Tag Archives: Michael Barrick

Make Me

By Michael M. Barrick

A poem for the New Year…

Make me.
Take me – wholly.
Make me – holy.

Though you give me free will, make me Yours.
Make me be light in darkness.
Make me be peace where there is conflict.
Make me be love where there is hate.

Make me be grace.
Make me be hope.
Make me be strength.
Make me be courage.

Do what You must.
Do not consult me – please!
Make me take You with every step I take.
Make me one with You until I breathe no more.

Then, free me to make those I’ve left behind crave for You.
Free me to make the world yearn for You.
Free me – to make others like You, to be You.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.


Dominion is a Bully, not a Community Builder

Good neighbors don’t threaten landowners

By Michael M. Barrrick

News item: Near Staunton, Va. farmers Joan and Roger Geary are just two of thousands of landowners in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina being threatened by Richmond-based Dominion Resources with court orders if landowners refuse Dominion access to their land so that it can survey their land for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Unfortunately, it seems that Virginia law, specifically 56-4901 of the Virginia Code, allows Dominion to do this.

That does not, however, make it right. And it is certainly not consistent with the marketing campaign by Dominion in which they claim to be “Building Community” as good neighbors. Good neighbors don’t hide behind the law to destroy another person’s land.

In today’s issue of the Clarksburg (W.Va.) Exponent-Telegram, Dominion has a full page advertisement on page A5 in which they ask, “What makes a good neighbor?” The ad shows three smiling people in blue “Dominion Volunteer” shirts, apparently painting a room, presumably in somebody’s home. The ad concludes, “At Dominion, we know that the best way for employees to become neighbors – and for our neighbors to continue becoming our friends – is to step in and lend a hand.”

This is beyond ironic. It is insulting.

Most significantly, it is frightening, as corporations have been deemed the same as people by the Supreme Court, the two main political parties are in the pockets of the energy industry in all three states, and Dominion and its ACP partners (Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources) are arrogantly powerful.

I suspect the first reaction by landowners is one I would expect from most mountaineers I know throughout Appalachia – “They’ll trespass on my land over my dead body.” Violence, of course, is not the answer, no matter how tempting it might be. So, the second reaction is a sense of hopelessness and despair. That’s exactly what Dominion and its partners are counting upon.

However I have hope, especially after the well-attended and civil forum held Nov. 11 near Weston, W.Va. While that forum was primarily about fracking, it is fracking that is making the ACP possible.

I have hope also because I happen to believe our politicians are becoming increasingly irrelevant in this digital age. With the power of the Internet, we can communicate with one another as never before. We can research all the laws that the energy industry has paid legislatures to pass and governors to sign. And, most importantly, it allows us to organize.

For the record, I don’t own any land. I don’t ever plan to. However, I don’t believe for a second that our founders would have just surrendered to Dominion, their partners and their minions. I also don’t believe that corporations have the right to destroy the very earth that sustains life and, in the case of the Gearys, their livelihood.

So, educate yourself. Organize. Lobby. And stand up to the bully. That’s what good neighbors do for one another.

Finally, stay tuned, as a series of articles about existing state laws and how to stand up for your rights is forthcoming.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2014.

Learning by Listening

The power of civility on display at Jackson’s Mill

By Michael M. Barrick

JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – On Tuesday, Nov. 11, about 200 residents of North Central West Virginia gathered here to learn about the impact of fracking (and, by extension the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline) upon people and the earth which sustains us. A grass roots group of citizens from Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Harrison, Doddridge, Wetzel and other counties organized the meeting. They heard from experts who have had their air and water polluted, their peace disturbed, and their roadways made dangerous.

While outstanding knowledge and supporting materials were provided, perhaps the most successful outcome of the meeting was that it was civil.

Incivility has become such a part of our culture – from the talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC to educational forums throughout Appalachia – that we simply are unable to learn. All we witness are people shouting at one another.

That did not happen in Jackson’s Mill. That is a credit not only to the organizers, but also the well-prepared presenters and the residents in attendance.

It didn’t hurt that the subject matter is captivating. Hundreds of pictures shown on screens through an overhead projector revealed the impact of fracking upon our land, air, water and roads. Among the presenters were Bill Hughes of Wetzel County, who has become an unwilling expert on the matter over the last decade; Jody Mohr of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Julie Archer of West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Association (SORO); and, Diane Pitcock of the West Virginia Host Farms program.

Hughes’ presentation included information on the production stages of fracking, and typical problems experienced by communities because of fracking, including traffic congestion and property damage, water pollution, and air pollution. Mohr spoke about watershed and neighborhood issues. Archer spoke about the rights of surface owners. Pitcock spoke about her program, in which landowners impacted by fracking allow researchers and reporters to witness – first-hand – fracking’s impact. Attendees – which came from every corner of West Virginia – asked vital questions.

So, much was learned.

Yet, as important as the information shared by the presenters was, the most important lesson that was learned is that we can get along with one another, even on such a contentious issue. That is of tremendous encouragement for those of us determined to put an end to the madness that puts profit before people and the good earth which sustains us.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2014.

Fracking Forum a Time to Learn, Unify and Act

Once educated, we are culpable if we do nothing

“My Lord, he said unto me,
Do you like my garden so fair?
You may live in this garden if you keep the grasses green,
And I’ll return in the cool of the day…

“Now is the cool of the day;
O this earth is a garden, the garden of my Lord,
And he walks in his garden
In the cool of the day.”

An excerpt from “Now is the Cool of the Day” by Jean Ritchie

By Michael M. Barrick

JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – On Tuesday, Nov. 11, residents of North Central West Virginia will have an opportunity to learn from those who have been most impacted by fracking in the Mountain State. A grass roots group of citizens from Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Harrison, Doddridge, Wetzel and other counties will hear from the folks who have had their air and water polluted, their peace disturbed, and their roadways made dangerous.

The town-hall type forum organized by the citizens will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Assembly Hall at Jackson’s Mill, which is located between Weston and Jane Lew in Lewis County. That location was chosen because the fracking industry is assaulting the people and land of Lewis County at an alarming rate, and because Consol Energy held a forum at the same location in September that accomplished nothing except to insult the people who came to have their voices heard.

Enjoying time with my granddaughter in the woods

Enjoying time with my granddaughter in the woods

While those in attendance at the Consol forum left with more questions than answers, that won’t happen at this grass roots meeting. The organizers have made sure of that by bringing in a number of people who have become unwilling experts on fracking methods and industry tactics, neither of which are pleasant. The main presenter will be Bill Hughes, a 36-year resident of Wetzel County. Also present will be Jody Mohr of Salem, Julie Archer of WVSORO, and Diane Pitcock with West Virginia Host Farms. Other presenters, experts and community organizers will be present.

I have been privileged to work with the group of people who have put this event together and will be participating as moderator. As such, I will simply strive to ensure that we have a civil, orderly and informative meeting that allows as many voices as possible to be heard. However, that does not mean I don’t have an opinion on fracking. I do. Those who have been reading my series on hydraulic fracturing know that. As a healthcare professional and researcher – and as someone who respects the fragile ecosystems which support life, I am convinced that fracking’s harms far outweigh any perceived benefits.

We are hoping for a large audience, as the hall can seat 300 people. I am eager to see people educated, and in a civil manner. Why? Because I have seen the joy in my granddaughter’s eyes when she walks through the woods, picks up a pretty leaf or admires a lovely flower. She is fearless, holding squiggly worms and chasing after chipmunks. We have walked, hand-in-hand, in the cool of the day. In doing so, we have connected to the “Spirit in the Sky” because of what nature offers.

NASA images show that we are destroying the planet. We are killing ourselves. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. We must set aside our differences and protect the earth which sustains us. If we do not fight, we are culpable in the destruction of our children, grandchildren and subsequent generations.

We cannot ignore the facts. So, whether it is through prayer, or writing, or music, or advocacy, or simply planting a garden, or sharing a book, we have to act. Will we succeed? I don’t know. The odds are against us. But it is our job to use whatever gifts we have to sound the alarm. Then, if we are ignored, the problem does not rest with us. But if we say nothing, just resting comfortably in our material lives, we are as guilty as those intentionally destroying the environment for profit.

Life is a gift. The earth sustains that life. So, we must act. If not us, who? If not now, when? This is our time. We cannot surrender to the merchants of death and destruction.

Come to the forum. Attend with a spirit of unity and community. Now is the cool of the day. Let us treat the earth as the garden of the Lord that it is.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project. Learn more here.

Halloween in West Virginia – Many Treats, One Nasty Trick

By Michael M. Barrick

Halloween always conjures many memories of growing up in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Virtually all of the recollections are treats. However, there is one dastardly trick I will always remember.

First, though, I wish to focus on the treats.

The first treat was the costumes that my mom made for us every year. She would ask our wishes and out of our imaginations came costumes from her fingers and sewing machine. My favorite costume was that of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. It would have made a Broadway costume designer envious. It was complete with a tail that if I didn’t hold onto, would swipe my little sister in the face.

On the big night, mom would stay home and give away the candy to the neighborhood children. Making the costumes must have been joy enough for her, for it was Dad that always got to walk us through the neighborhood for us to collect our treats. Or, maybe it was her trick on my dad. Either way, it was a treat for us.

The other treat I recall is of time with Dad. He traveled a great deal in his job, so time with him was always coveted and special. We did sometimes have to fight him off, especially if a Hershey’s bar was dropped into our bag. If it had almonds, it didn’t even make it into the bag. By the time we got home with full bags and worn out feet, dad’s pockets were full of empty candy wrappers.

It is these lovely memories of treats that makes the trick all that more painful. That is because we lived on a dead-end street in a quiet neighborhood, full of children, consisting of the cobblestone streets on which we played. Our back yard was bordered by Elk Creek, had two ponds, and a canopy of trees. It was my sanctuary.

That home, however, no longer stands. Using the trick of eminent domain, the state tore it down to build what is now the Joyce Street exit of U.S. Rt. 50. Yes, I still have the memories. But what I don’t have is the opportunity to show my children where I grew up – where I came to be the person they know.

But I’m learning to accept it for a simple reason – not even that vile trick can deprive me of the lovely memory of the treats of walking through darkened streets with my sisters in costumes made by our mom, our dad tagging close behind.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

Victim in Fracking Truck Accident had Warned Commissioners of Roadway Dangers

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

By Michael M. Barrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

A convoy of fracking trucks pass through Weston

A convoy of fracking trucks pass through Weston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

Voices Out of the Wilderness

Soloists becoming a chorus in opposition to fracking

By Michael M. Barrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

April Keating shares her insights on fracking at La Paix gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fearless Climber

By Michael M. Barrick

Before Sarah and I moved back to my native state of West Virginia in the middle of 2013, we lived in another place that we consider “Almost Heaven” – a cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a few miles south of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The cabin and the 57 acres it sits on offered the desperately needed sabbatical I required after a stressful life season.

It offered a time in a place that is the definition of peace. I helped my uncle and others build the cabin on the edge of Cold Creek, at the end of a hollow. I spent many days hiking up to the high peaks in the neighboring Pisgah Forest.

Cold Creek

Cold Creek

I valued the time alone, but also enjoyed visits by a friend of 40 years. We would sit outside enjoying the sunshine or moonshine – and sometimes both. We allowed the days to linger. We would take the occasional hike. But we never gathered up the gumption to tackle the ridge nearest to the cabin, as it is nearly straight up and full of rhododendron that are as formidable as they are beautiful.

That all changed one day when I was watching our granddaughter, Atleigh. She was a mere four-years-old at the time. The three of us were sitting along the side of the cabin, basking in the sun, listening to the creek. As we sat there, I did what friends often do – I offered a challenge. “Rick,” I said, “you feel like climbing that mountain?”

Before he could say “No,” or I could back out, Atleigh jumped out of her chair, turned to us both and declared, “I’m a climber! Are you?”

The Fearless Climber

The Fearless Climber

Now that was the ultimate challenge. So, without another moment of thought, we were climbing. I barely kept up with her and Rick was falling behind. He hesitated. Atleigh would have nothing of it. “Come on Ricky!” she exclaimed. “You can do it!” Inspired, he persevered. In time we reached the peak.

What awaited us was a panoramic, 360-degree view. To the north was Grandfather’s Mountain. To the south, the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. To the east and west, saddleback ridges. Rick found an old path and disappeared into the woods. Atleigh and I found a rock. She sat on my lap, her long legs hanging over mine, her head rested against my shoulder.

The little fearless climber that I cradled with my arms had taught two old men a valuable lesson – never, ever lose your sense of adventure. If you do, you will deprive yourself of unspeakable joy.

© Michael Barrick, 2014. This essay aired on “Inside Appalachia,” a program of West Virginia Public Radio. “Inside Appalachia” is heard on West Virginia Public Radio at 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday; it can be heard on numerous partner stations throughout Appalachia. Listen to it here..

Incompetence and Complacency Increase Dangers from Fracking

Gas leak in Doddridge County, W.Va. is a sentinel warning

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the fifth 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.

The leak of approximately 120 gallons of natural gas liquids into the air in Doddridge County, W.Va. on October 9 should serve as a sentinel warning to those supporting the fracking industry and all of those impacted by it.

While it is true that the leak in the Smithburg area of Doddridge County is not related to fracking, that is not the point; rather, what we need to consider is the incompetence and complacency that led to the leak – and the response to it by those charged with protecting the public health and safety. In short, it shows that the gas industry cannot be trusted, and emergency response officials have a lot to learn and improve upon.

A vapor cloud led to a massive traffic jam, injuries to at least two workers, complacent remarks from gas company officials and admissions by emergency officials that they experienced serious communications breakdowns.

This is concerning, considering the rush by gas companies to build fracking sites all over northern West Virginia, in particular in Doddridge County. Naturally, gas company officials claim that fracking is safe. The evidence is quickly mounting to the contrary. From mutated amphibians to workers exposed to carcinogens – and much more – fracking is being proven to not be worth the jobs it is creating.

In response to the accident in Smithburg, a gas company official was quoted in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram as saying, “During routine loading of natural gas liquids (NGLs) to a tractor-trailer at what’s called a ‘load out’ facility, a leak occurred.” Note the use of the word “routine.” That is a deliberate attempt to downplay the incident. For the workers injured, for the homes evacuated, and for the motorists stranded, it was anything but routine. This is the type of language we can expect from gas companies and all of those in the fracking industry as they destroy the environment and kill people.

The only response to such language is, “cowpatties.”

The gas official was also quoted as saying, “Two employees at the facility were evacuated by medical professionals. However, no one was injured.” Really? A first responder at the scene had a different response. The newspaper reported that he said, “…that two employees were treated at the scene for difficulty breathing.”

Who do you believe?

Also of concern is the acknowledgment by the director of the Doddridge County Office of Emergency Services (OES), Pat Heaster. He told the newspaper that he was not notified of the incident. For those unfamiliar with emergency response, that is an inexcusable lapse. It is the director of OES who is responsible for coordinating disaster response in a county. It is hard to do that when you don’t know there is a disaster.

It is also maddening that he blamed technology. “We’ve had problems with dispatch reaching pagers due to the topography and antennas. We must determine want went wrong with communications.” While technology is a problem in West Virginia, there are still landline telephones. And, one would suspect that police officials or other knows where he lives and from where he works. They certainly could have notified him.

Heaster promised that the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) would meet next week and discuss the problem. If the Doddridge LEPC operates as most others in West Virginia, I would not hold my breath. Or then again, maybe we should.

© Michael Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC. He also works in healthcare as an emergency manager and holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. He can be contacted via email at michaelbarrick56@gmail.com.

From ‘Almost Heaven’ to ‘Almost Hell’

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.

A banner displaying the word 'peace' in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale

A banner displaying the word ‘peace’ in several languages greets visitors at the farm of Myra Bonhage-Hale

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.”

Sign on the front entrance of La Paix

Sign on the front entrance of La Paix

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.

Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio

Myra Bonhage-Hale in her studio

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.