Stonewall Gas Gathering companies running roughshod over people, nature and the law
By Michael M. Barrick
ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has issued at least 12 Notice of Violations to the contractors of the Stonewall Gas Gathering (SGG) pipeline since mid-June. The violations are for not following best practices and for causing conditions which pollute the state’s streams.
The SGG is being 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 will connect to the AGS in Harrison County and terminate in Braxton County, where it will connect to the Columbia pipeline. It runs also through Doddridge and Lewis counties.
The company laying the pipeline is Wisconsin-based Precision Pipeline, LLC. According to the company’s website, “We have the experience and expertise to safely complete any project while maintaining total environmental compliance with minimal impact to landowners.”
That’s what the company’s website says. The state of West Virginia, residents being impacted by it, and at least one independent environmental scientist say otherwise.
In mid-July, Jamie Tallman, an environmental inspector with WVDEP surveyed an approximately six mile stretch of the 55-mile pipeline and found that the construction had impacted at least eight stream crossings on Right Fork, Laurel Run, Indian Fork, Big Isaac Creek and Meathouse Fork in Doddridge and Harrison counties. As a result of those visits, he issued 10 Notice of Violations to SGG, though Precision Pipeline is doing the actual work.
He cited poor sediment controls at stream crossings, poor perimeter controls, and other problems such as “marginal” conditions for slope breakers. He noted also, “Multiple earthen slips were observed … two of which were documented to impact state waters but had not been reported.”
That brings to 12 the number of Notice of Violations for this project, the other two also issued by Tallman. One was issued in June for damage done near the community of Big Isaac in Doddridge County and another in early July near the same area. Read more: Standing Their Ground.
Meanwhile, Diana Gooding, a Gilmer County farmer who lives near the Lewis County line, has been taking residents from Virginia and southeastern West Virginia on tours of the pipeline route to witness first-hand the impact of the construction on the region’s delicate watershed. On Aug. 11th, after a heavy rain, Gooding noted, “Goosepen Road today was alive with devastation. Running over the sediment barriers was the mud to the stream as they worked away with heavy equipment despite the deluge of rain we had last night.” She observed, “The equipment and bulldozers were sliding backwards and sideways just trying to take pilings up the hillsides.”
She offered, “It is awful what they are being allowed to do. All of the little streams below are getting trashed big time.”
Independent Environmental Assessment
One such person who accompanied Gooding on one of her trips along the pipeline route is Autumn Bryson, a Greenbrier County-based environmental scientist and owner of Autumn Environmental. On July 18th, along with several others, they visited numerous sites in Lewis, Harrison and Doddridge counties. From that visit, Bryson conducted a Sediment and Erosion Control Assessment. The Assessment was accompanied by numerous photos supporting her assertions.
She observed, “Silt fences, filter socks, and hay were the methods used to control sedimentation and erosion. Failing silt fences were observed at Goosepen Run Stream Crossing along the pipeline route, allowing sediment to enter the nearby stream. The sediment and erosion control measures used are inadequate for the amount of exposed soil and high precipitation events that are common to this region.”
She continued, “Along Sleepcamp Run road, soil was piled high on steep slopes above the road. Silt fences were the only method used to hold the soil in place. There were several occurrences where the silt fences were overloaded and torn due to the weight of the rock and soil. One fabric silt fence is an inadequate method to stabilize an entire hillside. Silt fences were not designed for this use. With a heavy rain event, a landslide could occur causing a safety hazard on public roadways.”
On another crossing in Lewis County, Bryson observed, “Along Copley Road, the pipeline route crosses Sand Fork. At this location, sedimentation was observed in the stream. The silt fences were overflowing allowing the overflow to empty into the nearby stream. The high volume of soil is too much for the silt fence to bear.”
Additionally, she observed, “The Stonewall Gathering pipeline crosses Left Millstone Road and continues down the mountain to cross Millstone Run. Sedimentation was observed in Millstone Run. Filter socks and silt fences were attempting to control the erosion but the volume of soil was too much to hold the hillside in place. The runoff has breached the silt fence and evaded the filter sock. There was also a tear in the filter fabric on the temporary bridge. This hole in the filter fabric allows runoff to flow directly into the stream below further exacerbating the sedimentation issues.”
She asserted also, “An illegal stream crossing was observed where the Stonewall Gathering Line crosses Elk Lick. It appeared that heavy equipment was driven directly through the streambed. There was no stream crossing permit signage in place. No sediment and erosion control methods were used and as a result there was significant sedimentation and damage to the stream bank.”
At yet another stream crossing, she noted, “The Stonewall Gathering line crosses the Right Fork of Kincheloe Creek. Another erosion control measure failed at this stream crossing. The silt fence was unable to contain the volume of soil eroding from the hillside. As a result, the soil breached the silt fence and spilled into the stream.”
She concluded, “Based on observations made during the site visit to the Stonewall Gathering pipeline, the Sediment and Erosion Control Plan is ineffective for a construction project of this magnitude. Silt fences, filter socks, and hay are not able to control erosion and reduce sedimentation into nearby streams. At each location there were instances where the erosion control methods failed impacting the surface waters in the vicinity. The silt fences are unable to bear the load of soil excavated during construction. Filter socks are inadequate at controlling runoff. Filter fabric has been compromised leaving it ineffective. In addition, there is an area where no best management practices are used and heavy equipment has been driven directly through a streambed. These sedimentation and erosion control issues need to be addressed. A more effective plan for controlling sedimentation and erosion needs to be implemented to reduce impacts on nearby streams.”
A resident’s experience
Meanwhile, a farmer near Jane Lew in Lewis County has had more than one confrontation with Precision employees, as well as state workers purportedly on site to monitor the work of the construction crews. Going home on his motorcycle after a trip to Pennsylvania, Tom Berlin was more than a mile up a road to his home only to find it blocked by construction activity. “They were breaking rock and digging a trench. They had a couple of those big iron plates across covered with about four eight-inch-high piles of loose dirt and rock fragments on the best of the two plates. They stopped one machine, but not the big jack hammer and told me I could cross. It was a sort of a tricky crossing, but doable. They made no effort to clear or smooth the path for me, all looking to see if I would make it or chicken out and turn back. I was especially upset that they kept the jack hammer working right alongside me the whole time.”
He continued, “I berated them for not posting a sign at the end of the road, rather than making people travel a mile-and-a-half up a dirt road to find the way blocked. I said I wanted to talk with a supervisor. A man in a white pickup met me at the top of the hill and I gave him a piece of my mind. I then walked back down and found that there was a state road employee in his truck sitting there watching and supposedly making sure they were doing things right. He kept insisting they had a permit and all was OK. He could not explain to me why they did not need to post a warning sign, except to say that they put a notice in some newspaper recently.”
Berlin revealed also, “Then I noticed a guy in a 4-wheeler apparently taking a nap. He bestirred himself and asked if all was OK. I asked if he was a supervisor on this crossing and he assured me he was. So, I lit into him a bit. He explained that he had 55 miles of 36-inch pipeline to lay and he did not have the time to accommodate the needs of every local who might want to use the public road.”
Berlin said the man refused to give him his name.
© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.
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Before surrendering or joining the exodus, get educated and fight – peacefully – against the powerful interests which control The Mountain State
By Michael M. Barrick
ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – The recent admission by Secretary Randy Huffman of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) that the agency he heads can’t do its job because powerful business and political interests control The Mountain State is a wake-up call to all West Virginians.
It is time of us to throw off our oppressors so that Huffman and other public officials can do their jobs.
In the last two years, I have put thousands of miles on my little car covering the energy extraction industry. What I have discovered is that West Virginians are basically in four camps:
1. Some work for the industry and truly believe they are doing good work; these folks are in the minority.
2. Others are working against the industry through established environmental or social justice groups and alliances because they consider the industry an assault upon the people and ecology of West Virginia; they, too, are in the minority.
3. Still others have just given up and have joined the exodus of West Virginians going to what they hope are greener pastures; these folks are also a small minority, though it is causing a brain drain that will have an impact upon the state that is greater than their numbers.
4. Finally, there are the docile West Virginians. They just roll over and accept whatever their public officials, business leaders or church leaders tell them. They, sadly, constitute the majority of West Virginians.
You may disagree with those categories. This, however, is my experience. It is also consistent with our state’s history.
This is an appeal to folks in all four categories, as well as those few prophetic voices in our hills and hollows, to get educated and fight – peacefully – to rescue our home from the powerful people and interests that have made West Virginia their own personal playground to enrich themselves.
Example of WVDEP
According to a handout I received recently from a representative of the WVDEP, the agency’s mission is a simple one: “Promoting a healthy environment.” This, one presumes, applies not only to the ecology, but also public health, as the two are inseparable. Yes, there are other state and local agencies that are responsible for the health and well-being of people, but that does not preclude any agency from discerning that caring for the state’s people is within their scope of work. Yet, Huffman tells us, he can’t do that. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is a person who takes public service seriously, we, as citizens, are obligated to help him, just as he asked folks in Doddridge County to do. Before doing so, there are a number of matters to consider.
Mingo County’s example
Last week, I visited Mingo County for the first time since 1978. Frankly, nothing has changed. The cycle of poverty continues. There are numerous reasons for this, but the end result is that the poorest of our state four decades ago are still the poorest of our state. This cannot be blamed on the so-called “War on Coal.” In fact, the blame rests with the coal industry. Consider this description of Mingo County from “West Virginia County Maps.” Published by a private company, the authors nevertheless acknowledge on the title page, “The publisher wishes to gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the … West Virginia Department of Commerce, Marketing & Tourism Division.”
Here is what that Division submitted for publication: “Williamson lies in the center of what is called the ‘Billion Dollar Coal Field.’ In the middle of the 1940s there were 100 mines in a 20-mile radius of the city.” Not even Donald Trump could blame President Obama for what happened in West Virginia in the 1940s. And what did happen? Before and since, that billion dollars has left the state. If it had not, the cycle of poverty in Mingo County and other communities in southwestern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky would long ago have ended. In short, the coal barons – not President Obama or any other straw men – are responsible for the poverty afflicting our southern coal fields. It is they who are the oppressors.
Lessons from a topographical map
Looking at another map of the central part of the state tells the same story. It is a topographical map of the Vadis quadrangle. It includes parts of Lewis, Doddridge and Gilmer counties. Published in 1964 and revised in 1978, it is dotted with more gas and oil wells than one can count. There are certainly well over 100. Again, if the energy extraction industry was and is so good for the people of West Virginia, where is the wealth to show for it? It is certainly not in the pockets of West Virginians. Instead, as it has since the late 1800s, the money has flowed out of state to corporate barons, many who then stash the cash away in offshore accounts.
Then there is fracking. The most startling fact about fracking is that any West Virginian would support it in light of the history just outlined. Again, though, the industry promises jobs. Those jobs, however, are temporary and very unreliable as we have seen as oil prices fluctuate. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly clear that the jobs come at a great cost, as those working in the fracking fields are working in a very unhealthy environment. The residents, though, suffer the most. The loss of land, sleepless nights, water supplies destroyed, children and adults experiencing everything from nosebleeds to cancer, public roadways ruined and communities divided (Divide & Conquer is a fundamental strategy of the energy extraction industry), make it clear that the only people benefitting from the process are corporate CEOs, most of whom are from out of state.
That the gas companies – in particular EQT and Dominion – are audacious enough to argue that they should be granted eminent domain by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), reveals just how allied political and business interests are in exploiting the mineral resources of The Mountain State. No matter how the companies spin it, the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines are not for public benefit (the standard FERC must apply before granting the companies the right of eminent domain); they are for the companies’ shareholders. Most significantly, the gas that would be shipped through the pipelines will end up in foreign countries, which should be the fact that causes FERC to deny the company’s applications. That, however, would take a miracle.
For those who think pipeline construction is benign and that the companies employ a bunch of good ole’ boys from West Virginia looking out for their neighbors, you need to visit Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Ritchie, Tyler and Wetzel counties. Or read this.
Bishop’s response to the pope
A detailed essay will follow relatively soon regarding the insubordination of Bishop Michael Bransfield’s response to the climate change encyclical by Pope Francis. For now, suffice to say that Bransfield, who is the shepherd of West Virginia’s Catholics as head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, undermined the pope’s message so as to not offend the deep pockets of coal, gas and oil executives. I was told in March by a diocesan official that the bishop wouldn’t support the encyclical because, “Coal, gas and oil are simply too powerful. It wouldn’t be prudent.” Indeed, as you can read here, the bishop is just flat-out distorting the pope’s words.
Lessons from the coal playbook
During the West Virginia Mine Wars of roughly a century ago, the coal companies employed a very effective strategy against coal miners seeking to unionize and achieve better working conditions – they controlled law enforcement. Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin ruled Logan County for the coal companies and exerted influence throughout the southern coalfields. When Sid Hatfield, the police chief of Matewan (but a supporter of the miners), was gunned down on the McDowell County courthouse steps in Welch, W.Va. in 1921, police officials turned a blind eye.
While such blatant corruption is not happening today – at least in the open – a recent donation of $5,000 to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department by Precision Pipeline, a subcontractor building the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline, has some local residents wondering what will happen should conflict erupt between local citizens and the corporations destroying the county’s land. The appearance of impropriety is certainly present.
Conclusion: Civil Disobedience is the answer
In short, our state motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are Always Free) is a joke. The people of this state – whether they will admit it or not – continue to be abused and oppressed by political and business interests. Those appointed to protect the people – such as WVDEP Secretary Huffman – are unable or unwilling to honor their vocations. Additionally, those we should be able to count upon to advocate for and protect us – church leaders and law enforcement – have been compromised.
So, it is up to us. In an upcoming essay, solutions to address West Virginia’s many problems will be offered in detail. For now, an overview of possible solutions include local communities supporting one another economically and socially in new ways; reforming our political system to open ballot access, seting term limits and establish ethical training for potential political leaders; and, ensuring that local officials are prepared for the inevitable disasters that will occur from the fossil fuel mono-economy. We need greater regulation of the energy extraction industry. We need to truly empower people like Secretary Huffman so that he can’t say his hands are tied.
However, I have concluded these actions will not be enough. It is time for nonviolent civil disobedience. That will require training. It will require resolve. Those of us who recall the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras know that civil disobedience works. The achievements of those eras – including voting rights legislation and ending the Vietnam War – would not have happened had people not taken to the streets and subjected themselves to beatings and murder.
As I have put those many miles on my car, I’ve heard so many West Virginians say they want to change our state. The last 60 years of American history, in fact 100 years when the labor movement and women’s suffrage are included, suggest that change can come – but at a great cost. You can fight. You can leave. Either choice is legitimate. But indifference is nothing short of surrender. That is inconsistent with what most West Virginians say they would do. So why do the powerful still control our state?
© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.
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Lewis County resident planning on selling historic farm to leave West Virginia and escape fracking
By Michael M. Barrick
June 17, 2015
Post Script: Myra Bonhage-Hale moved from her farm earlier this month to return to her native Maryland. She is among the countless number of West Virginians that have become refugees from the fracking industry. – M. Barrick
Note: This is the fourth installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.
ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale, who 34 years ago found peace on her farm in the high rolling hills of western Lewis County, has put her historic property on the market. The reason? The planned development of nearly 300 fracking sites near her property. As she told the Lewis County Commission Oct. 6 in an impassioned presentation, she began, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.”
A visit to her farm the week before seemed to foreshadow her remarks. Along one of her walking paths, which has rocks with various small, polished stones embedded in them, one of the rocks was missing its stone. The missing stone said Peace.
Standing in the middle of a garden behind her home on the 110 acre farm, Bonhage-Hale offered, “This is who I am.” Then, alluding to fracking, she added, “It just seems horrible that somebody can come along and devastate this.”
Moving from her art studio, where she also stores herbal products that she makes from her gardens, out into another garden, she shared, “You could sit in the woods an hour a day for the rest of your life and see something new every day.” As if on cue, while she was talking, a number of birds high up in a nearby oak tree starting raising a ruckus. She and a neighbor, Barbara Volk, discussed the various species of birds that they could identify and speculated at what might be making them agitated. Determining it was too late in the year for snakes to be going after a nest, Bonhage-Hale speculated, “I guess they sense, too, that the peace is gone.”
Indeed, even the clamoring of the birds was disturbed by a helicopter flying overhead. “They fly over all the time,” said Bonhage-Hale. “I think they’re taking pictures. It’s very disturbing and intimidating. It is arrogance on display.”
The party moved into the living room of her home. A brief philosophical discussion was held. The prospect of moving was raised. Volk expressed understanding and Bonhage-Hale offered, “I don’t think we can stop this, but we can try.”
The next day, however, Bonhage-Hale registered her home with a real estate agent.
Then, a few days later, she was at the county commission meeting, inundating them with research about the harms of fracking. She said, “I have worked hard to make La Paix – its beautiful gardens, woods, wild life, 1890 Victorian Farmhouse with attached Log Cabin (circa 1850) – what it could always be. I was able to put my blood, sweat, tears, laughter, joy, love and peace into what it is today. We have had apprentices from West Virginia colleges earn credits in Environmental Studies, apprentices from Japan, India and elsewhere, a Lavender Fair for nine years, workshops, and serene surroundings. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.”
She added, “Until just recently, I planned to live here for forever and be able to give its beauty to my children, Bill and Kathleen, and my granddaughter, Aijah.” Continuing, she said, “There is one way in and one way out Crooked Run. This means if drilling is done here it will be difficult for children to get to school, others to get to work and in medical emergencies.”
Pointing out that a surveyor for a gas company had marked the road with red flags, she offered, “So I have here some green flags – green for the earth, green for sustainability, and green for love that grows.” She explained, “The first flag is Respect. We little people, who only own the surface rights, who are here to enjoy nature, our families and each other – we don’t get much respect.”
She continued, “The second green flag is for Resist. Recent reports indicate fracking may indeed be more dangerous for the environment and lead to global warming at rates much higher than previously thought. It pollutes water supplies, kills wildlife and destroys the quality of life in communities where it takes place.” She then offered the three commissioners websites and other resources they could research to verify her claims.
She revealed, “Ohioans are beginning to realize that unconventional shale drilling uses a great deal of water, permanently ruining it for other uses. But what they may not know is fracked gas and oil wells in Ohio are turning out to be less productive over time, with more water needed so the effects of water usage are rising. Now, each time a Utica well is fracked in Ohio, over seven million gallons of water is needed on average per well. Cumulative effects are being seen, as water loss is expected to be 18.5 billion gallons in the next five years.” She also cited numerous studies that show that property values in other states where fracking is taking place are plummeting.
Her third flag was for Renew. “This is what we could be doing instead – for clean energy, for eco tourism and for a sustainable economy. Pointing to another study released just the previous week, she revealed, “Solar energy could the be largest source of global electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to two new reports by the International Energy Agency (IEA).” She continued, “We are destroying our landscape in the name of quick profits for a few people.”
As she concluded her presentation to the commissioners, she momentarily lost her composure. Turning from the podium, her voice quivering, she said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.
© Michael Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.
Consol Energy community forum leaves West Virginia residents with more questions than answers about fracking
Note: This is the first installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.
By Michael M. Barrick
JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale came to a community meeting here last evening, hoping to have her questions about the impact of fracking on her small unincorporated community of Alum Bridge answered by Consol Energy. Though she came with a handful of hand-made signs with questions on them, Bonhage-Hale left the meeting upset because the event allowed for only limited one-on-one discussions with various Consol officials and employees.
While the various booths set up by Consol staff at the Assembly Hall of Jackon’s Mill State 4-H Camp were situated to allow the public to ask questions, the sheer volume of people present made that nearly impossible. Indeed, upwards of 500 people turned out to a venue designed to hold far less people. Bonhage-Hale is from Lewis County, where the gathering was held. However, residents from all over the region, including neighboring Doddridge and Gilmer counties also attended, many of them expressing disgust that Consol did not hold a town-hall type of event.
As Diane Pitcock from Doddridge County expressed, “We expected an open forum where we could ask questions. Many of us may have questions that other people haven’t thought of. But that isn’t going to happen tonight.” Pitcock, if she had been given a chance to ask questions, would have peppered Consol officials with questions, as she has been dealing with the issues surrounding fracking for years on her farm near West Union. Indeed, in response to the experiences she and her neighbors have had, she organized a group known as West Virginia Host Farms that provides access for researchers, physicians, engineers, public health officials, journalists and other interested parties to fracking sites. Her purpose? She says, “In this rush to drill, they have not taken time to see the long-term effects.” She continued, “I’m a conservative Republican. Nobody would think of me as a tree-hugger. I know some people are supporting this because of the jobs, but this issue isn’t about jobs, it’s about public health. The water is polluted. Air quality is bad. The roads are being destroyed.” Indeed, on her website, Pitcock has numerous photos of the impact of fracking, including an overturned truck.
Indeed, the narrow roads throughout all of West Virginia make driving on them inherently dangerous. Adding oversized trucks with tremendous weights makes for dangerous driving and road surface deterioration. Additionally, just last year, an accident involving a truck hauling the brine water used for fracking, led to the death of two children in Harrison County, just to the east of Doddridge County.
Another Lewis County resident, Barbara Volk, told West Virginia Public Radio reporter Roxy Todd, “As a surface owner, I feel we are bulldozed. We are treated like we don’t exist and nobody cares. I did actually speak with someone. And he assured me that everything is going to be according to EPA regulations, and that the environment will be protected and the water will be protected. But frankly, from what I have seen in Doddridge County and surrounding areas, I don’t believe that’s going to be the case.”
To the west of Lewis County is Gilmer County. Diana Gooding, a resident there, drove the hour or so to attend the meeting. She offered, “Come see for yourself. I can show you the devastation.”
Meanwhile, Bonhage-Hale is still waiting for her questions to be answered. Standing outside of the Assembly Hall, she quietly held up her signs. Nobody from Consol stopped to talk with her.
© Michael M. Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is an expert in community preparedness and disaster management. Learn more about him here.