Tag Archives: Doddridge County Watershed Association

West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA

Disregard for state’s environmental and health problems by mainstream media is shameful

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, you know that in Flint, Mich., residents have been unable to drink and use water because it is deemed unsafe. In fact, just today, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced he has opened an investigation to get to the bottom of the disaster – lead poisoning which makes the water unsafe.

Meanwhile, CBS News has reported that the Southern California Gas Company “ … acknowledged Thursday that it understated the number of times airborne levels of the cancer-causing chemical benzene have spiked during the crisis.” That leak, affecting Los Angeles-area residents, is approaching three months without a resolution.

I’m pleased that journalists are uncovering these corporate shenanigans which threaten public health and safety, as well as the environment. But I do have a couple of questions for the mainstream media – Do you know that West Virginians have faced both of these problems for years, decades even? And, if so, why are you not covering this?

The questions are rhetorical, for I already know the answer. West Virginia is the Rodney Dangerfield of the United States and the media simply doesn’t care about the rural, mountain poor. Reporting on the misery caused to West Virginians by the energy extraction industry just doesn’t generate the ratings to justify upsetting advertisers (in case you have not been paying attention, the natural gas industry has launched a media blitz about its so-called “clean energy,” including on public broadcasting. Even the people’s network, it seems, has been hijacked by the industry).

Meanwhile, here in Doddridge County, West Virginia, groups like West Virginia Host Farms and the Doddridge County Watershed Association have been educating public health officials, journalists, researches and the general public about the dangers of fracking. Children are experiencing nose bleeds, people can’t sit outside in summer evenings for developing splitting headaches, and cancer rates are increasing. Indeed, I have interviewed a family whose daughter died of leukemia after being exposed to benzene. The benzene leeched into her well water from a fracking pad. Of course, the gas companies are hiding behind their lawyers in denial.

Simultaneously, all over the county, people drink water from storage tanks called water buffaloes. The water is simply not safe for human use because fracking pads dot the landscape, leeching and releasing untold amounts of benzene daily. Many of these families have had to use these storage tanks for years. Where is the outrage for them?

Meanwhile, in the southern part of the state, in Mingo County, a small community on top of a mountain near Kermit captures rain water, filters it, and stores it in water buffaloes. Yes, in the Unites States – “The greatest nation on the face of the earth. Period.” – as our president said the other night, West Virginia residents live as if they are citizens of a third world country.

And the media does nothing.

So, here is a plea to the mainstream media: Get out of your offices, put on some boots and jeans, rent a four-wheel drive and start visiting the shale fields, the mountaintop removal sites and the abandoned deep mine sites in West Virginia. Talk to the residents. Do not concern yourself with meeting with public officials unless you just want to get them on the record for admitting they can’t or won’t do their job, as in this story. Ironically, as you will read, the referenced story is about West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman visiting this very county last summer to investigate concerns about public health and safety.

If you want, I can introduce you to dozens of West Virginians that will be happy to tell their stories to you. They, then, will introduce you to their neighbors and friends. Then, before long, you will realize that poisoning people and the planet is “business as usual” in West Virginia.

As I noted in a recent article, the people get it – our institutions are failing from what I term “The Momentum of Mediocrity.” And yesterday, I posted an article reporting that two years after Freedom Industries made the water of the Kanawha Valley unusable for 300,000 people for over a week, virtually no progress has been made to address the root cause of that disaster. So, it is up to the people to tell their stories. Fortunately, West Virginia has numerous groups and individuals doing just that, every way they can.

Would we like to see the mainstream media report that West Virginias are dying from exposure to benzene and can’t drink their water because the energy industry pollutes it? Yes. But, we’re not holding our breath – for that. That’s because we’re too busy holding our breath every time the wind blows over a gas well.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking

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Applying the Pope’s Ecological Encyclical in West Virginia

A good start would be the resignation of WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – About a month ago, I was asked by a well-known environmental group to speak to the relevance of the ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” by Pope Francis as it applies to West Virginia.

I prepared 25 discussion questions, knowing most would have to be considered later. As it turned out, I could have asked just one, as it was the one we spent the better part of the time discussing. And, it wasn’t even my question; it was the pope’s. In paragraph 57 of the encyclical, Pope Francis asks, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

We concluded that it was the most important question we had to answer for West Virginia if we are ever going to free ourselves of the fossil fuel mono-economy that keeps the state’s residents mired in poverty. Then I offered a specific example of a person in state leadership who I think should resign – West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Randy Huffman. For those not familiar with West Virginia government, Huffman is a cabinet level political appointee. As such, he is clearly a leader, one entrusted by our governor with the environmental (and by default, human) health of West Virginia. He is the subject matter expert on the environment in West Virginia.

Randy Huffman

Randy Huffman

I was highly critical of Huffman for remarks he made following a question I asked him in mid-July in Doddridge County (more about that in a moment). Some of those who have worked directly with Huffman over the years said I was being too hard on him. Others agreed with me. Some defended Huffman, arguing that he was doing his best. “If he resigned on principle, he would just be replaced by someone worse,” one person offered. “You can only do so much in Charleston,” added another.

While I appreciate the sentiment expressed by these folks and can understand them to a degree, I am unmoved. It is time for Mr. Huffman to resign.

Why? Well, let’s review the exchange I had with him in Doddridge County.

Huffman and several WVDEP staff members accompanied local residents throughout the day to visit those impacted by fracking in Doddridge and Ritchie counties. Later that evening, he and the staff met with members of the Doddridge County Watershed Association. After he answered questions for about an hour, I asked, “Are you willing to recommend to the governor and legislature that the state employ the Precautionary Principle and place a moratorium on fracking and related activities?”

The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” It is a philosophy embraced by public health and environmental advocates across West Virginia regarding many aspects of the energy extraction industry.

Huffman, not exactly engendering confidence in his leadership skills, took three shots at the question. His first answer was to repeat much of what he had said to previous questions. When challenged by an audience member, “You didn’t answer his question,” Huffman shot back, “He didn’t ask a question, he made a statement.” I then said, “Mr. Huffman. It was a question. Let me repeat it for you.” I did.

As an aside here, I will say that I’ve been reporting on politicians for a quarter of a century. I have heard that answer more times than I care to remember. It is a sure sign that the subject doesn’t want to or can’t answer the question.

In any event, after I restated my question, he still did not answer it. Instead, he alluded to progress made in the legislature to regulate fracking after his last visit to the area. The Horizontal Well Act, passed into law in late 2011, did impose higher fees and some minor regulations on the industry. However, West Virginia’s laws on fracking are still considered some of the weakest in the nation by environmental groups. So, it isn’t surprising that when Huffman alluded to that law, the well-informed audience responded with sighs and even laughter (though one audience member did defend Huffman).

So, after sitting there for a few moments, Huffman stood up and said he needed to take another shot at an answer. He then admitted, “If I start pounding my fist, it is going to be a fruitless effort. I would become ineffective. There are too many entities at play in Charleston. If I did that, they’d laugh me out of the capitol building. It would limit my effectiveness.”

He also said, “That is above my pay grade.”

So, we are still left with many questions for Mr. Huffman.

First, since so many states have banned fracking or placed a moratorium on it, why would he not consider the precautionary principle a sensible approach to protect the health and safety of the people of West Virginia?

Second, if recommending to the governor and/or legislature about environmental matters is above his pay grade, just exactly what does the Secretary of DEP do except to rubber stamp permit requests from the energy extraction industry?

And, as Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

As it stands now, history will not judge Mr. Huffman kindly. He is in the position to take action, but instead has decided to punt. If he is serious about the environment, he could resign on principle and warn the people of West Virginia what awaits them if they don’t stand up for themselves and elect some real leaders. Such an act would get far more attention than lamenting his lack of influence among the people who are supposed to listen to his expertise.

The people of West Virginia don’t have another 125-year reign of the energy extraction industry to await replies. As the pope says, action is “urgent and necessary.” So, the next action Mr. Huffman should take, since he has openly declared he will not fight for the environment in the current political climate, is resign.

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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Related Articles:
WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

West Virginia Residents in Heart of Fracking Fields Join in National Action

‘Hands Across Our Land’ event draws about 40 people in hard-hit Doddridge County

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – About 40 people from all over North Central West Virginia joined hands at 6 p.m. on Aug. 18th over Middle Island Creek, the longest creek in the United States and one that has been severely impacted by fracking and the ongoing construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline through four West Virginia counties. They gathered on the “Rails to Trails” bridge that spans the creek at the entrance to this tiny hamlet, which is the county seat to one of the most heavily impacted counties in the United States from fracking.

Standing in Solidarity Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

Standing in Solidarity
Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

The residents were taking part in a grassroots uprising that included people from across Appalachia and beyond opposed to the development of further natural gas infrastructure and the related extractive process of fracking. They were joined by citizens in at least nine states, from New York to Oregon, according to Sharon Ponton of Nelson County, Va. and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a sponsor of the action. Other sponsors included the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Beyond Extreme Energy.

Wayne Woods, president of the Doddridge County Watershed Association (DCWA), explained the significance of the location, noting, “The park is located along Middle Island Creek that has been impacted by gas drilling in the Doddridge County area. We are conducting this solidarity action to let the fossil fuel industry and community leaders know that while we are separate grassroots organizations we stand with each other in opposition to the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

As folks gathered on the bridge, he added, “I remember a few years ago I was telling a state legislator that we were starting a watershed group in Doddridge County and somebody that was with him just laughed. Well, we’ve accomplished some things, we’ve opened up the eyes of people, and we’re not going to stop.”

Tina Delprete of Doddridge County shared, “I’m here to try and make a statement. I just want to let people know that not everyone loves it.” Indeed, she saw the turnout as progress in educating the public. “Usually, we get the same handful of people. This is a good turnout for such a small town. More is better. And there will be more.”

Chuck Lothes of neighboring Harrison County pointed to New York State as an example for West Virginia to follow. He explained, “We all know that the Marcellus and Utica Shell start in New York. That’s a fact. That state is also tens of millions of dollars in debt. That’s a fact. Yet, the people of New York have found that the technology associated with the extraction industry and pipeline development is so hideous, so damaging to the people and the environment, that they said they don’t want it. They did this after long, detailed, scientific research. I want the people of West Virginia to do the same.”

Douglas Geelhaar, a DCWA member, echoed those sentiments, saying, “I believe there should be a moratorium on fracking until it can be proven to be done safely and the people it impacts are taken into consideration.”

Denise Binion of Taylor County, and a member of the executive committee of The West Virginia Mountain Party, offered, “The two-party system has failed the people of West Virginia.” She added, “The West Virginia Mountain Party supports a moratorium on fracking due to the concerns of radiation, drill cuttings and frack waste.” She was also critical of the tactics used by the gas extraction industry to rely upon eminent domain to build pipelines. “We believe this is not a case of eminent domain. In fact, the opposite is true. No public good will come of it. Only the corporations will benefit.”

Steve Hamilton, also of Harrison County, said, “I don’t think the pipeline should be built. There is simply too much danger. They want to take them through two national forests. If pipelines are so great, why not take the easiest route – the highway system? They won’t do that because it is too dangerous.”

Autumn Long, who lives in nearby Wallace, said, “This day of action brings together communities that are geographically dispersed but united by exploitation suffered at the hands of the oil and gas industry. Fossil fuel development is destroying our environment, impacting our health, and degrading our quality of life. By publicly linking hands across our land, we are demonstrating opposition to this exploitation and solidarity in our shared struggle.”

Ponton said the goal of Hands Across Our Land is to call attention to the plight of rural communities, to build solidarity and to make connections. She said, “Rural America will not be a sacrifice zone for the energy industry in their attempts to put profit before people. These grassroots groups and many others stood up together to protect the watersheds of millions of Americans from dangerous drilling practices, to stop their homes and families’ health from being put at risk, and to use their collective voices to loudly proclaim that their land will not be stolen by the misuse of eminent domain.” She added, “Our elected officials should listen to the people.”

Free Nelson founder and Episcopal priest, the Rev. Marion Kanour, wondered, “What could our world become if corporations were guided by environmental and social responsibility rather than greed?”

Related Articles:
A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking
Standing Their Ground
West Virginia Couple Models Renewable Energy
Fracking Poses Threats to Public Health

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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West Virginians and Pennsylvanians Standing in Solidarity Against Natural Gas Industry

Communities in midst of fracking boom to hold ‘Hands Across Our Land’ events

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – Here, where the odors, sights, sounds and overall destruction of fracking is most felt, residents are participating in “Hands Across Our Land,” a national action being held in locations throughout Appalachia and beyond in opposition to fracking and the related development of the natural gas industry.

According to Wayne Woods, president of the Doddridge County Watershed Association (DCWA), that group “ … and concerned citizens from all over North Central West Virginia will meet Tuesday August 18th at 6 p.m. for the Hands Across Our Land event. It will be held at the West Union Park in West Union.”

Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County with heavy sediment resulting from pipeline construction

Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County with heavy sediment resulting from pipeline construction

Woods explained the significance of the location, noting, “The park is located along Middle Island Creek that has been impacted by gas drilling in the Doddridge County area. We are conducting this solidarity action to let the fossil fuel industry and community leaders know that while we are separate grassroots organization we stand with each other in opposition to the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Autumn Long, a resident in neighboring Harrison County intends to participate. She shared, “This day of action brings together communities that are geographically dispersed but united by exploitation suffered at the hands of the oil and gas industry. Fossil fuel development is destroying our environment, impacting our health, and degrading our quality of life. By publicly linking hands across our land, we are demonstrating opposition to this exploitation and solidarity in our shared struggle.”

Stonewall Gathering Pipeline construction as seen from a hilltop in Doddridge County, W.Va.

Stonewall Gathering Pipeline construction as seen from a hilltop in Doddridge County, W.Va.

Meanwhile, further north, Pennsylvanians and West Virginians will join hands at Point Marion, Pa., near the boundary between the two states. Southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia are situation in the heart of the Marcellus Shale boom and thus are experiencing public health and safety threats associated with the industry, as well as ecological destruction.

Duane Nichols is the Hands Across Our Land coordinator for the Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition. He said, “We will be meeting on the Monongahela River Bridge in Pt. Marion at12:30 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. Private citizens and members of other organizations from northern West Virginia will join those from Greene, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland Counties in Pennsylvania. We will form a chain across the bridge, thus joining ‘Hands Across Our Land.’”

Learn more:
For the Doddridge County event, visit the DCWA Facebook page or its page for this event.
For the state line event, contact Nichols at Duane330@aol.com.

Related Articles:
Appalachian Residents Joining Hands in Opposition to Pipeline Development and Fracking
A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking
Fracking Poses Threats to Public Health

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

Remarks made at public forum after Huffman and DEP staff tour fracking fields of Doddridge and Ritchie counties

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Randy Huffman acknowledged at a public meeting here July 16 that he and his agency’s effectiveness are limited by political and business interests in West Virginia. Huffman and several WVDEP staff members accompanied local residents throughout the day to visit those impacted by fracking in Doddridge and Ritchie counties.

Randy Huffman

Randy Huffman

Towards the end of a nearly two-hour public forum held by the Doddridge County Watershed Association, Huffman acknowledged “If I start pounding my fist, it is going to be a fruitless effort. I would become ineffective. There are too many entities at play in Charleston. If I did that, they’d laugh me out of the capitol building. It would limit my effectiveness.”

He also said, “That is above my pay grade.”

His remarks were made in response to the question, “Are you willing to recommend to the governor and legislature that the state employ the Precautionary Principle and place a moratorium on fracking and related activities?” The question was posed by this reporter after Huffman and his staff had listened to concerns and questions from numerous area residents.

The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

The Precautionary Principle is a philosophy embraced by public health and environmental advocates across West Virginia regarding many aspects of the energy extraction industry. Indeed, in March, organizers of an event in Charleston which pointed out the public health risks of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet with Huffman then to ask him to employ the Precautionary Principle and quit issuing permits for MTR.

While acknowledging that his hands were tied to an extent, he nevertheless told the roughly 40 people in attendance that their voices were being heard and their persistence would make a difference. He said that the agency is staffed by caring public servants who are most effective in their jobs where citizens are most active. “It creates a structure through which we can work.”

If that is the case, his agency’s employees should be able to make a difference in the area, as numerous citizens demonstrated just how informed and engaged they are, based on the volume and type of questions asked and comments shared.

Wayne Woods, the chairman of the watershed association began by saying, “I think there is a little bit of a disconnect among the departments of DEP,” noting that different branches of the agency dealt with water quality and air quality. Woods suggested that the agency issue handouts to its employees that would allow citizens to understand who they would need to contact if the person they were working with was dealing with an issue outside their scope of work.

Tina DelPrete asked, “I’d like to know when enough is enough?” Pointing to the many aspects of fracking and its effects upon the people, environment and infrastructure of Doddridge County, she added, “Will this go on indefinitely until our county becomes an industrial wasteland?” She continued, “Who is going to protect us? Maybe you should change your name to the DIP – the Department of Industrial Protection, because you sure are not helping the environment.”

Sharron Jackson offered, “The science is becoming clear. It is clear there is contamination.” Pointing out that she loves West Virginia, she still said, “I can’t encourage anyone to move here anymore. Not until we protect the water and air.”

Lyndia Ervolina, barely holding back tears, said, “I’ve lived here for 32 years. I can’t go out and enjoy my yard anymore. We are getting sold out. We don’t have a life anymore. I’m afraid to drink my water. I can’t breathe the air. We can’t even sell our homes; they’re worthless now. I just wish someone would listen to us.”

Autumn Long, a resident in nearby Wallace in Harrison County, said she was concerned about air quality and for her parents, who live near a major gas production site. Directing a question to Huffman, she asked, “What can we do to help move (solutions) forward? We need you as advocates and protectors.”

At that point, Huffman stood up to respond to the comments. He acknowledged, “Some of these questions are not answerable at this point.” He admitted though, “You have had a huge invasion of industrial activity.” Pointing out the fracking industry entered the area with no planning and roads and infrastructure that are not suitable for the heavy equipment used in the process, he added, “You’re overwhelmed.”

He continued, “This is an issue with limited solutions. We’re looking at a large issue.” He pointed out that it is just not an environmental issue, but also about energy and economics.

He encouraged residents to vote. Those remarks were met with several comments from those in the audience. One person said, “We have representatives. We’re just not represented.” Another said, of the county commission, “It’s a joke. They don’t even acknowledge our communications.”

Others zeroed in on specific issues, such as the disposal of drill cuttings and injection wells. On the issue of drill cuttings, which can contain radioactive materials, Huffman said, “That is why we have it go to landfills, where we can monitor it.”

Near the end of his statements, Huffman promised, “We will make adjustments on what we learned in the field. You’ve made a difference.”

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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