Tag Archives: FERC

ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal

Proposed route by Dominion would destroy nearly 40 miles of ridgetops, cause ‘irrevocable harm,’ say environmental groups

RICHMOND, Va. – A briefing paper released today details how Dominion Resources intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

There is no way around it. It’s a bad route, a bad plan, and should never have been seriously considered.” – Dan Shaffer, Spatial Analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

CCAN logoThe briefing paper was prepared by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in coordination with the Allegheny-Blue Ridge AllianceFriends of Nelson, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. It cites data from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.

They found that Dominion would require mountaintops to be “reduced” by 10 to 60 feet along the proposed route of the pipeline. For perspective, the height equivalent of a five-story building would be erased in places from fully forested and ancient mountains.

ABRA-Logo-Square-100-1Furthermore, Dominion has yet to reveal how it intends to dispose of at least 247,000 dump-truck-loads of excess rock and soil – known as “overburden” – that would accumulate from the construction along just these 38 miles of ridgetops.

It is astounding that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess spoil that will result from cutting down miles of ridgetop for the pipeline. We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes.” – Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates

“In light of the discovery that the ACP will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate,” said Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Dominion’s pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region’s environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline.”

MTR 2_OVEC

Mountaintop Removal – Courtesy of OVEC

Dominion has submitted a proposal to FERC to build a 42-inch diameter pipeline that would transport natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. The groups assert that Dominion has attempted to paint the ACP as an “environmentally-friendly” project. However, they argue that proposed construction methods and route selection across and along steep mountains is unprecedented for the region – if not the country – and are viewed as extreme and radical by landowners, conservationists, and engineers. Similar impacts – although not yet fully inventoried – could come from the construction of a second pipeline to the south: the Mountain Valley Pipeline led by the company EQT Midstream Partners, LP.

Friends of Nelson“The ACP could easily prove itself deadly,” said Joyce Burton, Board Member of Friends of Nelson. “Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope. Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the ACP; this figure includes 19 miles each in West Virginia and Virginia.
  • The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
  • Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as “overburden.”
  • Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
  • Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.

APPALMAD-LOGO-223Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said, “It is astounding that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess spoil that will result from cutting down miles of ridgetop for the pipeline. We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes.” He argued, “FERC and Dominion’s complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act.”

“Even with Dominion’s refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety,” said Dan Shaffer, Spatial Analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. “There is no way around it. It’s a bad route, a bad plan, and should never have been seriously considered.”

The full briefing paper is available here.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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:
http://ohvec.org/ferc-hrg-sign-on-letter/

Citizens Encouraged to Request Public Hearings about MVP

West Virginia Department of Environment Protection needs to hear more voices

By John W. Cobb, Jr.

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

So far, such requests are working.

Mountain-Valley-Pipeline-Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

401 Certification Program

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304

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

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

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

West Virginia’s Top Story in 2015: People and Land under Assault

Public health, environment and property rights under siege from crony capitalism; people respond vigorously, despite odds

 By Michael M. Barrick

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – While the fossil fuel extraction industry has dominated West Virginia’s political system, economy and communities since it became a state in 1863, the assault upon public health, the environment and property rights in 2015 by corporations and the Mountain State’s legislature was historic. Not since United States senators were appointed by legislatures, in the days when corporate robber barons owned the coal fields, the railroads and the politicians, and efforts to unionize coal miners were met with government-sanctioned violence, has there been such a blitzkrieg of shenanigans and skullduggery unleashed upon the state’s citizens.

Yet, the people have responded energetically. Easily outgunned by corporations, outspent by PACs, and surrounded by apathetic neighbors possessing a sense of inevitability that the energy industry will have its way in West Virginia, many citizens and groups have fought the attack vigorously and widely. The events of 2015 affecting the ecology of West Virginia is about far more than policy, it is about people – about those people making a difference, whether for well or ill.

While corporate interests and most of the state’s mainstream media promote a continued reliance upon what is essentially a bust-and-boom economy, more and more voices standing in opposition to the status quo are being heard. With solid evidence of harm to public health, damage to the environment and abuse of eminent domain from the industry – particularly through fracking and mountaintop removal – more people are joining forces to hold government, industry and even the church accountable.

These stories are not necessarily listed in chronological order and are not offered as a ranking of importance. Instead, it is an attempt to assess the whole year much as one would look at a quilt after it has been completed.

The top stories                                                    

  • The “People’s Capitol” no more
  • Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing
  • Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
  • Eminent domain abuse
  • Public health threats
  • Environmental degradation
  • The people respond
  • The Don Blankenship trial
  • Poor and biased press coverage

 

The “People’s Capitol” no more

The gold-domed state capitol along the Kanawha River in Charleston is known as “The People’s Capitol” because of its openness to the people. While that is changing physically this year as security officials add metal detectors and other security steps, the event that really denied the people access to their government was the takeover of the legislature by the Republican Party. Not that the GOP has a patent on arrogance. The Democrats had grown entirely too comfortable after more than 80 years of control. Their arrogance was on display for all to see. All one had to do was visit the offices of the legislators before the GOP takeover. The Democrats had the largest offices and those in special authority – such as the speaker – had not only their titles but names affixed to the doors. As I walked through the capitol on a snowy February day in 2014 just a few weeks after the Elk River spill, I was pleased with how many legislators made themselves accessible; more than a few seemed genuinely interested in serving the people. However, the display of arrogance on the office doors by the party’s leadership was disturbing. It was clear proof that the lure of power had seduced them to promote themselves, not serve the people.

So, in a sense, the Democrats got what they deserved in November 2014. Unfortunately, beginning in January 2015, so did the people of West Virginia. Why people vote against their own interests is beyond my comprehension. For instance, coal miners voted for the very people who protect men like Massey Energy’s Donald Blankenship (more about him later) and are doing all they can to destroy the United Mine Workers (UMW).

Additionally, the GOP is pushing for “Forced Pooling” legislation that would rob landowners of their most basic rights. That issue died in the legislature on a tie vote in committee last year and is a legislative priority for the GOP this year when the West Virginia legislature convenes on Jan. 13. Forced pooling allows the gas industry to force landowners to allow gas companies to access the gas under their land even if the landowner doesn’t agree to it so long as a certain percentage of their neighbors have agreed to sell. And, despite the devastation done by the Elk River spill in 2014, the Republican-led legislature rolled back vital provisions of the West Virginia Storage Tank Law. This led to weakened oversite, restrictions on public access to hazardous chemical information, and loopholes which severely undermine the stated intent of the law. (Read the full story here).

 

Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing

In West Virginia, approximately three out of four people identify themselves as Protestant; only seven percent are Catholic. As with political parties, these two major Christian sects hold quite disparate views on ecological issues; indeed, within each denomination, congregation and parish, one can find division about what the faith teaches regarding environmental stewardship.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists generally hold a “dominion” theory of stewardship. It is not only reflected in sermons, but is referenced by energy industry officials as justification for their attacks upon public health and the environment. Indeed, a leading energy industry executive shared that view here in Bridgeport in March. Executive Director Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said, “God didn’t want us to be farmers, or this place would look like Kansas. God put us here in these mountains that are 450 million years old with the best coal in the world and the most natural gas in the world. And we have a responsibility, and I think companies like Dominion and others have seized on the opportunities that these mountains have provided and will continue to do this.” (Read the full story here).

Yet, Allen Johnson of Dunmore, who leads the evangelical organization Christians for the Mountains, took several other evangelicals and reporters to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia’s most infamous mountaintop removal site. As a result of this effort, national publications noted that some evangelicals are serious about creation care. (You can read articles here and here). Another, not available online, was published by the conservative Christian World magazine based in Asheville, N.C. Explaining the outreach, Johnson said, “It’s a lot easier to preach to the choir, so to speak, than to step across the divide, but that is what is needed in our polarized culture – build trust, tell stories, show, listen, find common ground somewhere.”

Catholics, however, have become accustomed to their clergy – in particular the bishop – to be a prophetic voice for the land and its people. Indeed, the West Virginia-based Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has published two pastoral letters by the Catholic bishops of Appalachia – “This Land is Home to Me” in 1975 and “At Home in the Web of Life” in 1995. Both of these letters were signed by the Roman Catholic bishops of the region. So, for the last 40 years, the Catholic laity has become accustomed to its leaders standing up for the poor. Not in 2015 though. Instead, the CCA felt compelled to challenge West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield – as well as other Appalachian Catholic bishops – for not supporting the pope strongly enough when the Vatican released the pope’s ecological encyclical in the spring. (Read more here and here).

Indeed, in December, the CCA published what it characterized as a people’s pastoral. It explained, “For this third letter, called a ‘People’s Pastoral,’ the planning team did not seek the signatures of the region’s bishops, but rather sought to lift up the authority of the people, their stories, and earth itself as an expression of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’” (Read more here).

In short, while the church leadership has abandoned its prophetic voice in support of the people they are called to serve, the people in the parishes and congregations are filling the void. In addition to the CCA pastoral, several other examples demonstrate this.

In April, during the week of Earth Day, North Carolina-based St. Luke’s United Methodist Church joined with the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light to hold a two-day conference at the Catholic-owned St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston. The conference included people from various faith traditions, scientists, educators, preservationists, educators, artists and others. The theme of the conference, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” was organized out of a faith-based view of environmental stewardship, but was intentionally designed to welcome people from all walks of faith and life. (Read more here).

That same week, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church was a first-place winner of Interfaith Power & Light’s annual Cool Congregations Challenge. The church earned its award for being the top renewable role model in the nation for, among other reasons, having the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia. (Read more here).

In August, at its annual gathering, the West Virginia Sierra Club chapter considered how it, as a secular group, could apply the ecological encyclical by Pope Francis to its preservation efforts in West Virginia. That gathering led to the writing of this article.

 

Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

While the church, as an institution, was offering mixed messages on environmental stewardship, the state’s primary agency charged with protecting the environment for the people of West Virginia was sending a clear message – it is, at best, mediocre. In fact, its acronym – DEP – is referred to sarcastically as the “Department of Everything Permitted” by public health experts and environmentalists. In 2015, it was unresponsive to citizens expressing concerns about the health impacts of mountaintop removal. (Read more here), and its leader was unprepared for and even hostile to questions about the most basic of safety considerations regarding the impact of the energy extraction industry. (Read more here).

 

Eminent Domain abuse

Among the most egregious attacks upon the people of West Virginia was the misuse of eminent domain by the energy extraction industry. This is not surprising though, as without approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and others in the future to extract gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia, the industry will not be allowed to use eminent domain to seize the land of private landowners. Without that weapon, the energy industry is facing billions of dollars of losses already invested in what the industry obviously considered a slam dunk.

In March, Pittsburgh-based energy company EQT sent out letters to landowners threatening legal action if they did not allow EQT access to their property for surveys. The company’s lawyers argued that the pipeline would serve the interests of West Virginians, so eminent domain should apply. (Read more here and here). Opponents saw it differently and won in court – for now. (Read more here).

 

Public Health threats

Whatever one’s political outlook, it is generally agreed that a basic function of government is to guard the public’s health. This is part of its mission to “…promote the general Welfare…” as stated in the Preamble of the United States Constitution. Again though, even fulfilling this most basic responsibility of government seems beyond West Virginia’s capability – or willingness.

As already noted above, West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman out-of-hand rejected the Precautionary Principle as a reasonable, scientific method of protecting the environment and public health. This, despite clear evidence from health experts about the dangers of fracking and mountaintop removal (read here and here). The facts are supported by personal stories of destroyed lives from the extraction industry. (Read more here).

 

Environmental degradation

Those attempting to stop the environmental degradation caused by fracking and its related infrastructure got a good taste of what they will face should the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines receive FERC approval. Because those proposed pipelines would cross state lines, FERC approval is required. However, beginning in the spring and going well into the winter, another pipeline – the Stonewall Gas Gathering (SGG) pipeline – was constructed, traversing only about 56 miles of West Virginia. Hence, as an intrastate pipeline, FERC approval for it was not required. The SGG was built by Stonewall Gas Gathering, LLC, which was incorporated in Delaware on June 4, 2014. SGG is a subsidiary of Momentum (officially M3Midstream), based in Texas and Colorado. The Stonewall Gathering line is part of Momentum’s Appalachian Gathering System (AGS). The SGG connected to the AGS in Harrison County and terminates in Braxton County, where it connects to the Columbia pipeline. It runs also through Doddridge and Lewis counties. It began operation in December, but in the process disrupted the lives of thousands of West Virginians, harassed opponents, and caused significant damage to farmland, streams and roadways.

The West Virginia DEP did issue several Notice of Violations to Precision Pipeline, the company that built the pipeline. However, it did so only after numerous complaints from citizens. (Read more here).

As has already been demonstrated, the extraction industry operates from a position of arrogance – of “dominion.” In the next section are several links to stories about people and groups who learned this hard lesson and immediately began responding. Before reading those accounts though, you might want to refer to the articles, “A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking” and “Filmmaker Finds Compelling Story in Her own Backyard.”

 

Citizens stand up to crony capitalism

Despite this relentless assault upon public health, the environment and property rights by the unholy alliance between government and business – known otherwise as crony capitalism – no small number of people and groups have organized and coordinated efforts to safeguard their human rights. The outreach has even extended across the states bordering West Virginia, as alliances have been formed with people and groups in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky.

As a result, I was fortunate to meet some incredible people giving completely of themselves and resources during the year. Following are a few examples.

The McClain family, farmers in Doddridge County (about 8,000 residents), though quiet and deferential people, stood their ground against the industry for ruining some of their crops. (Read more here).

Also in Doddridge County, residents joined with folks from neighboring counties to demonstrate their solidarity against the fracking industry. (Read more here).

Earlier in the year, a landowner in the mountains of Randolph County was a one-man army fighting Dominion Resources. He is working to protect some of the most pristine mountain valleys in West Virginia. (Read more here).

Also early in the year, several environmental groups challenged FERC to abide by its charter and deny approval of the pipelines because they would benefit private shareholders, not the people of West Virginia. (Read more here).

In a proactive response to the industry, a Harrison County couple modeled, for the public, their homestead powered by solar panels. (Read more here).

As the year came to a close, dozens of people and groups gathered in central West Virginia to learn more from each other and to coordinate efforts to oppose the fracking industry. (Read more here).

 

The Don Blankenship trial

The year concluded with the conviction of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship on charges brought by federal authorities because of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 coal miners in Raleigh County in April 2010. Sadly, the jury found Blankenship guilty on just one misdemeanor count brought against him – conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. The same jury found him not guilty of securities fraud and making false statements. His lawyers have said he will challenge the verdict. So, in light of the expected appeal and mixed verdict, it would seem the opportunity to send a message that crony capitalism would no longer be allowed to kill West Virginians was missed. Hence, it is an important chapter in this story of West Virginia’s reliance upon the fossil fuel mono-economy. Still, while it was covered by media from the United States and beyond, I consider it less important of a story than the stories above, in particular the response by average citizens to the assault they and their land face from the energy extraction industry.

 

Poor and biased press coverage

These are serious times requiring serious and devoted people. While I generally try not to be snarky about the mainstream media, I must say that I was quite disappointed that West Virginia Public Broadcasting considered a little dustup about pepperoni rolls as one of the top eight stories in West Virginia in 2015. Now, I’ve transported more than my share of pepperoni rolls across state lines. But the debate over fracking – a debate that continues savagely in every corner of the Mountain State – is a far more important story. Yet, this important issue did not even make the list from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which claims to be committed to “Telling West Virginia’s Story.”

In this instance, it failed miserably.

Meanwhile, in Clarksburg, which is at the epicenter of the fracking industry, the city’s only newspaper – The Exponent-Telegram – has an owner who also owns interests in oil, gas and coal companies. The newspaper, which touts itself as “The Independent Voice of North Central West Virginia,” had not disclosed this conflict of interest to the public, even as it served as a cheerleader for the energy extraction industry. (Read more here and here).

The point is this: The Fourth Estate has become part of the establishment. Just as our three branches of government are intended to serve as a check and balance on the other two branches, so too, since the Revolutionary War era, has the press been counted upon to serve as a fourth check on the three branches of government. Now though, the courage required to honor that legacy is rarely found in a newsroom or TV studio. In short, the modern press, whether for-profit or not, will not challenge government, church and academia beyond the boundaries which might hit them in the pocketbook.

Consequently, it does not report what we truly need to know.

 

Conclusion

So, it’s up to the people. Last year left social justice and environmental activists exhausted, even burned out. Yet, the battle continues. While 2015 was not a good year for the people or environment of West Virginia, 2016 offers hope. It also offers great peril. The extraction industry has unlimited resources – cash, marketing departments and lawyers – that groups fighting for justice simply can’t match. The industry is working 24/7 to assault the people and natural beauty of West Virginia. So activists cannot rest. They are gearing up for a busy year, beginning with the legislative session that convenes next week. They have doggedly fought the industry hard in 2015. However, if they do not get additional manpower this year – an army of volunteers – 2017 will likely be too late to keep West Virginia from becoming an industrial waste zone that is unsuitable for any living thing.

© Michael M. Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2016

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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

Seeking Dominion over His Own Land

Randolph County landowner on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route: ‘It’s my land; it must be my choice!’

By Michael Barrick

MILL CREEK, W.Va. – Joao Barroso spent years looking for the perfect parcel of land on which to eventually settle his family and build a natural preserve for others to enjoy. Finally, in September 2011, Barroso, 57, found such a place in an approximately 500-acre forested tract near Mill Creek, a small community situated in a picturesque valley in Randolph County. Indeed, the stream for which the village is named roars through his land, full from spring rains and snow melt. It eventually feeds into the Tygart Valley River downstream from his land. The river has formed one of the most breathtaking valleys in this region of West Virginia. Its headwaters are in neighboring Pocahontas County. From there, it travels about 135 miles before eventually joining with the West Fork River to form the Monongahela River in North Central West Virginia.

Mill Creek as it runs through the property of Joao Barroso

Mill Creek as it runs through the property of Joao Barroso

Beginning in 2014, Barroso added extra acreage to his property, bringing it to a total of about 650 acres. This expansion, he pointed out, demonstrates his determination to acquire land to preserve its natural wonder and beauty.

Now, however, the home place he dreamed of having for more than 40 years is in the sights of Dominion Energy, which wants to cross his land with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). So, what started out as a dream may well turn out to be a nightmare. While the pipeline has yet to be approved by the appropriate regulatory officials, and the route continues to change, Barroso has been telling Dominion that he does not want the pipeline on this property, as it would compromise his dreams and plans.

He has been refusing the company’s surveyors access to his property for nearly a year, since they first contacted him demanding access to his land to conduct a survey for the ACP and threatening him with eminent domain. He shared, “I am dismayed.” He explained, “Communication with Doyle Land’s surveyor (a company working on behalf of Dominion) did not go well when they first contacted me. As a result, and given their lack of feedback and apparent unwillingness to engage in a dialogue, I ended up contacting Dominion directly in the hope that they would be willing to openly communicate with me.”

At the end of 2014, after months of emails and not much progress, Barroso said, “Dominion finally decided to send a team to meet me in Elkins. The meeting lasted more than four hours and I had some expert consultants with me, including a hydrologist, an environmental scientist, and a botanist.” He shared, “I would say the meeting went well. I had, in fact, received a letter from Dominion’s lawyers, Steptoe & Johnson, giving me 10 days to OK the survey, or face a lawsuit. But the gentleman who headed the team for Dominion told me not to worry; he said he would take care of it, and he did. He told Steptoe & Johnson to back off. That was a pleasant surprise. He also said that Dominion does not like surveyors, etc. to threaten landowners with eminent domain. That surprised me even more!”

Barroso questioned, “How can these people threaten landowners with eminent domain when they don’t have the right and don’t have a green light from Dominion to do so? I told him it’s the worst thing they can do. It’s really bad PR and there’s no better way to get everyone against Dominion.”

He has yet to grant the company permission to survey, and the borders of his land are dotted with “No Trespassing” signs that include the explicit wording, “No surveys.”

“It is insane,” proclaimed Barroso, standing along one of 14 ponds on his property. “I still hope that common sense prevails and Dominion decides to move the pipeline away from my land. If they end up using eminent domain, all I have to say is that it is unconstitutional,” he continued, adding, “the use of eminent domain may be justified in some cases, but in cases like this, it is certainly nothing else but abuse.”

Dominion Energy and its ACP partners claim on its website that “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is an essential public utility project designed to meet urgent energy needs in Virginia and North Carolina.” Barroso dismissed that argument as nonsense. “This is a private company, and the ACP, if it is approved and built, has only one purpose: company profit. It will be a clear case of abuse of eminent domain.”

He continued, “There is a very clear difference between providing a service to the public and what is a public service. All businesses serve the public, but they are not public services.” After a pause, he added, “What is the difference between what they want to do, and someone stealing his neighbor’s property because he wants to open a restaurant to serve the public, while the neighbor just wants to live with his family in peace? None if you ask me. Both are encroaching on private property for the same motive – engage in a business and make money for private profit. Both are wrong! The only difference may be that the restaurant is an investment of $500,000 and the ACP is an investment of $5 billion.”

Tracing his finger on a map of the proposed ACP route, he observed, “Look. It is going to connect to the coast in Virginia. Why? I am hard pressed to believe that this ACP project has nothing to do with Russia starving Europe for natural gas, or the Japanese market craving natural gas they do not produce. This pipeline is most likely going to transport natural gas for export.” He then added, “Even if you give Dominion the benefit of the doubt that this gas will stay in the country, it is still for their private profit. The ACP benefits first and foremost Dominion, meaning the company’s shareholders. The number of jobs created will be negligible, most temporary during the construction phase, and the well-paid jobs are all for out-of-state technicians and professionals. And this has nothing to do with energy independence, or clean energy. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, for example, but if you consider all that is involved, it is not clean energy – far from it.”

The late winter sun reflects off of one of the 14 ponds on the property of Joao Barroso

The late winter sun reflects off of one of the 14 ponds on the property of Joao Barroso

The ACP, as well as several other proposed natural gas pipelines, has yet to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is charged with studying the environmental impact of the proposed pipelines. Barroso is skeptical. Recalling Dominion’s January 21 open house in Elkins in which Dominion and FERC representatives were present to speak to landowners, Barroso shared, “There was a FERC employee there that could not answer my questions. He was a nice young man, but had no answers to any of the questions I raised. Then, after I left the open house, I also wondered, why would FERC have somebody there if not because they are working for Dominion.” Barroso continued, “A regulatory commission should be independent and neutral. They should be objective. They should listen to landowners and property owners without bias. There should be no FERC employee there, especially if unable to answer questions. This is a very obvious conflict of interest, in my opinion.”

Indeed, recently, preservationist groups from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia accused FERC of not properly informing the public regarding the construction of proposed natural gas pipelines throughout the region. Pointing to public comments by FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, the groups argued that FERC is not providing the independent oversight required of it. Furthermore, Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia echoed Barroso’s arguments that the concept of eminent domain is being perverted. Reed argued, “These pipelines serve no public benefit as all current and proposed users are currently served by existing pipelines. 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.”

In addition to passionately arguing that his liberty will be trampled on by Dominion and whoever will sign off on the ACP if it ends up being approved, Barroso also pointed to the damage that will be done to the spectacular beauty of his land. Indeed, if the ACP should cross his land, it will disrupt the pristine ponds – a native brook trout hatchery under development. Also endangered are countless underground springs, the Gooseberry Cave – listed as hibernacula for the endangered Indiana bat – the bubbling springs, and other habitat for threatened and endangered species, the creek itself, and other features, including an old family cemetery on the property dating back to the 1800s.

Joao Barroso stands along Mill Creek on his property

Joao Barroso stands along Mill Creek on his property

“This is a very unique property,” said Barroso. “This ACP business will literally destroy it. Dominion told me they were considering alternate routes, but it has been two months since the last open house that took place in Elkins, and I am still waiting for feedback.”

Standing between the ponds and the creek, pointing to where the ACP corridor is set to cross his property, Barroso asked, “How are they going to go through that creek?” He continued, “Look at it. It is over solid rock. They cannot do horizontal drilling because they hit the side of the hill!” Additionally, from the valley floor on which he stands, at about 2,050 feet, he points to the two ridges that rise hundreds of feet – virtually straight up – on each side of the creek. One of the ridges is owned by various lumber companies, the other ridge is on his property. “Look at how steep and high those are,” he said. “How are they going to traverse that? On that side that belongs to Coastal, the ridge is 3,300 feet high according to topographical maps I have; on my property, that ridge is almost 2,900 feet. How do they intend to put a 42-inch pipeline up and down these hills, through the creek, and beyond? How safe is this going to be? There are accidents all the time, explosions. I don’t want my family living close to this thing.”

Referencing a list of pipeline accidents in the 21st century, Barroso offered, “It’s pretty scary to say the least. It’s almost 50 pages long if printed out! Take the time to follow the links, and you will find out that these accidents and explosions plague both old and new pipelines and in most of them, they never know what caused them! People die, property is destroyed, and lives are changed forever. As a property owner, I have the right to say, ‘No thank you! I don’t want a pipeline on my property.’”

Indeed, those are some of the questions that Barroso has asked of Dominion officials and their surveyors. “What about safety? Explosions? Response time, impact? Dominion promised to get back with me with data and more information, but so far, I have yet to hear from them.” He recalled, “At the open house, one of the Dominion officials that came to meet me in Elkins told another Dominion official, ‘In his case, we have made a mistake. We should not go over his land. We were not aware of all the features on his property.’” Barroso continued, “We had a pleasant exchange that day. They were quite open to admit that the way the routes are traced is based on nothing but maps, topography and often not very clear satellite photos, so they are hardly ever aware of what’s on the land and what landowners are doing with their properties.”

Of course, the mountain ranges extend in both directions far beyond his land. So even if Dominion should pick a route that does not include Barroso’s property, it will still have a 300-foot-wide survey corridor, and care out a 75- to 125-foot swath up and down countless mountain ranges to construct the pipeline, including some in nearby Monongahela National Forest and George Washington National Forest. Depending upon the route chosen, if approved, the pipeline could go through Kumbrabow State Forest, which has the highest elevation of any West Virginia state forest.

“It’s just insane,” repeated Barroso.

Following a long hike up a trail to the family cemetery on the property, Barroso stood in the warm afternoon sun, with patches of snow stubbornly refusing to melt at the high, shaded elevation. He acknowledged that he is talking to Dominion not only to defend his property rights and individual liberty, but also based upon his faith. “Nothing I have belongs to me. This is a stewardship. That is how I see things. I am here for a reason. God is in all this. We came here without anything and we will leave without anything. But what we are entrusted with, we have the responsibility to care for and leave a legacy to our posterity. I am not an environmentalist. There is too much negativity and pseudo-science associated with environmentalists these days, in my opinion. But I consider myself a steward over the land as an ecologist. From all the research I have done so far, the ACP will be, ecologically speaking, a disaster. There is no other way of putting it, and my opinion is that there is no way to mitigate the damage it will cause.”

He continued, “I want to leave my children something. And my grandchildren, and their children. It is a stewardship for them also.”

Walking back down the trail towards the creek, Barroso stopped to get a drink of water out of a natural spring tumbling down rocks. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he looked at the waterfall, then down to the creek. His eyes piercing and glistening, he proclaimed, “Water is life. It is my responsibility to protect it. One man’s liberty ends where his neighbor’s begins. This principle applies to private companies as well. The government is supposed to protect citizens, private property, landowners and businesses. If the government sides with the companies, developers and investors, and lets them use eminent domain to encroach on other persons or their property and condemn private property, something is utterly wrong.”

He concluded, “What is at stake here are private property rights. If private property is compromised, then nothing is safe in this country anymore.”

© 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.

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.