting influence of the coal industry’s financial gifts. On this anniversary of Upper Big Branch, the Diocese should exercise financial transparency and make a clear commitment to refuse the financial benefits of a destructive, death-dealing industry. As Pope Francis has said, we don’t need their dirty money.

[This is a shorter, edited version of a longer piece first published at Religion Dispatches, April 14, 2016.] 

© Michael J. Iafrate, 2016. 

Michael J. Iafrate writes from Wheeling, W.Va. He is a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto) and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. He can be reached at michael.iafrate@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline Not a Done Deal

(Editor’s note: As we recently announced, the Appalachian Chronicle launched a sister online newspaper, The Lenoir Voice, in North Carolina. This article is published in full there).

Before jumping on the natural gas bandwagon, North Carolinians need to know that the shale fields of Central Appalachia are a living hell because of fracking and pipeline development 

“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b)

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – North Carolina-based Duke Energy, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, Inc. and its partners announced on March 22 that it has closed deals to sell virtually all of the natural gas expected to flow through the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which will originate in Harrison County, W.Va. – if approved.

And there is the catch. The ACP has yet to receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). However, this latest announcement is just the most recent of a barrage of press releases during the past few years, as Duke Energy and its partners have been playing the “inevitability” card on this controversial project since it was announced. It is marketing propaganda at its best, supported by ruthless and questionable legal tactics to squash all opposition.

So far, they’ve failed – at least at squashing a popular uprising among the residents along the pipeline’s proposed route. Read the full article.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2016 

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Jury in Pennsylvania Fracking Case Sees Clear Value in Lives and Property

Families who refused to settle out of court awarded $4.2 million for the harm caused to their land and lives from fracking

By S. Tom Bond

DIMOCK, Pa. – The controversy over the environmental impact of fracking upon the people and land of Appalachia – especially in the shale fields of Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia – recently took a stunning turn here earlier this month when a jury agreed with two families and awarded them $4.2 million in their lawsuit against Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas. See the article about the settlement on the FrackCheckWV website.

No eminent domain for corporate gain.”

Scott Ely and his wife, Monica Marta-Ely, and Ray and Victoria Hubert of Dimock refused to settle for mediation of their nuisance suit, which was filed in 2009. In doing so, they have done a great thing for all of us. They took the risk of going to court and refused the minimal value offered by the corporation, despite the fact that many of their neighbors settled years ago. This showed publically how the neighborhood valued their property, both its singular and personal value.

This decision shows that the environmental impact of fracking is inextricably linked to fundamental issues such as private property rights and values. The value of property (or friends or anything you like) is not the same as a corporation values it. What a jury of peers does is to value property according to community values – the value as the neighbors understand it, not how the aggressor sees it!

Fracking OVEC

Fracking opponents express their concerns about the extraction process. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Council.

This settlement raises some interesting questions and metaphors. Do you think my wife isn’t worth more to me than she would be worth on the open market? She is 79, grey and somewhat bent, but we get along. I don’t want to adapt to another, and I’d like to keep her around. It’s the same with my farm – I’ve been here for 52 years. I know about its past back to the ones who got the land grants, I know what it can do, and I remember a lifetime of what has gone on here. I have heirs who are interested in working it. Of course it is worth more to me than to a stranger.

What if someone comes along and takes it for his profit? Rest assured, he makes his effort for profit, not for the public good, otherwise it would be cheaper for the public equal to the amount of his profit. Corporations are notorious for their single value outlook, one of the huge ways they are not “persons.” Indeed, their hypocrisy knows no bound. Rex Tillerson, the chairman, president, and CEO of ExxonMobile Corporation and several of his neighbors, include former House Majority Leader Dick Armey – both strong supporters of fracking – sued an energy company in Texas to stop the construction of a water tower close to their property. In their lawsuit, Tillerson, Armey and others argued that the tower – which, if completed, will contain water to be sold to fracking companies – will diminish their property values and cause “discomfort and annoyances to persons.” See here.

Tillerson has learned what those of us living in the fracking fields have known for a decade – almost all personal property is worth more because people don’t use it just for profit. If the compensation is the single value of “market worth,” people get cheated.

There is an element of class warfare in fracking. Few people who aspire to become rich by investment or astronomically high executive salaries are genuinely democratic (small d, of course). Their values and ours don’t match. Indeed, Laura Legere of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Cabot’s attorney Jeremy Mercer described the efforts by the attorney for the Ely and Hubert families as an effort “to throw skunks into the jury box.” This is, indeed, the language of class warfare.

What corporation would be interested in anything but making money? Should enjoying life, appreciating the people around you and preserving the good world around us be considered worthwhile values? Those of us who are stewards of the land entrusted to us believe so.

The court victory by the Elys and Howards should embolden us to preserve and protect the rights that go with our private property, and say together, “No eminent domain for corporate gain.”

© S. Tom Bond, 2016. Bond is a retired chemistry professor and farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.

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