Tag Archives: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Just three days remain to submit comments to FERC about the ACP

By April Pierson-Keating

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The comment period on the 42” Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”


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

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property on the pipeline). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, and public health, or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC.

Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property – water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.


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

The evacuation zone a pipeline this size is 2 miles.  If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS layered maps at http://www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission, or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations, or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property value (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will runoff into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42” monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and tributaries nine times, and cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the stream bed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this project (bear in mind this is info given to the FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The DEIS says the work tours will be 6-12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety, public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be locally hired? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy rates. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools, and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the DEIS yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp


In this standard operating procedure for the natural gas industry, pipeline construction passed within 100 feet of this home in Big Issac, W.Va., creating a permanent safety risk and a long season of no sleep for residents during construction. The stream nearby was also compromised. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate Karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified, and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical, and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety, and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other types of energy – clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Companies like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the Power Plus Plan to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted on paper or electronically, at www.ferc.gov. Search for 556-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, click on the link for the DEIS, and choose the docket # for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge are also part of the picture.

© April Pierson-Keating, 2017. Pierson-Keating is with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance. To view their gallery of photos from pipeline construction and fracking operations, visit here.


Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

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

By Michael M. Barrick

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

Shenandoah Mountain

Shenandoah Mountain. Photo by Brad Striebig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A pdf of the letter is available here:

Proposed ‘New’ Route for Atlantic Coast Pipeline no Better than One Rejected, Say Opponents

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC forced to adopt alternative route after U.S. Forest Service rejected recent proposal

By Michael Barrick

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, and others, has filed an alternate proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) with the United States Forest Service (USFS). The new filing comes after the USFS in January rejected the initial proposal brought by Atlantic. Originally planned at about 550 miles, this alternative would bring the total closer to 600 miles, including over some of the most impenetrable mountainous terrain in the eastern United States.

As currently proposed, the ACP would originate near here in Harrison County, and terminate in southeastern North Carolina. Ultimate approval for the ACP will be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.” – Statement from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance

However, ACP must first gain USFS approval because it wishes to build the pipeline through three national forests in West Virginia and Virginia – the Monongahela, the George Washington and the Jefferson. In rejecting ACP’s original proposal last month, and requiring that a new one be filed, the USFS said the route would cause harm to “ … highly sensitive resources, including Cheat Mountain salamanders, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, Cow Knob salamanders, and red spruce ecosystem restoration area.”

When submitting its alternative plan, Atlantic said, “The route will reduce total mileage in the national forests by more than one-third, from 28.8 miles to 18.5 miles.” It admitted, though, “The alternative route will impact approximately 249 new landowners in Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia, and Highland, Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”

It said also, “We are contacting landowners along the alternative route to request permission to survey their properties so the route can be thoroughly evaluated. Atlantic will submit a preliminary analysis of the route to the FERC next week, and plans to hold a series of public informational open houses along the route in early March.”

Opponents to the ACP, meanwhile, argue that the alternative proposal is no better, for numerous reasons.

Revised ACP route

ACP alternative route is in blue

Marilyn Shifflett of Free Nelson, in Nelson County, Va., said, “To have come forward with such a massive reroute so quickly after the USFS denied permit on the prior route speaks volumes about the lack of consideration for environmental impacts, and impacts to private property owners.” She continued, “The ACP’s new route is equally as devastating, if not more, than their prior route. A significant number of landowners have been impacted, with the hardest hit taken in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and Bath and Augusta counties in Virginia.”

Rick Webb of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, also based in Virginia, responded, “Dominion fails to recognize … that the real issue is construction of a major pipeline through the greatest concentration of remaining wild lands, pristine streams, and intact ecosystems in the central Appalachian region.”

Webb added, “Although the newly proposed route would reduce impacts to certain species that are emblematic of this wild landscape, Dominion’s alternate route still involves significant forest fragmentation and fails to avoid environmental harm associated with construction across steep mountains and complex karst valleys. Moreover, Dominion is now proposing to build the pipeline along a path that was initially rejected for being too challenging and hazardous.”

He continued, “The proposed ACP is unprecedented with respect to pipeline size and the level of disturbance that will be required. There is no acceptable route for the ACP through the central Appalachian region. The proposed pipeline will be 42 inches in diameter, requiring excavation of an 8- to 12-foot-deep trench and the bulldozing of a 125-foot-wide construction corridor straight up and down multiple steep-sided forested mountains. It will require construction of heavy-duty transport roads and staging areas for large earth-moving equipment and pipeline assembly. It will require blasting through bedrock, and excavation through streams and wetlands. It will require construction across unstable and hydrologically sensitive karst terrain.”

Argued Webb, “Pipeline construction on this scale, across this type of steep, well-watered, forested mountain landscape, is unprecedented. It will be impossible to avoid degradation of water resources, including heavy sedimentation of streams, alteration of runoff patterns and stream channels, disturbance of groundwater flow, and damage to springs and water supplies. It will be impossible to avoid fragmentation and degradation of intact, high-integrity forests, including habitat for threatened and endangered species and ecosystem restoration areas”

A statement issued by the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, also based in Virginia, noted, “The new alternative route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline … avoids Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains but compounds the ecological harm that would ensue. By directing the pipeline further south in Pocahontas County, W.Va., into northern Bath County, Va. and then north through the Deerfield Valley in Augusta County, the route would traverse some of the most concentrated karst topography in the Allegheny region. A pipeline through this area would significantly increase the likelihood of catastrophic erosion and sediment pollution of several significant waterways. Furthermore, the new route opens up to potential devastation a whole new set of cultural and natural resources. The many newly affected landowners and local officials must be carefully consulted before the project should be allowed to continue with the FERC process.”

The group added, “Once again, Dominion has proposed a route without thinking through or understanding the environmental and other consequences of its decision.”

Tom Berlin, a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va., said that he believes, in the end, the ACP will be approved. “I think they will keep finding alternatives until they get the opposition worn down and FERC may make them jump through a few more hoops. Eventually, governors, representatives, and senators will decide that they have had enough and pressure FERC and the Forest Service to approve the project. There is the pressure of appropriations to get compliance. I feel that ACP will be built and we can only hope to minimize damage and get the best possible deal for local landowners.”

Dianna Gooding, a farmer in Gilmer County, W.Va., which neighbors Lewis County , offered, “First,  the proposed alternative I believe is the original route that was also opposed early on,  and that it was decided that the terrain was too steep,  too rocky etc., and disrupted too many landowners. The overall impact will be just as bad if not worse and will of course affect many more private landowners.” She shared also that while the Stonewall Gas Gathering line was being constructed last year, a supervisor with one of the involved companies said “… they had made plenty of mistakes, the terrain was something they had never worked in before, and they were flatlanders primarily. They had many, many issues, and the other companies were not knowledgeable either about building such large lines in the terrain. …”

Senior Attorney Greg Buppert with the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “Dominion has proposed a knee-jerk and ill-conceived adjustment to its favored route, rather than a solution that truly attempts to minimize the harm to this region. To prevent unnecessary impacts to our communities and environment, we must understand whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is truly needed to meet the regional demand for natural gas in light of the changes to existing pipelines that are already poised to bring more gas into Virginia,” He added, “The new route also raises fundamental questions of fairness. FERC must put the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on hold until the citizens of Bath County and other communities along the route have the same opportunities as others along the pipeline route to understand the project, evaluate its impacts, and make their voices heard.”

Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney with West Virginia-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates, stated, “This new route would still cause dramatic forest fragmentation through some of the most high-quality forest habitat in our region.” He added, “We’re disappointed Dominion would threaten a whole new set of Virginians and West Virginians when the pipeline is not even necessary to meet our energy needs.”

Concluded Shifflett, “Dominion will try to push this new route through quickly to maintain their construction schedule, and the FERC will likely not ask for a fair time frame for residents to respond, unless there is a massive public outcry. We need to continue our solidarity in West Virginia and Virginia to ensure that we are heard and a fair process is offered to every landowner.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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Related Links

Interactive ACP Environmental Map

Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

Southern Environmental Law Center

Appalachian Mountain Advocates


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Natural Gas Pipelines, the Drumbeats of War and Our Sense of Entitlement

Monumental issues will remain unresolved until we acknowledge the harm we do through excessive consumption

NELLYSFORD, Va. – I received an email from Friends of Nelson, a group based in this town in Nelson County. The email alerted me to the organization’s decision to sue the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

It is easy to understand. Nelson County’s slogan is “On the Sunrise Side of the Blue Ridge.” On its western border is the Blue Ridge Parkway, and on its northern point the Skyline Drive begins. Nelson County is home to the Appalachian Trail. And, it is home to a group of people fighting to stop the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which if approved, would cross this county of national treasures, forests, farms and villages. Joining forces as “Friends of Nelson,” the group of citizens is well-organized, vocal, effective, and educational. I am certain they move into this expensive, adversarial approach after thoughtful consideration.

So I applaud the action, though in such a case, as the saying goes, it is usually the lawyers that win. In any event, the group has apparently concluded that FERC, which is supposed to be a watchdog for the citizenry when corporations seek to cross state lines to build energy infrastructure, is too closely aligned with Dominion Resources and its partners, who are seeking to build the ACP.

Bully for them. Having attended several FERC meetings, it is hard to draw any other conclusion. Industry and FERC officials have been chummy at meetings, with company representatives even allowed to set up “informational” booths while environmental activists and landowners opposing the pipeline have often found themselves marginalized. Indeed, many residents in Virginia and West Virginia have held meetings in their communities after the FERC meetings to explain to their neighbors what the fuss is all about, as FERC officials just aren’t getting it done. The FERC meetings are only informational anyway, though comments of those speaking are recorded for posterity. Apparently, Friends of Nelson has determined that citizen comments, as well as the letter and spirit of the law, will be ignored by FERC. So, as Friends of Nelson states in its email, “It’s time to lawyer up.”

Any number of reasons makes it impossible to predict if Friends of Nelson will be successful in court. However, one thing is clear – even if it should win in court, Friends of Nelson and their allies still must win in the court of public opinion. That is getting harder by the moment, because of international geo-political events. The drums of war are dominating the national discussion. Pipeline construction, if discussed at all, will be in the context of making the United States energy independent. All other considerations will therefore become secondary.

So, it is a time of necessary decision. Pipeline opponents no longer have the luxury of limiting their opposition based on personal property rights and ecological preservation. Now, because of world events, pipeline opponents must confront and challenge the fundamental reason that there is demand for the pipelines – so that Americans can continue to live as we have for decades: excessively and disproportionately consuming the world’s resources.

Indeed, it can certainly be argued that this fundamental truth is the root cause of the hate we are experiencing from the people of the Middle East, in particular the youth. This is not to excuse terrorism, but we have waited far too long to have this discussion about our own resource stewardship. This is not a popular message, as it just rings too true. Americans, you see, are entitled. We believe we are entitled to the oil under the ground in the Middle East, and we also believe we are entitled to the natural gas in the ground under the farms in Doddridge County, West Virginia. If this means war, or if means taking and destroying people and land hundreds of miles across three states to build a pipeline to transport that gas from West Virginia, then so be it.

In short, the Friends of Nelson battling FERC and Dominion, the thousands of individuals and groups along the pipeline’s path working to defeat it, and those suffering health problems and death in the shale fields of Central Appalachia will not win any long-term meaningful battles without first challenging Americans to fundamentally alter their thinking about consumerism. Failing to do so, we will get more of the hawkish rhetoric coming from candidates in both parties.

While he is not going to get my vote should that opportunity arise, New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie accurately summed up the priorities of the American people. Quoted in The Wall Street Journal (“Chris Christie’s Second Wind”) regarding President Obama’s comments about the importance of attending the climate change conference in Paris as a message to terrorists about the West’s resolve, Christie said, “He really believes that folks are worried about climate change when what they really care about now is the Islamic State and Syria and terrorism.”

Setting aside the political nuances and arguable twisting of words, the fact remains that the American people are fearful about terrorism and it has taken center stage. Climate change, regardless of its impacts, does not feel like the existential threat that ISIS does. As for a proposed 550-mile gas pipeline? The vast majority of Americans know absolutely nothing about it and they do not care. But they will if given this choice: more war in the Middle East or “energy independence” because of “cheap” and “abundant” natural gas.

That is the strategy energy industries will use, even though our presence and activities in the Middle East since World War II have been primarily to prop up regimes friendly to American energy interests. That capitalists will use their cronies in the White House and Congress to send off young people to war to maximize profit is not news. We just choose to ignore it.

We can’t do that anymore. Nor can we refuse to acknowledge our own complicity. So long as the financial reports about Black Friday remain more important to us than the number of people dying and fleeing for their lives in the Middle East, we have a long way to go.

If we want to stop the pipelines, then we must first stop the madness that we simply call, “Business as Usual.”

© Michael M. Barrick / The Appalachian Chronicle, 2015

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A Pivotal Moment for West Virginia’s Eminent Domain Law

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC petitions U.S. Court to access private property for surveys

By Michael M. Barrick

BRDIGEPORT, W.Va. – Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP), has sued 103 West Virginians that have refused to allow the company to access their land to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. The company is seeking to construct the 330-mile proposed pipeline from Wetzel County, W.Va., adjacent to the Mason-Dixon line in the north, moving south through the heart of West Virginia until it finally would cross into Pittsylvania County, Va. – after traversing the pristine Greenbrier River and cross some of the tallest peaks of the Allegheny Front.

Mountain Valley Pipeline Courtesy: FracCheckWV

Mountain Valley Pipeline
Courtesy: FracCheckWV

If approved, the 42” pipeline would transport at least two billion cubic feet of natural gas. MVP is owned by EQT and NextEra Energy Inc. EQT and its partners have yet to submit a formal application with FERC. It is expected to do so later this year. The companies hope to begin construction in late 2016. Construction is estimated to take about two years. The Mountain Valley Pipeline and other pipelines such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are the direct result of the fracking boom in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

While environmental and property rights lawyers have been arguing that the use of eminent domain is premature – and hence, illegal – because FERC approval has not yet been granted, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC apparently has determined that West Virginia State Code regarding eminent domains grants them the right in advance of FERC approval to survey private property, arguing that the survey results are essential for seeking FERC approval.

Indeed, company officials said so in letters the company sent out to the landowners demanding access to survey their property. EQT Corporate Director of Communication Natalie Cox said, “I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of conducting these survey activities, which are designed to evaluate the proposed pipeline routes currently under consideration and ultimately determine the route that has the least overall impact on the environment, landowners, and cultural and historic resources.” She added, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes.”

This sentiment as expressed by citizens of southern West Virginia on the Preserve Monroe website may be in jeopardy because of the MVP lawsuit

This sentiment as expressed by citizens of southern West Virginia on the Preserve Monroe website may be in jeopardy because of the MVP lawsuit

In the Civil Action (5:15-cv-3858), filed on March 27 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, argues, “This is an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against respondents which seeks the right of entry and survey, as permitted by W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq.

In paragraph 9, the petitioners argue, “There is justiciable controversy between the parties regarding whether MVP is authorized to enter the respondents’ properties pursuant to W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq, to survey the properties to fix the location of a route for a natural gas pipeline.”

Later, in paragraph 82, MVP asserts, “W.Va. Code 54-1-1, et. seq, vests the power of eminent domain in companies such as MVP seeking to construct pipelines for a public use.” Two paragraphs prior, it argues, “While the Natural Gas Act does not expressly outline the procedure for natural gas companies to gain survey access to properties in connection with such pipeline projects, the West Virginia legislature has recognized the importance of pre-construction surveys, vesting private corporations with this authority, where, as here, private property ‘maybe taken or damaged for public use.’”

Is MVP correct? Here is what W.Va. Code 54-1-1 says: “The United States of America, the state of West Virginia, and every corporate body politic heretofore or hereafter created by the constitution or statutes of the state, and every corporation heretofore or hereafter organized under the laws of, or authorized to transact business in, the state, for any purpose of internal improvement for which private property may be taken or damaged for public use as authorized in section two of this article, shall have the right of eminent domain, and may exercise the same to the extent and in the manner provided in this chapter, and subject to the restrictions and limitations provided by law.”

Obviously, contends MVP, that provision is open to interpretation by the courts.

If the company establishes that this provision does grant them eminent domain, then the next question is whether or not surveys of the pipeline project are a legitimate purposes under the law. MVP is clear in referencing the proposed pipeline. “MVP is in the process of surveying properties as part of a project to construct a 300-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline through West Virginia.” It concludes, “It is necessary to enter the respondents’ properties to survey to appropriate necessary rights-of-way, obtain a FERC Certificate, and construct the pipeline.”

MVP also references section 54-1-3 of the state code. “As part of its rights of eminent domain, MVP’s right of access for survey is clear as West Virginia Code 54-1-3 specifically vests authority to ‘[a]ny incorporated company or body politic, invested with the power of eminent domain under this chapter, by its officers, servants and agents [to] enter upon the lands for the purpose of examining the same, surveying and laying out the lands, ways and easements which it desires appropriate.’ (emphasis added).”

MVP also claims that further delays will cause it “irreparable harm.”

Essentially, MVP has accurately quoted the West Virginia law guiding the use of eminent domain. The question is whether they have accurately interpreted it. Heretofore, attorneys advising landowners regarding these letters have argued that the gas companies could not exercise their eminent domain rights absent of FERC approval for the pipelines.

We can hope for justice, and trust that the court will rule in favor of the landowners. However, the law is sufficiently vague. And, corporations have received preferential treatment in the federal courts, especially since Citizens United. All of those who believe in individual liberty, property rights and the importance of environmental preservation should monitor this case closely. Furthermore, as has been pointed out by a landowner in Harrison County, W.Va., we should be suspicious of the relationship between FERC and the natural gas industry.

Should the court rule in favor of MVP, it will be a clear call to citizens to realize that elections have consequences. West Virginia’s eminent domain law is not geared towards protecting individual property rights. It is, however, particularly protective of the rights of the energy extraction industry.

We will soon know just how protective.

© 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.

Also, the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference is scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded preservationists to address the topics covered extensively on this site. Learn about it and register for it here.

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FERC Challenged to Be Truly Independent

Issues from local to global must be considered

By Autumn Long

Editor’s note: These are remarks made by the author at Bridgeport High School on March 24 at the last of several public scoping meetings that were held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider the environmental impact of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Supply Header Pipeline.

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – I recently received a letter that contains vaguely worded threats of legal action against me for refusing pipeline surveyors access to my property. No eminent domain ruling has yet been made on the subject of the proposed pipelines, yet the involved companies are proceeding as if it were a foregone conclusion. Given recent public comments made by the chief officer of FERC, this is not such an unreasonable assumption. So I hope FERC will sincerely and closely consider all the comments submitted by citizens and organizations whose interests do not align with those of the gas industry, if for no other reason than to defend their agency’s supposed independence and neutrality against growing public perception that the fox is, in fact, guarding the hen house.

The impacts of the entire suite of simultaneously proposed interstate gas pipelines must be considered as cumulative and lasting. These pipelines would lay the groundwork for an exponential increase in fracking, which has already run roughshod over this region of Appalachia. Extracting and burning the natural gas distributed through these pipelines would lead to future greenhouse gas emissions that will exacerbate the unfolding global disaster of climate change. FERC needs to consider these impacts on scales ranging from the global to the local.

In the case of the ACP, this pipeline would transect some of the most pristine and wildest public forest lands in the eastern United States. These forests are irreplaceable parts of our nation’s natural heritage that protect sensitive ecosystems, endangered and threatened wildlife species, unique geologic formations, and the sources of fresh drinking water for many, many millions of people. Environmental impacts include forest fragmentation and habitat loss as well as the loss of future carbon capture due to permanent deforestation along pipeline rights-of-way; erosion and loss of topsoil from one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet; sedimentation and pollution of waterways; and increased opportunities for the spread of invasive species along pipeline corridors.

Should these pipeline projects move forward, their installation along existing right-of-way corridors would help minimize this environmental destruction and mitigate negative human impacts such as increased potential for flooding, air pollution, noise pollution, and public health consequences. Creating new pipeline corridors would involve the forcible taking of private property, depriving landowners of its use and enjoyment and decreasing their properties’ values.

Regardless of route choice, questions of public safety remain, including the possibility of explosions with enormous projected blast radii and hazardous chemical leaks. Vigilant monitoring, maintenance, and upkeep will be required for the indefinite future in order to minimize these risks and dangers, the possibility of which can never be entirely prevented even with best efforts. I, for one, have little faith that these gas companies, including the many iterations of subcontractors hired to perform this work, will in fact maintain the necessary levels of maintenance and repairs to prevent inevitable decay and decrepitude of these pipelines over time. This state is already criss-crossed with aging, neglected pipelines in various stages of disrepair. How, then, can we trust these same companies to maintain hundreds of additional miles of pipelines of unprecedented scale and size with any more care than they have demonstrated toward their existing responsibilities?

Given the enormity of these risks and destructive impacts, a compelling case indeed must be made in favor of the public interest and benefits that would derive from these pipelines. Yet such an argument proves elusive, particularly given the fact that current gas production is far outstripping domestic consumption in this country. These pipelines in fact offer a textbook example of so-called “negative externalities,” when public costs shore up private profits. In this case, great environmental and social burdens would be unfairly borne by the population of a region that is poor, underserved, and underdeveloped in order to open new markets for private capital and encourage middle-class consumption habits in locations far removed from the scene of the crime.

The inherent goal of these pipelines is to reproduce the economic status quo: to encourage a continuation of socioeconomic conditions in which Americans remain reliant on artificially cheap fossil fuels. This outcome is intrinsically at odds with overarching public interests or the public good. In order to withstand future climate disruption, we must shift swiftly and unhesitatingly toward an energy system of renewable and sustainable proportions. This entails incentivizing a wholesale reduction of fossil fuel use, including that of natural gas, rather than encouraging its expanded consumption. Public policy can and should be working to shape energy regulations that will protect the long-term survival of human civilization on this planet rather than the short-term profits of private corporations.

Autumn Long is a landowner in Harrison County, W.Va.

© 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.

Also, the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference is scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded preservationists to address the topics covered extensively on this site. Learn about it and register for it here.

Also, if you use Facebook, please “like” our page: https://www.facebook.com/appalachianpreservationproject

Environmental Groups Align Efforts to Challenge FERC Pipeline Projects

Groups claim federal agency facilitates fracking for shale gas

Courtesy Article

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) and three other environmental groups based in other Appalachian states have joined forces to challenge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for not properly informing the public regarding the construction of proposed natural gas pipelines throughout the region.

The alliance includes: Huntington-based OVEC; the Allegheny Defense Project in Pennsylvania; the FreshWater Accountability Project in Ohio; and, Virginia-based Wild Virginia.

In a news release, the alliance stated, “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is not informing the public about the big picture when it comes to natural gas infrastructure projects related to increased gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.”

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

The groups are concerned that the regional impacts to forests, watersheds, air quality, and wildlife are largely being ignored as FERC approves new gas pipelines and compressor stations across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The groups contend that FERC’s rush to increase natural gas infrastructure incentivizes fracking for shale gas while stifling the development of renewable energy.

“Natural gas is not a bridge fuel but an anchor keeping us stuck in the past,” said Ryan Talbott, executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project. “If we want to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we need to get beyond all fossil fuels, including natural gas. We will never get to a clean energy future as long as FERC keeps incentivizing more fracking for shale gas through these infrastructure expansions.”

In Pennsylvania, which has already seen a dramatic increase in pipeline construction in recent years, there are several large pipeline projects on the horizon, including the Atlantic Sunrise Project and the PennEast Pipeline Project, which combined would add nearly 300 hundred miles of large-diameter pipeline across Pennsylvania.

In neighboring Ohio, there are concerns that what has already occurred in Pennsylvania is coming to the Buckeye State. There are several new large-diameter pipelines proposed in Ohio, including the Rover, NEXUS, and Leach Xpress pipelines. Combined, these projects would add over 1,000 miles of gas pipeline in Ohio and neighboring states.

“Here in Ohio we have been shocked by the sheer immensity of these large pipeline projects intended to transport fracked gas to ‘markets,’ including export markets,” said Lea Harper, managing director of the FreshWater Accountability Project. “We are glad to be part of the growing movement to hold FERC accountable for the long-term impacts caused by the unconventional shale gas drilling industry, contributing to the destruction of ecosystems, negatively impacting property values, creating public health and safety threats and exacerbating global climate change through the proliferation of fracking and its infrastructure, including compressor stations, pipelines, and export facilities.”

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

According to OVEC, multiple pipeline projects are also threatening West Virginia’s forests and watersheds, including the Ohio Valley Connector, Mountain Valley, and Atlantic Coast pipelines. Combined, these pipelines would add over 800 miles of pipeline from Ohio to North Carolina.

“All signs point to the urgent need for West Virginia and the world to accelerate our shift to truly cleaner renewable energy,” said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for OVEC. “If FERC continues greenlighting more pipelines, then it is greenlighting more deep shale gas fracking activities. That means more reeling communities subject to dangerous heavy truck traffic, more poisoned water and air, more noise and light pollution, lowered property values and more risks of deadly explosions. FERC is standing in the way and should step aside: no more enabling the extreme extraction of deep shale gas.”

OVEC is also concerned about the impacts that pipelines such as the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline will have on public lands. “On their way to the East Coast, the proposed pipelines would cross numerous mountain streams and cut huge swaths through some of our state’s wildest and steepest terrain in the Monongahela National Forest,” Stockman said. “Once the pipelines are built, they are likely to induce even more fracking and, therefore, cause even more fragmentation of wildlife habitat.”

In Virginia, where the U.S. Forest Service recently banned new leases for fracking in the George Washington National Forest, Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia, is concerned about pipeline construction on Virginia’s other national forest, the Jefferson National Forest. The Mountain Valley pipeline will directly impact the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Trail in southwestern Virginia. In addition to the Mountain Valley pipeline, the Atlantic Coast pipeline would impact hundreds of miles in Virginia.

“These pipelines serve no public benefit as all current and proposed users are currently served by existing pipelines,” said Reed. “FERC cannot ignore that these pipelines will massively increase gas extraction in the shalefields of West Virginia and provide huge volumes of natural gas for export.”

The groups claim that FERC routinely ignores the cumulative environmental impacts of all of this pipeline construction by considering each proposal in a vacuum and ignoring the regional impacts, including the impacts of related fracking for shale gas. In a recent presentation to the Maine Natural Gas Conference in October 2014, FERC highlighted dozens of planned and pending pipeline projects in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the country. The presentation also highlighted numerous projects intended to export natural gas to foreign markets.

In a recent appearance at the National Press Club, FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur defended the agency’s work with the gas industry to expand pipeline infrastructure, claiming “the nation is going to have to grapple with our acceptance of gas generation and gas pipelines.” According to Terry Lodge, an attorney representing FreshWater Accountability Project and Neighbors Against NEXUS, this reveals FERC’s bias in favor of more gas infrastructure and raises concerns about how closely the agency considers impacts to the environmental and local communities.

“FERC is only supposed to approve a new pipeline if it determines that it is in the public interest,” Lodge said. “Part of that determination requires considering effects to the environment and communities, and there clearly are many. But if FERC has already determined up front that the public is ‘just going to have to accept more pipelines,’ it can’t be trusted to rigorously evaluate impacts those effects. We may have to routinely call upon FERC commissioners to disqualify themselves from voting on the key decisions the agency is supposed to make.”

The alliance released several documents upon which this article is based. They can be accessed here.