Tag Archives: Barbara Volk

The Earth Under Assault

Three years after Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, Appalachia and all of the planet is as vulnerable as ever to fossil fuel industry

Earth 638831main_globe_east_2048

Credit: NASA

April 22, 2018 — Three years ago this morning, I was having breakfast with our daughter Lindsay in Charleston, W.Va., reflecting upon the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference we had organized with the help of countless of others. It has broken up the day before, and we allowed ourselves an extra night int he Mountain State’s capital to visit our favorite restaurant for dinner — Leonora’s Spagetti House.

We were hopeful. Despite a steady, cold rain that morning, the outlook we took from the conference reflected that spring morning; while it was cold and rainy, the grays and browns of the West Virginia winter had finally turned green in the Kanawha Valley. Indeed, during the warm and sunny days of the conference, the 50 or so gathered often looked longingly out the window at the budding leaves gently moving from the invisible breeze.

But we stayed inside, because we were gathered for a common and critical purpose — preserving Appalachia and all of the planet. We presumed, as you will read below from the article posted shortly after the gathering, that people from all backgrounds and disciplines could and would agree that the earth is sacred because it is the source of life.

We did. However, three years later, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has been crushing all efforts at preserving our air, land and water. EQT (Pittsburgh), Dominion (Richmond), and Duke Energy (Charlotte) have set up a nice little triangle of fossil fuel dominance in Appalachia. Since 2010, they have bought the legislators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal and state regulatory agencies have ignored the law and will of the people and greased the tracks for the very companies they are supposed to hold in check.

I am saddened, but I am in awe of our allies (many mentioned below) that continue to fight the good fight to preserve Mother Earth. On this Earth Day, let us recommit ourselves to being part of that fight. — MMB

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.

It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.

The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.

Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking.
Photo by Keely Kernan

As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”

Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”

Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”

St. John's XXIII Pastoral Center. Photo by Allen Johnson

St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center.
Photo by Allen Johnson

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking

Consequences – devastated lives, destroyed communities and devalued homes – are indisputable

By Michael M. Barrick

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – I first learned of fracking several years ago while living in North Carolina. What I learned from my initial research quickly convinced me that it presented risks to people and the environment and thus required further study. A few years later, in May 2012, I had my first exposure to fracking. Visiting a farm in Doddridge County, I had to dodge numerous huge trucks entering and exiting the narrow, one-lane road. Upon arriving, I learned from the owner that the trucks were a constant presence in their formally quiet hollow. It was all part of construction activities associated with building a well pad.

Later that day I got a disturbing introduction to fracking’s impact on a community’s quality of life. Climbing to the highest point on the property with several others, the customary, comforting sounds of nature – birds chirping, a light breeze rustling the leaves, a squirrel scampering up a tree – were interrupted by an ominous pounding. It was heavy equipment preparing the site for the well pad bringing the never-ending flow of trucks into the heretofore quiet valley.

A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime. Photo by Michael Barrick

A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime.
Photo by Michael Barrick

Then, a little more than two years after that, when I was working in a local hospital, I was called to the emergency department because a patient had presented with exposure to an unknown chemical. He had been injured at a well pad site. He and his clothes had been soaked by the frack fluid being used to fracture the rock thousands of feet below. He was complaining of burning eyes and skin. He did not know what chemical he had been exposed to, and there was no Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on site so far as he knew, he told me.

Because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with, I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. He agreed. Essentially, the questions were phrased so that we could learn what we were dealing with, if it was likely we’d see it again, how many others workers could be exposed to it, and any other risks that it might pose. The worker understood his answers would benefit others; however, when his supervisor arrived from the field, he told the injured worker he should not answer any more questions. Intimidated, he clammed up. I had seen enough though. The young man was clearly in pain, the odor of the chemical(s) on his clothes nauseating, and his company representative didn’t want him talking. I suspected we were dealing with some bad stuff.

An uncontrolled gas well fire in Doddridge County.  Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group.

An uncontrolled gas well fire in Doddridge County.
Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group.

So, my first impression of the fracking industry was that “being a good neighbor” isn’t important to them. Extracting gas, regardless of the cost to people and the environment, is. This, combined with the history of the energy extraction industry in West Virginia and the science regarding fracking’s impact upon people and the environment, has caused me to conclude that fracking must be banned.

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.

West Virginia’s challenge: crony capitalism and inadequate disaster preparations
As I’ve written elsewhere, the crony capitalism practiced among West Virginia’s industrial leaders, politicians, courts and even law enforcement has enriched a few over the state’s 152 year history, but not without much human degradation and environmental destruction. Indeed, by the turn of the 20th century, three men – U.S. Senators Johnson N. Camden and Clarence Watson, as well as Judge A. B. Fleming – controlled all of the mines along the Monongahela River in West Virginia, as well as the railroad lines.

From these unholy alliances, we have had over a century of mining disasters, the Mine Wars of the 1920s, and tragedies such as the Buffalo Creek disaster in 1972, when a waste containment pond owned by Pittston Coal Company burst, allowing135 million gallons of water, sludge and mud to form a 30-foot high wall of debris that rushed through the valley below, killing 125 and displacing thousands.

While this history applies to the coal industry, it is safe to say that the natural gas industry holds as much sway over West Virginia’s political institutions today as coal barons ever did. And, it also has a history of tragedies. And, the shenanigans continue. The indictment of Don Blankenship for allegedly contributing to the unsafe conditions which led to the Upper Big Branch mining disaster than killed 29 miners, the indictment of former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern for his alleged role in the Elk River contamination in January 2014 and the $2.3 million civil penalty that XTO Energy is paying for illegally dumping fill material into streams and wetlands in Harrison, Marion and Upshur counties are all examples of why the energy extraction industry in general cannot be trusted. There is simply too much wealth under the Mountain State’s hills and valleys for it not to be exploited – at whatever the cost. That is our history.

In light of West Virginia’s political history, the last lines of defense against catastrophe so long as fracking continues are state and local disaster officials. Frankly, with a few notable exceptions, that is worrisome.

Let us consider Lewis County as an example. It is currently among the most active fracking counties in the state, with hundreds of fracking wells planned. The amount of truck traffic traveling along U.S. Rt. 33 through town and then west towards Glenville is significant. One can stand downtown and count literally dozens in just minutes. They travel along narrow roads, wearing out the surface, causing property damage and injuring other drivers. Yet, the county has disbanded its HAZMAT team, meaning that a spill of hazardous chemicals or materials associated with the industry will pose a threat to the public and environment until help from outside arrives. In the minutes of the meetings from the Lewis Upshur Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) over the past year or two you will find little or no mention of fracking.

Sadly, that is likely the case in most of West Virginia’s counties. The LEPC is charged with conducting a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) for its community, and then develop an Emergency Operations Plan based on that HVA. So, residents should be asking several questions. Have risk assessments for fracking been conducted by the various LEPCs in those counties where fracking is occurring or planned? If so, what conclusions were reached? If not, how could emergency response officials, let alone residents, possibly know what risks the county faces because of fracking? In Doddridge County, which has as much fracking activity as anywhere in the state, officials there were recently complacent – if not incompetent – about a fracking accident there.

All disasters begin and end locally. So clearly, with most local governments in West Virginia not aware of the dangers of fracking, let alone developing emergency plans for them, can the people of West Virginia count upon the state government to fill the gap? Hardly. While there are people at the Department of Environmental Protection that want to help, they are limited by statute in their roles and influence. Meanwhile, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – again, staffed with some fine people – is prevented by law from holding LEPCs accountable. They have regional representatives that attend the meetings, but have no say over the LEPCs work – or lack thereof. That leaves the responsibility with the county commissioners, who are responsible for public health and safety. Unfortunately, they usually delegate that authority to the LEPC – meaning responsibility is abdicated to those unwilling or unable to reach a consensus on the importance of assessing the risks of fracking.

Clearly, West Virginia’s history of crony capitalism and the state’s dysfunctional disaster planning and response systems are all factors which only aggravate an already dangerous industry.

Fracking record is one of death and danger
In addition to West Virginia having a history which should cause us all to be concerned, so does the fracking industry. It is true that hydraulic fracturing has been used since the late 1940s to extract natural gas and petroleum from the earth. However, the drilling costs have decreased, making its use cost-effective and hence widespread. Companies are drilling at unprecedented depths, using technology that one gas company employee told me, “is beyond our knowledge to manage it.”

Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:
1. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
2. Traffic Congestion
3. Water Use and Contamination
4. Air Pollution
5. Waste Disposal
6. Public Health Issues
7. Quality of Life Issues
8. Related Pipeline Development
9. Misuse of Eminent Domain
10. Climate Change
11. Potential Earthquakes
12. Industry Instability

One area significantly impacted by fracking in recent years is Wetzel County in West Virginia. Bordering both Pennsylvania and Ohio, the county is located in the heart of current Marcellus Shale development. Indeed, a group known as the Wetzel County Action Group has formed in response to the many hazards caused by fracking. One member is Bill Hughes, who offered a presentation to about 200 concerned residents at a grass-roots public forum in the Lewis County community of Jackson’s Mill last November. As he noted, he is an “unwilling expert” from his first-hand experience with the fracking industry.

Hughes, who is also a board member of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, shared information on the production stages of fracking, and typical problems experienced by communities because of fracking, including traffic congestion and property damage, water pollution, and air pollution. His first-hand observations are reinforced by considerable research.

1. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
Hughes told residents what many had already begun to discover for themselves. Site preparation involved an invasion of huge earth-moving equipment, all burning diesel fuel. Literally hundreds of trucks hauling stone go back and forth. Others are ever-present, working to prepare the well pad, access roads and holding ponds.

Site development is just the beginning. Well pad activity inundates a community with congestion, as well as noise, air and water pollution. Activity on a completed pad includes the running of drill rig diesel engines, auxiliary pumps, generator sets and other equipment – all day, every day. Once drilling is complete, up to a dozen frack pumps are run daily, each with about 2,000 horsepower. Also, several dozen to a hundred trucks a day deliver sand. Meanwhile, fine silica dust is blown into the air while transferring the sand to holding containers.

A fracking truck accident in Wetzel County, W.Va. Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group

A fracking truck accident in Wetzel County, W.Va. Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group

Flaring, a method of releasing pressure, sometimes brightens the night sky for weeks. But first, as Hughes noted, “Raw gas is released into the air, combined with a witch’s brew of the leftover down-hole chemicals in the well bore used in the drilling and fracking process.”

Hughes also shared, “Once wells are put into production, emissions from well sites will continue for decades. Emissions are from fugitive emissions from all the pipe fittings, separators, heater-treaters, condensate storage tanks, combustion burners and small flash gas compressor engines.” The consequence, said Hughes, is “Both intentional and accidental releases will also put raw methane into the atmosphere.”

Of course, the gas has to be transported, so the gathering pipelines present their own set of challenges. Reported Hughes, “Valves, gauges, test ports, pig launchers, flanges and all fittings will have some uncontrolled fugitive emissions. Blow-downs and pigging of the pipelines will release large quantities of raw methane into the air.”

Finally, there are the compressor stations. Hughes explained, “Most gathering pipeline will be connected to larger pipes which will go to a compressor station. There will be dehydrating equipment, condensate storage tanks, truck loading racks and very large quantities of regulated pollutants.” He pointed out that these are noisy locations, citing a location in Wetzel County with over 30,000 horsepower of compressor engines. Some people living close to them have characterized the sound as a never-ending jet engine sitting on a runway next to their home.

All of this activity leads to the other risks. Indeed, Jake Hays and Adam Law, M.D., writing for the Environmental Health Policy Institute of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), argue, “…the entire lifecycle of unconventional shale gas extraction is potentially polluting. This includes everything from clearing the land for the gas well pad, to initial hydraulic fracturing, subsequent recompletions, and the final capping of the well years or decades later after it is no longer productive.”

So, Hughes is not alone in his assertions. His first-hand accounts are supported by peer-reviewed research by physicians, scientists, public health officials and journalists. For instance, Barbara Gottlieb reported for PSR, “Besides water issues, other problems have been associated with hydraulic fracturing. The release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is one concern. Another is methane: Wellheads have leaked gases including methane, a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, local communities complain about the noise, vibration and diesel fumes from drilling operations and from the literally thousands of truck trips necessitated by the fracking process. In other places, earthquakes have been attributed to fracking, either from re-injecting the returned fracking fluid into abandoned mines or deep underground, or from the hydraulic fracturing itself.”

2. Traffic Congestion
According to Hughes, the problems with traffic congestion are many, including: damaged, dusty and muddy roads; broken electrical and phone lines; blocked roads and delays; dangerous big trucks; escorts and trucks driving left of center; signs and bridges damaged; large truck caravans; permanent loss of pasture, timber and farm land; and, increased demand on and delay of emergency services.

Trucks hauling solid waste from fracking sites line up at the Wetzel County landfill. Photo by Bill Hughes

Trucks hauling solid waste from fracking sites line up at the Wetzel County landfill.
Photo by Bill Hughes

In Lewis County, resident Barbara Volk warned county commissioners of the dangers associated with the fracking traffic and then just a few days later was hurt when her car was rear-ended by a fracking truck. Though the company has settled with her for the damages caused to her car, four months after the accident she continues to wait for the company to accept liability for her medical costs, loss wages and other damages.

3. Water Use and Contamination
According to industry officials, each well requires at least five million gallons of water to mix with the sand and chemicals used in the fracking process. That water comes from public sources – streams, creeks, rivers and even reservoirs. First, there is a fairness issue to consider, as private companies operating for profit are essentially hijacking the most precious of earth’s resources. Additionally, the potential of drought should cause us to have a conservationist approach to water use; instead, we act as if there is an unlimited supply. There is not, as people all over the nation and planet are learning. Furthermore, reduced stream and river volumes adversely impact aquatic life. Also, according to FrackCheckWV, “The loss of fresh(er) water from streams feeding our rivers means that some of the beneficial effect of dilution is lost. Pollutants from other industries (coal, power, etc.) are therefore more concentrated at our public water intakes on rivers. Public treatment plants do not remove most pollutants such as salts, chemicals and heavy metals. Thus the pollutants pass through the system and out our taps.”

Hughes lists numerous other problems with water use caused by fracking, including: muddy streams from gas operations runoff; spilled drill brine fluids; streams, springs and rivers contaminated by drill waste; erosion and sedimentation of streams; spilled and dumped drill mud or cuttings; and, disposal problems.

Hays and Law confirm Hughes’ observations, writing, “These fluids are laced with chemicals used as friction reducers, biocides, corrosion inhibitors, etc….” They continued, ‘Flowback water’ withdrawn from the well after the fracturing process, and ‘produced water’ returned to the surface with the natural gas, introduce other toxic substances. In addition to the toxins put into the ground, these returned waters contain heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic), naturally occurring radioactive materials (e.g. radon, uranium, chromium), bromide, and chloride (brine).” Additionally, say the scientists, “Containment of these returned waters remains a problem and recycling (i.e. reuse for other drilling operations) accounts for only a portion of these toxic fluids. Flowback and produced waters are often put in evaporation ponds, which have been known to leak, contaminating water and soil and leading to documented instances of fish and livestock deaths.”

The stream on the left was polluted by runoff from fracking operations.  Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group

The stream on the left was polluted by runoff from fracking operations.
Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr. and Wetzel County Action Group

Yet, they note, “No suitable or concrete plans have been made for the treatment and storage of wastewater from shale gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region.”

Hays and Law also contend, “Water contamination due to natural gas operations associated with hydraulic fracturing has been documented.” They reported, “A Duke University study in Pennsylvania that tested sixty-eight water wells found that groundwater near drilling areas contained methane concentrations seventeen times higher than wells where drilling was not taking place.”

4. Air Pollution
The silica dust which pours out of fracking sites in large clouds through the processing of sand are clear health hazards. These silica dust clouds have been associated with tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.

The fracking process releases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and benzene, among other pollutants. According to FrackCheckWV, “…one of the most toxic types of air pollution is insidiously invisible to our eyes. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, such as benzene and formaldehyde, are released both intentionally and unintentionally from gas collection and treatment equipment. These chemicals contribute to asthma-inducing smog, are toxic to our organs and significantly raise the risk of cancer to those who inhale them. While our eyes cannot detect these emissions, infrared photography has recorded dramatic clouds of black VOCs issuing from gas facilities.”

In addition, Hays and Law point out, “Significant air pollution emissions come not only from natural gas drilling and processing operations, but from transportation as well,” noting that roughly 4,000 truck trips occur at each well.

5. Waste Disposal
Of the five million gallons of water that is used at a fracking site, as much as three million or so is left over for disposal. Presently, the industry has few regulations to guide their disposal and because of a decision by Congress to exempt the industry from the Clean Water Act, the exact content and composition of the fracking fluid is considered proprietary. This means that local emergency response, public health, and environmental protection workers cannot develop appropriate and complete emergency response plans.

In addition, once the wastewater is disposed of, whether on site or at an undisclosed location, it then mixes with the earth’s hidden threats, such as arsenic, mercury, heavy metals and radioactive materials. All of this can then leach into ground and surface water supplies.

6. Public Health Issues
The public health sector has not prepared for the impact of fracking, argue Hays and Law. “The recent boom in shale gas production has left the public health community scrambling to catch up.” They explain, “Epidemiologic studies often require significant time and resources (e.g. prospective cohort studies), which have been far outpaced by the rate at which shale gas operations have developed. Environmental and health-related governmental agencies have lacked the capacity to adequately investigate public health considerations of shale gas extraction. There are political interferences as well, and currently there are no members on state and national advisory committees with recognizable public health expertise.”

7. Quality of Life Issues
Jill Kriesky, who has a doctorate in economics, authored the essay, “Socioeconomic Change and Human Stress Associated with Shale Gas Extraction” for PSR. Sharing a personal experience, she wrote, “Spending a few hours in towns in the active Marcellus Shale drilling region of Pennsylvania provides even a casual observer with sights and sounds of undeniable community change. Thousands of diesel-powered trucks carrying water, chemicals, and equipment to and from drilling sites roar through towns and rural landscapes, creating traffic jams and degrading already poor-quality road surfaces. Local hotel, temporary industry-built ‘man camps,’ and restaurants are filled with an influx of drilling teams from Texas, Oklahoma, and other points south and west, here only long enough to drill and frac, then move on to another site. A visitor who spends a little more time chatting with social service providers, town leaders, and long-time residents will hear about additional stressors that lie below the surface. Homelessness is on the rise among those who have long struggled near the economic margins, and are now forced from inexpensive housing by landlords seeking higher rents from gas workers.”

What she observed is common throughout the region. In Harrison and Lewis counties in North Central West Virginia, rental prices have grown exponentially to where even a small home or apartment rents for nearly $1,000. Some homes rent for double and triple that. As one hourly worker who makes just a little over minimum wage observed from his home in Weston, “This has become a town of haves and have-nots. There is no middle class left.”

Homeowners, too, are impacted. Property values decrease as much as 75 percent, making getting loans for mortgages or upkeep nearly impossible. It also precludes selling one’s land if one wants to get away from fracking operations.

8. Related Pipeline Development
While the gas industry would like to separate the issues of fracking and the development of at least five pipelines in West Virginia and surrounding states, the two issues are inseparable. One does not exist without the other. The destruction that the construction of a 42” pipeline would cause to mountains, streams, drinking water, endangered species and property values is directly connected to the existence of fracking. The pipelines, in particular the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the somewhat shorter Mountain Valley Pipeline, are currently mapped to go through three national forests and some of the highest peaks of the Allegheny Front. Even industry officials have expressed doubts about this route. Alluding to one of its southern “alternate” routes, a Dominion Energy official wrote, “Of great significance is the jumbled arrangement of ridgetops south and east of Thorny Flat. The mountain ridges in this area . . . consist of a jumbled mass of peaks and ridge tops. Trying to cross this terrain with a 42-inch pipeline results in a combination of steep side slope traverses and up and down approaches to ridgetops, requiring heavy equipment winching on both sides of the ridge from a narrow staging area on top. . . . Slope restoration and stabilization would . . . be difficult to achieve…”

This is why Dominion and its partners have applied for a permit to go through the Monongahela National Forest (as well as the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests). However, as the National Forest notes on its website, “…the Monongahela straddles the highest ridges in the State. Elevation ranges from just under 1000′ to 4863′ above sea level. Variations in terrain and precipitation have created one of the most ecologically diverse National Forests in the country.”

So, regardless of where the companies attempt to cross the Allegheny Front, they will have problems. They will either have to use a route they consider undesirable, or go through land set aside for all U.S. citizens to enjoy. Perhaps the forest routes are preferable because the energy companies hope that once the permits are approved, oversight will end.

Despite the strategy of inevitability that the gas companies have adopted regarding the various pipeline projects, they are experiencing some stiff opposition to the proposed routes, but not just from environmentalists. At least one public health agency has been proactive. The Monroe County, W.Va. Board of Health, writing the Forest Service in opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), asserted it “…is firmly opposed to the construction and installation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through any route in Monroe County.”

The primary concern expressed by the board is due to the karst topography of the region. Writing for the board, Dr. J. Travis Hansbarger, argued, “Chemical, fuel and oil spills during construction will go unfiltered into caves, underground streams and drinking water.” He added, “Groundwater in karst areas can travel as quickly as a few thousand feet to over a mile a day.” Noting that the current proposed route for the MVP passes within a few hundred yards of a creek’s headwaters, he observed that the drinking water of roughly 4,000 people – including those in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, two medical clinics, several day care centers and three public schools – would be threatened. He also cited the industry’s history of explosions, arguing, “Serious questions have been raised about the possibility of evacuation routes for these public facilities should an explosion occur.” In fact, the state of West Virginia abandoned an evacuation disaster drill planned for the region a few years ago because it was apparently easier to abandon than conduct. In short, though the scenario was about the failure of the nearby Bluestone Dam, the conclusion is the same – the state does not have the capabilities to evacuate the region, regardless of the disaster. This leaves the entire population close to the pipeline in Monroe County – and presumably anywhere else – quite vulnerable.

9. Misuse of Eminent Domain
From the beginning, say landowners, the energy companies have bullied their way onto people’s land, generally through threatening the use of eminent domain. This is true for both fracking operations and pipeline development. Last September, hundreds of people turned out at Jackson’s Mill to hear from officials with Consol Energy explain how fracking would impact their communities. However, as Diane Pitcock from Doddridge County expressed, “We expected an open forum where we could ask questions. Many of us may have questions that other people haven’t thought of. But that isn’t going to happen tonight.” The lack of transparency led local residents to hold a forum of their own about six weeks later. It also left them wondering just exactly what the intentions of Consol are.

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Meanwhile, in Randolph County, Joao Barroso has spent nearly a year doing battle with Dominion because the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is mapped to pass through his property. Speaking to a community gathering in Mill Creek last autumn, Barroso vehemently disputed the company’s claims that it would improve the environment of his land or be fair to him economically. He also took issue with the way in which the company first dealt with him. “I was contacted by a gentleman in an extremely unprofessional way. His correspondence was terse. When I started asking him questions, he tried to intimidate me, mentioning eminent domain and the importance of the survey.”

He has held firm through the winter months and continues to negotiate with Dominion in ways – if successful – could lead to significant changes in the way landowners are compensated by gas companies, should the pipelines be approved.

10. Climate Change
According to Hays and Law, “In the atmosphere, methane contributes to global climate change, which in turn affects human health in a number of ways, including heat waves, extreme weather events, flooding, water contamination, sea level rise, expansion of insect ranges and populations, worsening air quality, crop damage, and social instability and conflict.” Indeed, methane from fracking traps nearly 90 times as much heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In short, fracking is aggravating climate change.

11. Potential Earthquakes
In Oklahoma, which is also a “land-rush” state because of fracking, an unprecedented level of earthquakes is being experienced. Historically, the state would experience about only two earthquakes annually of at least 3.0 magnitude. However, in 2014, the state experienced 567 such quakes. According to the Washington Post, “Scientists implicated the oil and gas industry – in particular the deep wastewater disposal wells that have been linked to a dramatic increase in seismic activity across the central United States.” While industry officials try and pressure state scientists to downplay the connection and outraged citizens write demanding action to the problem, “Both the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey have confirmed a connection between the recent oil and gas boom and a sharp uptick in seismic activity in Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, and Ohio, as well as Oklahoma,” according to the Post article.

Clearly, with this evidence, West Virginia emergency planners now need to add earthquakes to their Hazard Vulnerability Analyses. In light of the convoluted nature of the Mountain State’s emergency preparedness efforts, that is almost certainly too much to expect at this time.

12. Industry Instability
Finally, the industry is not as stable as it would have the public believe. Officials planning a “cracker” plant near Parkersburg have said recently that they are reconsidering their plans. The plant, if built, would convert gas liquid into polyethylene, used in many plastic products. In short, like any industry, the gas extraction business is not immune from market forces – most of which are beyond its control. The geopolitical situation that has developed as a result of Russia’s aggression in Europe and growing instability in the Middle East is impacting the livelihoods of those hourly workers trudging in the mud every day for Halliburton, Dominion and the others. So, just as quickly as a coal miner would find himself turned out of his home when the steel industry began its decline, so too will a gas field worker find himself in a home with a $1,500 monthly rent payment – or mortgage – and no paycheck to cover it, when forces far beyond his control put him on the unemployment line.

The benefits of fracking are championed daily by the energy extraction industry. It boils down to two messages – “We create jobs,” and “Gas is clean.” We have already seen that the energy industry cares about producing jobs only when it is to their benefit. Even though this industry will create, at best, a generation of limited employment, we are already witnessing layoffs within the industry. Why? Because, at the moment, other energy products – oil in particular – are less expensive. So, the two benefits cited by the gas industry simply are not reliable. What is reliable, though, is the science that reveals that there at least a dozen dirty reasons to oppose fracking, because it is not “clean.”

So, as the Physicians for Social Responsibility did five years ago, we call for “…a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing until such time as impartial federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develop and implement enforceable rules that provide adequate protection for human health and the environment from fossil fuel extraction processes that use hydraulic fracturing.”

In the interim, perhaps West Virginia University could fulfill its mission of serving the people of West Virginia by sending its public health students to the field to study fracking. It could implement a training program for emergency preparedness officials. Our political system could use a shot of ethics. Perhaps WVU or another state university or college would establish an Institute of Political Leadership from which would come the state’s future political leaders. There, they would be trained not in ideology, but in the fine art and dirty work of governance and compromise.

The people are waiting. Our institutions – industrial, political and educational – need to catch up. The Forest Service was overwhelmed with letters expressing opposition to the pipelines dissecting our national forests. Roughly 125 people in Monroe County stood in unison when county commissioners there tried to end a meeting with pipeline officials who were not answering questions. In Lewis County, more than 200 responded to a call to learn about fracking and its dangers.

Elise Keaton

Elise Keaton

Meanwhile, gas company officials are counting upon West Virginians to remain “docile,” as one gas company official said in a local paper. Elise Keaton with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association thinks that is a mistake. She said, “Clearly, he is not from here. We may seem ‘docile,’ but if that man was being completely honest with these folks about just a few jobs, decreased property values, loss of land, dangers from leaks and explosions he would probably see a different reaction.”

Knowledge is powerful. For now, the energy companies seem to be bulldozing through West Virginia and neighboring states with fracking activities and pipeline route preparations. Yet, as more West Virginians and all of those who care about social and environmental justice learn about the dirty dozen reasons to oppose fracking, it just may be the people who are moving earth (and heaven) to rescue what is left of “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.

Michael M. Barrick is an experienced freelance journalist based in West Virginia. He holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Physicians for Social Responsibility
Dangers of Fracking
Wetzel County Action Group

Victim in Fracking Truck Accident had Warned Commissioners of Roadway Dangers

Company’s ‘behavior symbolic of the bullying nature of the industry’ says Barbara Volk

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the seventh installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

WESTON, W.Va. – Three days after appearing before the Lewis County Board of Commissioners to express concerns about the public health and safety dangers associated with fracking – including aggressive driving by fracking company employees – Barbara Volk found herself being shoved through Weston’s main intersection by a Norte Oil and Gas Services truck. Norte is based in Jane Lew.

Skid marks show where Barbara Volk's car hit the curb

Skid marks show where Barbara Volk’s car hit the curb

The accident occurred Thursday, Oct. 23 at about 9 a.m. According to a report filed with the Weston Police Department (WPD), Volk stated, “I was tailgated by a gas company truck on Rt. 33 as I was driving to town.” Volk was heading east, according to the report. She continued, “I stopped at the light in Weston at the junction of 33 & 19….The light turned green. Before I even had the time to put my foot on the clutch, the truck hit me and pushed me through the intersection. At some point, I stepped on the brakes. I steered toward the curb. The truck then sped past me and all I was able to see on the side was Norte.”

The driver of the truck, according to the WPD report, stated, “Didn’t realize I hit car or I would of stop (sic).” Police identified the driver as Kirk Smith. The truck is registered to BEO Service Group LLC in Williamsport, Pa.

A convoy of fracking trucks pass through Weston

A convoy of fracking trucks pass through Weston

Investigating for the WPD was Lt. R. M. Flanigan. According to Flanigan’s report, “Actions of the Driver that Contributed to the Crash” were “Following Too Closely” and Operated Veh(icle) in Eratic, Reckless or Careless Manner.” Furthermore, Flanigan checks that there were also two “Reckless/Careless/Hit and Run Type Offenses,” those being “Inattentive, Careless, Improper Driving” and “Hit and Run, Failure to Stop After Accident.”

Volk, who was transported by the Lewis County EMS to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital following the accident, said later that the event is “Behavior symbolic of the bullying nature of the industry.” She explained, “First, they come up fast without warning, then they bully you, then, when you don’t move fast enough, they just knock you out of the way. And when it is all over, they deny the whole thing.”

She added, “It is particularly ironic, seeing how I just warned the county commissioners about this.” Indeed, on Oct. 20, when speaking to the commissioners, Volk said, “Just this week on Rt. 33 I was overtaken by three gas company pick ups, two of which passed in a double yellow line. I was driving the speed limit and I can only guess what speed they were traveling. I no longer drive on Rt. 18 because of the number of close calls I have had with oil and gas pick ups and associated vehicles. I can’t avoid driving on Rt. 33.”

Trucks must turn wide heading west on Rt. 33 (E. 2nd Street) from Main Street. This is Weston's main intersection.

Trucks must turn wide heading west on Rt. 33 (E. 2nd Street) from Main Street. This is Weston’s main intersection.

In his investigation of the accident, Flanigan noted that it was at the intersection of E. 2nd St. and Main St. in Weston. The distance on E. 2nd St. heading east through the intersection is unusually long, as trucks turning west on E. 2nd St. from Main St. must swing wide. As a result, traffic heading east must stop for the light further back than normal. Consequently, Volk’s car was pushed several feet through a dangerously long and busy intersection. There were witnesses, and Flanigan reports that a supervisor with Norte approached him and said he would get GPS coordinates on the trucks from the company’s Jane Lew office. Flanigan wrote, “Vehicle 2 (the truck driven by Smith) was located and checked for damage.” He observed that it “had sustained damage to the front chrome bumper and right head light fender metal.” Volk’s vehicle received damage to the bumper and trunk, according to Flanigan, though it is undergoing additional damage appraisal, Volk said.

According to its website, “Norte Oil & Gas Services, LLC, located in Jane Lew, WV & Gonzales, TX, is a transportation company that provides vacuum truck services that are necessary for construction, drilling, completion and production of natural gas wells in the Eagle Ford & Marcellus Shale regions.” It adds, “A top priority for Norte Oil & Gas Services, LLC is to improve the local community by providing work for local residents and by forming partnerships with local companies that are established in the area.” Norte officials in Jane Lew were not available for comment.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

Voices Out of the Wilderness

Soloists becoming a chorus in opposition to fracking

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the sixth installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

WESTON, W.Va. – One at a time, individual citizens are standing before elected officials and fellow citizens to raise their voices in opposition to fracking and related industries. Those single voices are becoming a chorus however, as landowners and others are speaking out more regularly. Here in Lewis County, the county commissioners – who hold meetings weekly – have had citizens appear before them regularly. In nearby Randolph County, a landowner drew a crowd of about 40 to hear him tell his story of haggling with Dominion over his property rights. In neighboring Doddridge County, residents have been demanding protection from the damaging effects of fracking for years. And multiple boards and commissions throughout North Central West Virginia have heard from one man determined to ensure that there are safeguards in place for the loosely-regulated fracking industry.

Tom Bond of Jane Lew is interviewed by WBOY and WDTV regarding his views on fracking

Tom Bond of Jane Lew is interviewed by WBOY and WDTV regarding his views on fracking

While there are groups who have been working for years to alert citizens to the public health and safety dangers of fracking, the last few weeks have offered a flurry of activities designed to bring attention to its risks, as fracking operations ramp up throughout North Central West Virginia and beyond. Below are just a few examples of people appealing to their elected officials or neighbors. Some, like the first person, have accepted fracking as inevitable and are looking for ways to monitor and mitigate its impact; others are inclined to oppose fracking altogether.

• On October 2, Steve Garvin’s idea that trucks hauling water for fracking operations contain a dye that could quickly identify the location, direction and flow of a spill in the event of an accident was endorsed by the Clarksburg Water Board, though it did indicate such action would require passage of state law. Garvin has traversed the region, pitching his request to local boards and commissions. Some, like Clarksburg’s water board, support him. Others have yet to commit.
• On October 11, about a dozen or so folks gathered at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale for a gathering of various experts who shared their experience with and knowledge of fracking. Bonhage-Hale, who has been in the news for her active opposition to fracking, had just a few days before appeared before the Lewis County Commission, asking them to consider the impact of fracking upon her historic farm.
• On October 14, Weston resident Tom Berlin questioned the same body about the county’s disaster preparedness for the risks posed by fracking.
• On October 16, in the Randolph county town of Mill Creek, Joao Barroso faced a room full of neighbors to alert them to what he characterized as deceptive tactics by Dominion Transmission to gain access to his land for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project needed for the vast volumes of gas being extracted through fracking.
• On October 20, Lewis County resident Barbara Volk also spoke before the Lewis County Commission, expressing concern about the impact of fracking upon her land, her quality of life and the community.
• In Pocahontas County, commissioners there have gone on record as promising land owners they will not allow eminent domain to be used by private industry as a means to acquire land.
• In Doddridge County, West Virginia Host Farms and others show the impact of fracking upon the quality of life for people, the land and the wildlife.
• Wetzel County, meanwhile, is the poster child for those needing a visual demonstration as to the damage caused to people, their land, their homes and the environment in which they live.

In short, residents in every county impacted by fracking are being heard, such as those below.

ALUM BRIDGE, Saturday, Oct. 11
Historic Farm Site for Gathering Fracking Opponents

At Myra Bonhage-Hale’s historic herbal farm, known as La Paix (which is French for “Peace”), about a dozen folks from Lewis, Harrison, Gilmer, Uphsur and other counties joined together – many for the first time – to learn from each other about fracking. Those expert in geology, biologist, botany, and water quality were joined by landowners, students and reporters. Milling about in the light mist outside or through Bonhage-Hale’s home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, the attendees made new friends, gathered additional information, jotted down their thoughts, watched a documentary and took a walk in the woods, discussing how the quiet and solitude offered by the farm may soon be a thing of the past. Indeed, Bonhage-Hale has put the house for sale, not wanting to live with the noise, air and water pollution she is sure will accompany fracking in her remote hollow.

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

Standing on the front porch as three reporters quizzed her, April Keating, sporting a t-shirt that declared, “Everything is downstream,” asked, “Why should the public not expect the legislature to act in our best interests?” She continued, “But they’re not. They are acting in the interests of the industry. We cannot allow this to be done. We must tell them, ‘Enough is enough.’ Water is connected to everything. Water is life.”

WESTON, Tuesday, Oct. 14
Lewis County Resident Questions County Commission about Disaster Readiness
Appearing before the Lewis County Commission on Oct. 14, Weston resident Tom Berlin raised questions regarding the county’s state of preparedness for the potential impacts of the shale gas and oil industry upon the public’s health and safety, as well as the environment.

He said, “I’d like to address you about my concerns over our state of preparedness in Lewis County for potential emergencies, particularly those involving the upcoming large scale development of shale gas and oil within the county.”

He explained, “As you are well aware, in every location in West Virginia and neighboring states, where shale gas and oil have been developed through horizontal drilling and the accompanying hydro-fracking, there have been documented and substantiated incidents that negatively impact community health and wellbeing. Such incidents include spills of chemicals, including frack water and associated chemicals; local water well pollution; stream pollution, resulting from spills and fires, and resulting in killing of fish and other aquatic life; fires and explosions, resulting in air pollution and the evacuation of local residents; leaks of gas and byproducts of refining, again resulting in air pollution, road closures, and evacuations.

“I will not include a list of specific incidents here, as you can read the news and do the research as well as I can. While the industry may argue that such events are rare, that is little consolation to those individuals and communities negatively impacted by those events.”

Berlin continued, “Since the Lewis County Commission is the body that is the first line of protection for the people of Lewis County and who, I’m assuming, place the safety, health, and wellbeing of the citizens of Lewis County as your highest priority, I am here to inquire about the state of your planning for potential disasters and our community’s level of preparedness.

He noted, “I understand that we have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that is to serve Lewis and Upshur Counties. I also understand that the LEPC recently disbanded the Lewis County HazMat Team. I believe that the County also owns or owned two hazardous materials trailers. News reports indicate that some of the equipment and supplies contained in the trailers are likely not useable due to age, or lack of certification.”

He concluded, “I think that part of the responsibilities of the LEPC and of the Lewis County Commission are, among others, to make sure the county has an emergency response plan, to assure that they are prepared to institute the plan, to make sure that the public is informed of all hazardous chemicals being stored, used, or transported within the county.”

In addition to these remarks, Berlin asked the following questions of the county commissioners.

1. What is the status of the LEPC in the county?
2. What is the status of our County HazMat team?
3. What is the status and condition of the two HazMat trailers?
4. What is the status of our emergency response plan and where is it available to the public?
5. Have you included in the plan consideration of the possible impacts of disastrous events associated with imminent large scale shale gas development in the county?
6. We have been watching the progress of the current natural gas boom as it moved through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, and on into neighboring counties. What have you been doing, proactively, to make sure that Lewis County is prepared to cope with potential disasters of varying types and sizes?
7. Do you believe that the Lewis County Commission and the citizens of Lewis County should have a current and complete list of the various chemicals being used, stored, transported, and disposed of by the energy industry? What are you doing about this?
8. I believe that you, as a county governmental body… have the authority to demand complete transparency from the various members of the energy industry about the chemicals used in the process of fracking and other aspects of the gas development. Do you agree? What will you do about that?
9. Can you assure me and my neighbors that you place the health, safety, and wellbeing of the citizens of Lewis County above considerations of convenience and profit for energy corporations?
10. If you are not prepared to provide detailed answers to these questions today, when could I expect to see answers?

Asked to respond to the reception he received from the commissioners, Berlin shared, “While I was received cordially, and the commissioners assured me numerous times that they are on top of things and that they are beginning to plan, I informed them that this is not a new development and that observers of the industry have known for years that this was coming. I wondered why they were not planning before. According to the commissioners, they are looking at other counties to see what they have done well and where they have failed, and incorporating that into their plans. I pushed them to recognize that our health, safety, and wellbeing take precedence over the convenience and profits of the industry. They assured me that that was the case. I assured them that I was not actually mollified by their assurances, nor by their plan to rely on industry teams to be the front for responses to events. I did volunteer to be a citizen rep on the disaster planning committee.”

MILL CREEK, Thursday, Oct. 16
Randolph County Landowner Takes on Dominion

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso, speaking at a small community church at what was intended to be an educational forum but instead turned into a shouting match at times, recounted his dealings with Dominion and their subsidiaries since last spring. He has been doing battle with Dominion because of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) that is passing through picturesque Randolph County from its origination point in Harrison County, W.Va. on its path to North Carolina. The pipeline is directly related to fracking. Dominion acknowledges its website, the “Atlantic Coast Pipeline is … a … new interstate natural gas pipeline system from the Marcellus and Utica production areas to Virginia and North Carolina markets.”

Barroso outlined for those in the audience what that meant in reality for a landowner. He vehemently disputed the company’s claims that it would improve the environment of his land or be fair to him economically.

According to Barruso, he first heard of the ACP in April or June. In mid-July, Dominion sent a letter to let him know that the company was planning a pipeline in his area and they intended to survey his property. He revealed, “I was contacted by a gentleman, in an extremely unprofessional way. His correspondence was terse. When I started asking him questions, he tried to intimidate mentioning eminent domain and the importance of the survey.”

Over the next month or so, he exchanged emails asking for answers. He said, “I received no reply to any of my detailed questions. I continued to refuse permission to them to access my property.”

Months of unproductive correspondence continued said Barruso until in early October, he wrote a letter to Russell Johnson, a dominion manager, for land leasing and rights-of-way. Johnson answered that he was “pass[ing] it along to the Dominion land group assigned to this project and ask that an appropriate follow up be provided to [me] promptly.” Barruso had yet to receive a response at the time of his remarks in Mill Creek.

According to Barruso, he is entitled to the following:
• A clear description of the survey, meaning, what will be done on my property, not merely what may be done;
• A clear map showing all possible routes now being considered;
• A clear detailed map of my property, showing where all possible route/s may fall and how said route or routes may affect my property;
• Details as to the characteristics and installation procedures for said pipeline;
• Details as to what will be done on my property, by whom, what equipment may eventually enter my property, etc., and what care and remedial measures Dominion will take, before, during and after said work;
• Draft text of easement agreement;
• A legal document issued by Dominion stating clearly that if and when I grant Dominion and/or its representatives permission to access my property and do said survey, Dominion will be fully and solely responsible for any and all disturbance, accidents and damages, including but not limited to surveyors, equipment, land (above and below surface,) flora and fauna, water (creek, springs, ponds,) notable sites, as well as other persons, including property leasees, my guests and representatives, myself, other people/professionals who may happen to be on the property, etc.;
• Draft of any legal document that will be proposed regarding negotiations, if relevant;
• Since I understand this pipeline is larger than most, I would like to receive from Dominion studies and literature that clearly reflect previous experience with similar projects, their environmental impact, risks, what accidents may occur and how they will be prevented and dealt with, response time in case of explosions, leakages, fires, etc.;
• A document that clearly states how Dominion will handle and call upon itself responsibility for damages and accidents that may occur;
• A list of other property owners affected by this project in at least Randolph County, so that I may evaluate how, as a community, landowners and residents are responding to this project, and what their impressions, experiences and decisions may be so far;
• A detailed list of what Dominion considers benefits that result from this project, both to the local community and individual landowners and other affected parties.

Having to ask his questions demonstrates that Dominion is not responsive to the very people that will be most impacted by it, argued Barruso.

While he is waiting for his answers, he told his neighbors, he wanted them to consider how they should be compensated by Dominion should the pipeline go through their communities. He shared, “For gas pipelines and similar, when projects like these go ahead, companies usually lease, from affected parties, only a portion of the land that is affected; in some cases, tracts of land may be purchased. The conditions negotiated do not usually favor the affected party! It’s time for this to change.”

Specifically, he argued, “These pipelines are laid and remain operational for decades. So, why not ask these companies to pay monthly leases? How much gas is transported through our properties? Make them pay for it according to volume, times linear feet of laid pipeline. A 12” pipeline is one thing, a 42” pipeline is different, and a 32” pipeline is yet another thing. Clearing of land and cutting is different; the risk of explosions and leakages can have very different impacts, same with pollution, noise, disturbances of all kinds, etc. The lease should/could be paid monthly or annually according to the volume of natural gas being moved through the land being leased for the full life-time of the pipeline! On top of that, there should be an initial payment based on land used, work duration, and more. What we have to ask for is a share in the profits; we become, so to speak, “shareholders” or “partners” in this venture. We may even ask that the lease may be updated according to the price the product is sold to the end user. If the consumer sees the cost of gas increase, the royalties for land lease increase as well accordingly.”

WESTON, Monday, Oct. 20
Lewis County Resident Shares Concerns with County Commissioners
Barbara Volk, who lives about 10 miles west of the county seat, went immediately to the point when she began, “I am a land owner in Lewis County and I feel that my concerns about fracking are being ignored.”

A convoy of fracking industry trucks rumble through Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime

A convoy of fracking industry trucks rumble through Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime

Volk acknowledged, “I am not going to present you with scientific studies or evidence as there are other people far more qualified for that, and many independent studies are available,” but added, “I am however going to express my concerns about the dangerous and detrimental effects of fracking, that I have seen personally on the quality of life that I value.” She shared, “On September 16 I attended a public meeting at Jackson’s Mill. This was not a meeting, but very controlled sales pitch by Consol Energy. We were shepherded through their poster board presentations where we were told, ‘This is what we are doing.’ There was no public discourse, no public question and answer period, and when I did finally pin down a representative, I was out right lied to about the number of wells planned for our county.”

Volk continued, “I left that meeting feeling like we were told, you are ignorant, keep your place and do as you are told. It was insulting and offensive.”

She told the commissioners, “I am self employed, and my farm is all I have. Every spare penny that I earn and all of my time goes into re-establishing and caring for the native plants that this state is so well known for and which are mostly gone. My farm is part of the forestry stewardship program, designed to preserve and improve the quality and health of our forests.

Noting that she was part of a global network of organic farms, she said, “I have had people from all over the country and several from Europe come here to learn how to work with horses, garden organically, and harvest both food and medicine from the forest.”

She expressed concern as well regarding the environmental impacts of fracking. “I am concerned about the loss of clean water, the air pollution and the effect it will have on my health, the health of my animals and the health of my soil, where I grow the food that I eat and the medicines that I use. I am concerned about the noise pollution and the light pollution. I am extremely concerned about the loss of the quality of life that I have here and which is so important to me. I am concerned about the loss of property value and the fact that insurance companies are refusing to insure properties near frack sites.”

Volk noted, “I am not alone with these concerns. I have been to some of the counties already fracked, and have seen the polluted streams, heard the jet engine compressors, and seen the flares required to release the pressure. I have seen the destruction of the roads and witnessed some of the accidents.”

She also challenged core argument of fracking companies and proponents. “There is so much emphasis placed on job creation. Well my livelihood is dependent on my living in central West Virginia. I travel all the way to Wheeling in the north and Monroe County in the south east. My livelihood is dependent on being able to drive on safe roads. Just this week on Rt. 33 I was overtaken by three gas company pick ups, two of which passed in a double yellow line. I was driving the speed limit and I can only guess what speed they were traveling. I no longer drive on Rt. 18 because of the number of close calls I have had with oil and gas pick ups and associated vehicles. I can’t avoid driving on Rt. 33.”

Volk remarked, “I am concerned that Lewis County will become a polluted industrial site which will negate any possibility of eco-tourism, one of the truly sustainable industries that could be developed and is flourishing in many areas. The destruction that I have witnessed is not hearsay, is not the sour complaints of ‘tree huggers;’ it is destruction that has very real effects on very real residents of West Virginia.”

Before finishing, Volk challenged the commissioners with a few questions, saying, “I challenge all of you to go up to Doddridge County and see for yourself. Don’t take my word for it and don’t take the oil and gas industries’ word for it. See for yourself. Become informed.” She closed, “So I have a few questions for you:
1. Have any of you been to Doddridge County, met with the residents, and seen what it really means to live with fracking? If not are you willing to do so?
What are the actual number of jobs that you expect to be created for Lewis county residents?
2. What steps are being taken to ensure our safety on the roads with the increase of truck traffic and drivers willing to pass on double lines?
3. What provisions are being made for homeowners who will be affected by loss of land value and insurance?
4. Are you willing to support a moratorium on fracking and all related activities until there can be a review of the Independent studies on the negative impacts of fracking?
5. Will you support a series of public forums where the residents of the county can have access to this information in a forum that is a true question and answer session, not just a company sales pitch?

It remains to be seen if these individual voices, as they are joined by others, will have the impact they desire. Yet, there is no denying they are raising challenging questions – and sounding more like a chorus than soloists.

© Michael M. Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Follow on Twitter @appchronicle

Reluctant Activist

Soft-spoken introvert finds herself in the middle of the fracking battle
By Michael M. Barrick

“Let us thank the earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in open space
To infinite galaxies.

“Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.”

From the poem “In Praise of the Earth” by John O’Donohue in his book, “To Bless the Space Between Us”

Note: This is the second installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

WESTON, W.Va. – Ten miles west of here, Barbara Volk gracefully eases through the woods along a steep slope of her 200-acre farm. A self-described introvert interested primarily in the natural world in which she lives and works, Volk is now a reluctant activist, having been forced to join in the fight against the natural gas industry which looks to dramatically – and irreversibly – transform the quiet hills of North Central West Virginia.

She explains, “I don’t want to be an activist. I didn’t want to do this. But I have to. They brought the battle to me. This is my home, my life. This is my retirement.” By her last statement, the self-employed artisan, farmer, herbalist and horse podiatrist is referring to her lack of a pension plan or other retirement outlet. She has chosen this way of life – one she has planned since she grew up in Baltimore in neighboring Maryland.

A peaceful moment on Barbara Volk's farm in Lewis County, W.Va.

A peaceful moment on Barbara Volk’s farm in Lewis County, W.Va.

To her, the land, her work and her entire life are inseparable. “I am concerned about my plans, what I’ve worked for all my life. I expect this farm to sustain me as I grow old.”

In short, she is sure that the rapidly growing fracking industry, which is expected to build upwards of 300 horizontal natural gas fracturing wells in western Lewis County, will forever disturb her peace. “I live a really idyllic life. But I also work very hard. Everything I do every single day is something I love to do.”

This is obvious to a visitor. Even though she had set time aside to talk about fracking and the harm she believes it will do to her homestead, she also still has work to do on this sunny and warm last weekend of summer. The horses need fed and the hay put up. “I’m sorry,” she offers, “but I have to take care of my horses.” Though it is hard work, it is also obviously enjoyable to her. Taking her visitor down to her barn, she talks to the horses, mixes grains for their meals and puts up the hay. She then takes a little time to “talk” with two of her horses in the corral, communicating without words. Instead, she gestures, and they follow her commands, stop and make eye contact with her. A witness can’t help but sense a connection between human and animals, a connection she is sure she won’t be able to find anywhere else – or here, should the gas companies succeed in their plans.

So, she fights. “I have been involved ever since I knew it was coming to West Virginia because I drive through southwestern Pennsylvania a lot and saw the devastation there.” Now, it is much closer, just north of here, over the ridge in Doddridge County.

Asked how she responds to claims by gas producers that fracking has no negative impact upon people and the environment, she offers, “It just seems to me that anyone can tweak statistics in their favor. In Doddridge County, I have seen the polluted water. I have seen ponds with dead fish. They can claim it is not fracking, but that’s the only thing that’s changed.”

She also points to the noise pollution associated with the construction of well pads; the flaring that produces fierce, bright flames that light up the night sky; pollution to ground and surface water; the impact upon the narrow, harrowing roads throughout the region; and the disharmony that is already occurring between neighbors who work in the industry and those, like her, that oppose it.

Her modest home has skylights that offer an unobstructed view of the sky. “With the gas flares, I won’t be able to see the stars. It’s noisy. The blow-off tanks go off 24-hours a day.” She continues, “I need a big buffer.” Pointing from her kitchen to the ridge across the way, she added, “I remember when they drilled conventional wells. It was constant noise and lights. It drove me crazy.”

She is also concerned because she does not own her mineral rights. She argues, “I’m a surface owner. I am supposed to have rights. We are being bulldozed by these corporations. I own everything I see. I won’t see the stars. I won’t have quiet. I won’t have peace. That needs to be taken seriously.”

Hence, she says, “I need to be more and more vocal. West Virginia is a beautiful state, but it is being destroyed. It’s like we’re the throw-away state. I am concerned that the beauty and the environment will be totally destroyed. I can’t accept that. I have to work. But it’s not just a job. I don’t have just a job. I don’t have just a home. I have a way of life.”

Hours after the visit first began, the sun began to disappear over a western ridge. “This is when I wind down. At the end of the day I walk my dogs. I walk in the woods and all my stresses go away. I wouldn’t trade my way of life for anything.”

She concludes, “I just want to breathe, to be quiet – to enjoy the quiet. I am afraid that is coming to an end. When I grow old, if these companies are successful, West Virginia will no longer be beautiful.”

As one listens to Volk, and enjoys a walk with her in the woods with the only sound being a slight breeze rustling the leaves slowly changing to the colors of autumn, one is drawn back to John O’Donohue’s poem as he pleads:

“Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.”

© Michael M. Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

To learn more about Barbara Volk, visit her website.