Tag Archives: Monroe County WV
Judge concludes proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline does not benefit the people of West Virginia as required by state law
By Michael M. Barrick
UNION, W.Va. – This village barely more than a block long is customarily quiet and peaceful, serving as the seat of government for Monroe County, which is framed by the Greenbrier River and the high peaks that form the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest. As such, it is a mixture of breathtaking valley farms, soaring mountains and historic structures.
For months, though, it has been the scene of turmoil as local citizens have been battling with companies seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The 42-inch diameter MVP would be approximately 330 miles long, running from North Central West Virginia and through Monroe County into south-central Virginia.
At issue is whether or not West Virginia’s eminent domain law allows MVP to access private property to survey prospective routes prior to FERC rendering a decision. MVP argued so; local residents said otherwise.
Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert Irons concurred with the citizens here on Aug. 5.
After a morning trial, Irons ruled that MVP had not demonstrated that the proposed pipeline provided sufficient public use for the people of West Virginia, as required by West Virginia eminent domain law. Irons issued a preliminary injunction sought by Bryan and Doris McCurdy of Greenville, who were represented pro bono by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
Natalie Cox, the Corporate Director of Communications for EQT, a company seeking approval to build the pipeline, said, “While we respect the Court’s bench ruling, we will review the written order once it is received and consider out options going forward.”
Nevertheless, Irons’ ruling was applauded by two environmental scientists and a Monroe County resident that have visited northern West Virginia – where construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline is underway and fracking is widespread. After visiting the Marcellus Shale fields of northern West Virginia, the three have been warning their communities about the human health risks and ecological destruction that accompanies the gas companies’ extractive processes.
Laurie Ardison, who has been active in grassroots efforts in Monroe County, said, “I believe it is time for citizens’ rights to emerge again. This ruling is absolutely appropriate. Property owners should never have to live in fear of uncontrolled, unfettered, unethical gas industry intentions.”
Dale McCutheon served as a county sanitarian in seven West Virginia counties at different intervals. He is a registered sanitarian with a Master’s in Environmental Science. He has conducted surface and ground water studies for federal, state, and county governmental agencies as well as local organizations.
A resident of Union, he said, “Water-related issues are of special concern to me. Of particular concern to Monroe County residents is the potential impact to the county’s water resources. The proposed routing of the pipeline through areas of steep terrain and karst topography – which provides the majority of the county water supplies, both public and private – threatens the most precious and essential resource. Monroe County does not, as many adjacent counties do, have a river to provide a continuing water source, so the loss of water resources due to an impact of a pipeline would have an unalterable effect on the health and well-being … of the residents.”
Autumn Bryson is an environmental scientist who recently concluded a Sediment and Erosion Control Assessment of the Stonewall Gas Gathering construction activities in northern West Virginia (soon to be published on the Appalachian Chronicle). She works out of neighboring Greenbrier County. She remarked, “As an environmental scientist, I am very concerned that these companies want to be above the law when it comes to our land and resources. We need more judges and people in leadership roles to have the courage to stand up to the oil and gas industries and let the corporate employees know that they need to abide by the laws like every other responsible human being.”
McCutheon, whose ancestry goes back six generations to the original settlement of the area in the late 1700s, and who has spent his professional life working on environmental and health concerns, pointed out, “Monroe County has, heretofore, primarily due to the lack of coal, oil and gas reserves, not been subject to the degradation that has taken place in much of the state as a result of exposure to the activities of the extractive industries.”
He continued, “Its mountains are unscathed, its streams are still pure and free-flowing and its farm fields remain verdant and green. The people of Monroe are strong-willed, independent folks who highly value their rights to privacy and full enjoyment of their properties, and strongly resist efforts by anyone, including government or private entities, to encumber or diminish those rights.”
Ardison concurred, saying, “This is why we have a constitution in the first place. I urge anyone reading this to speak up and claim their rights.” She concluded, “We’re strong and proud people in this state. Let’s work together to keep it wild and wonderful.”
© 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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Consequences – devastated lives, destroyed communities and devalued homes – are indisputable
By Michael M. Barrick
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – I first learned of fracking several years ago while living in North Carolina. What I learned from my initial research quickly convinced me that it presented risks to people and the environment and thus required further study. A few years later, in May 2012, I had my first exposure to fracking. Visiting a farm in Doddridge County, I had to dodge numerous huge trucks entering and exiting the narrow, one-lane road. Upon arriving, I learned from the owner that the trucks were a constant presence in their formally quiet hollow. It was all part of construction activities associated with building a well pad.
Later that day I got a disturbing introduction to fracking’s impact on a community’s quality of life. Climbing to the highest point on the property with several others, the customary, comforting sounds of nature – birds chirping, a light breeze rustling the leaves, a squirrel scampering up a tree – were interrupted by an ominous pounding. It was heavy equipment preparing the site for the well pad bringing the never-ending flow of trucks into the heretofore quiet valley.
Then, a little more than two years after that, when I was working in a local hospital, I was called to the emergency department because a patient had presented with exposure to an unknown chemical. He had been injured at a well pad site. He and his clothes had been soaked by the frack fluid being used to fracture the rock thousands of feet below. He was complaining of burning eyes and skin. He did not know what chemical he had been exposed to, and there was no Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on site so far as he knew, he told me.
Because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with, I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. He agreed. Essentially, the questions were phrased so that we could learn what we were dealing with, if it was likely we’d see it again, how many others workers could be exposed to it, and any other risks that it might pose. The worker understood his answers would benefit others; however, when his supervisor arrived from the field, he told the injured worker he should not answer any more questions. Intimidated, he clammed up. I had seen enough though. The young man was clearly in pain, the odor of the chemical(s) on his clothes nauseating, and his company representative didn’t want him talking. I suspected we were dealing with some bad stuff.
So, my first impression of the fracking industry was that “being a good neighbor” isn’t important to them. Extracting gas, regardless of the cost to people and the environment, is. This, combined with the history of the energy extraction industry in West Virginia and the science regarding fracking’s impact upon people and the environment, has caused me to conclude that fracking must be banned.
What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also heaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.
West Virginia’s challenge: crony capitalism and inadequate disaster preparations
As I’ve written elsewhere, the crony capitalism practiced among West Virginia’s industrial leaders, politicians, courts and even law enforcement has enriched a few over the state’s 152 year history, but not without much human degradation and environmental destruction. Indeed, by the turn of the 20th century, three men – U.S. Senators Johnson N. Camden and Clarence Watson, as well as Judge A. B. Fleming – controlled all of the mines along the Monongahela River in West Virginia, as well as the railroad lines.
From these unholy alliances, we have had over a century of mining disasters, the Mine Wars of the 1920s, and tragedies such as the Buffalo Creek disaster in 1972, when a waste containment pond owned by Pittston Coal Company burst, allowing135 million gallons of water, sludge and mud to form a 30-foot high wall of debris that rushed through the valley below, killing 125 and displacing thousands.
While this history applies to the coal industry, it is safe to say that the natural gas industry holds as much sway over West Virginia’s political institutions today as coal barons ever did. And, it also has a history of tragedies. And, the shenanigans continue. The indictment of Don Blankenship for allegedly contributing to the unsafe conditions which led to the Upper Big Branch mining disaster than killed 29 miners, the indictment of former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern for his alleged role in the Elk River contamination in January 2014 and the $2.3 million civil penalty that XTO Energy is paying for illegally dumping fill material into streams and wetlands in Harrison, Marion and Upshur counties are all examples of why the energy extraction industry in general cannot be trusted. There is simply too much wealth under the Mountain State’s hills and valleys for it not to be exploited – at whatever the cost. That is our history.
In light of West Virginia’s political history, the last lines of defense against catastrophe so long as fracking continues are state and local disaster officials. Frankly, with a few notable exceptions, that is worrisome.
Let us consider Lewis County as an example. It is currently among the most active fracking counties in the state, with hundreds of fracking wells planned. The amount of truck traffic traveling along U.S. Rt. 33 through town and then west towards Glenville is significant. One can stand downtown and count literally dozens in just minutes. They travel along narrow roads, wearing out the surface, causing property damage and injuring other drivers. Yet, the county has disbanded its HAZMAT team, meaning that a spill of hazardous chemicals or materials associated with the industry will pose a threat to the public and environment until help from outside arrives. In the minutes of the meetings from the Lewis Upshur Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) over the past year or two you will find little or no mention of fracking.
Sadly, that is likely the case in most of West Virginia’s counties. The LEPC is charged with conducting a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) for its community, and then develop an Emergency Operations Plan based on that HVA. So, residents should be asking several questions. Have risk assessments for fracking been conducted by the various LEPCs in those counties where fracking is occurring or planned? If so, what conclusions were reached? If not, how could emergency response officials, let alone residents, possibly know what risks the county faces because of fracking? In Doddridge County, which has as much fracking activity as anywhere in the state, officials there were recently complacent – if not incompetent – about a fracking accident there.
All disasters begin and end locally. So clearly, with most local governments in West Virginia not aware of the dangers of fracking, let alone developing emergency plans for them, can the people of West Virginia count upon the state government to fill the gap? Hardly. While there are people at the Department of Environmental Protection that want to help, they are limited by statute in their roles and influence. Meanwhile, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – again, staffed with some fine people – is prevented by law from holding LEPCs accountable. They have regional representatives that attend the meetings, but have no say over the LEPCs work – or lack thereof. That leaves the responsibility with the county commissioners, who are responsible for public health and safety. Unfortunately, they usually delegate that authority to the LEPC – meaning responsibility is abdicated to those unwilling or unable to reach a consensus on the importance of assessing the risks of fracking.
Clearly, West Virginia’s history of crony capitalism and the state’s dysfunctional disaster planning and response systems are all factors which only aggravate an already dangerous industry.
Fracking record is one of death and danger
In addition to West Virginia having a history which should cause us all to be concerned, so does the fracking industry. It is true that hydraulic fracturing has been used since the late 1940s to extract natural gas and petroleum from the earth. However, the drilling costs have decreased, making its use cost-effective and hence widespread. Companies are drilling at unprecedented depths, using technology that one gas company employee told me, “is beyond our knowledge to manage it.”
Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:
1. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
2. Traffic Congestion
3. Water Use and Contamination
4. Air Pollution
5. Waste Disposal
6. Public Health Issues
7. Quality of Life Issues
8. Related Pipeline Development
9. Misuse of Eminent Domain
10. Climate Change
11. Potential Earthquakes
12. Industry Instability
One area significantly impacted by fracking in recent years is Wetzel County in West Virginia. Bordering both Pennsylvania and Ohio, the county is located in the heart of current Marcellus Shale development. Indeed, a group known as the Wetzel County Action Group has formed in response to the many hazards caused by fracking. One member is Bill Hughes, who offered a presentation to about 200 concerned residents at a grass-roots public forum in the Lewis County community of Jackson’s Mill last November. As he noted, he is an “unwilling expert” from his first-hand experience with the fracking industry.
Hughes, who is also a board member of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, shared 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. His first-hand observations are reinforced by considerable research.
1. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
Hughes told residents what many had already begun to discover for themselves. Site preparation involved an invasion of huge earth-moving equipment, all burning diesel fuel. Literally hundreds of trucks hauling stone go back and forth. Others are ever-present, working to prepare the well pad, access roads and holding ponds.
Site development is just the beginning. Well pad activity inundates a community with congestion, as well as noise, air and water pollution. Activity on a completed pad includes the running of drill rig diesel engines, auxiliary pumps, generator sets and other equipment – all day, every day. Once drilling is complete, up to a dozen frack pumps are run daily, each with about 2,000 horsepower. Also, several dozen to a hundred trucks a day deliver sand. Meanwhile, fine silica dust is blown into the air while transferring the sand to holding containers.
Flaring, a method of releasing pressure, sometimes brightens the night sky for weeks. But first, as Hughes noted, “Raw gas is released into the air, combined with a witch’s brew of the leftover down-hole chemicals in the well bore used in the drilling and fracking process.”
Hughes also shared, “Once wells are put into production, emissions from well sites will continue for decades. Emissions are from fugitive emissions from all the pipe fittings, separators, heater-treaters, condensate storage tanks, combustion burners and small flash gas compressor engines.” The consequence, said Hughes, is “Both intentional and accidental releases will also put raw methane into the atmosphere.”
Of course, the gas has to be transported, so the gathering pipelines present their own set of challenges. Reported Hughes, “Valves, gauges, test ports, pig launchers, flanges and all fittings will have some uncontrolled fugitive emissions. Blow-downs and pigging of the pipelines will release large quantities of raw methane into the air.”
Finally, there are the compressor stations. Hughes explained, “Most gathering pipeline will be connected to larger pipes which will go to a compressor station. There will be dehydrating equipment, condensate storage tanks, truck loading racks and very large quantities of regulated pollutants.” He pointed out that these are noisy locations, citing a location in Wetzel County with over 30,000 horsepower of compressor engines. Some people living close to them have characterized the sound as a never-ending jet engine sitting on a runway next to their home.
All of this activity leads to the other risks. Indeed, Jake Hays and Adam Law, M.D., writing for the Environmental Health Policy Institute of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), argue, “…the entire lifecycle of unconventional shale gas extraction is potentially polluting. This includes everything from clearing the land for the gas well pad, to initial hydraulic fracturing, subsequent recompletions, and the final capping of the well years or decades later after it is no longer productive.”
So, Hughes is not alone in his assertions. His first-hand accounts are supported by peer-reviewed research by physicians, scientists, public health officials and journalists. For instance, Barbara Gottlieb reported for PSR, “Besides water issues, other problems have been associated with hydraulic fracturing. The release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is one concern. Another is methane: Wellheads have leaked gases including methane, a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, local communities complain about the noise, vibration and diesel fumes from drilling operations and from the literally thousands of truck trips necessitated by the fracking process. In other places, earthquakes have been attributed to fracking, either from re-injecting the returned fracking fluid into abandoned mines or deep underground, or from the hydraulic fracturing itself.”
2. Traffic Congestion
According to Hughes, the problems with traffic congestion are many, including: damaged, dusty and muddy roads; broken electrical and phone lines; blocked roads and delays; dangerous big trucks; escorts and trucks driving left of center; signs and bridges damaged; large truck caravans; permanent loss of pasture, timber and farm land; and, increased demand on and delay of emergency services.
In Lewis County, resident Barbara Volk warned county commissioners of the dangers associated with the fracking traffic and then just a few days later was hurt when her car was rear-ended by a fracking truck. Though the company has settled with her for the damages caused to her car, four months after the accident she continues to wait for the company to accept liability for her medical costs, loss wages and other damages.
3. Water Use and Contamination
According to industry officials, each well requires at least five million gallons of water to mix with the sand and chemicals used in the fracking process. That water comes from public sources – streams, creeks, rivers and even reservoirs. First, there is a fairness issue to consider, as private companies operating for profit are essentially hijacking the most precious of earth’s resources. Additionally, the potential of drought should cause us to have a conservationist approach to water use; instead, we act as if there is an unlimited supply. There is not, as people all over the nation and planet are learning. Furthermore, reduced stream and river volumes adversely impact aquatic life. Also, according to FrackCheckWV, “The loss of fresh(er) water from streams feeding our rivers means that some of the beneficial effect of dilution is lost. Pollutants from other industries (coal, power, etc.) are therefore more concentrated at our public water intakes on rivers. Public treatment plants do not remove most pollutants such as salts, chemicals and heavy metals. Thus the pollutants pass through the system and out our taps.”
Hughes lists numerous other problems with water use caused by fracking, including: muddy streams from gas operations runoff; spilled drill brine fluids; streams, springs and rivers contaminated by drill waste; erosion and sedimentation of streams; spilled and dumped drill mud or cuttings; and, disposal problems.
Hays and Law confirm Hughes’ observations, writing, “These fluids are laced with chemicals used as friction reducers, biocides, corrosion inhibitors, etc….” They continued, ‘Flowback water’ withdrawn from the well after the fracturing process, and ‘produced water’ returned to the surface with the natural gas, introduce other toxic substances. In addition to the toxins put into the ground, these returned waters contain heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic), naturally occurring radioactive materials (e.g. radon, uranium, chromium), bromide, and chloride (brine).” Additionally, say the scientists, “Containment of these returned waters remains a problem and recycling (i.e. reuse for other drilling operations) accounts for only a portion of these toxic fluids. Flowback and produced waters are often put in evaporation ponds, which have been known to leak, contaminating water and soil and leading to documented instances of fish and livestock deaths.”
Yet, they note, “No suitable or concrete plans have been made for the treatment and storage of wastewater from shale gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region.”
Hays and Law also contend, “Water contamination due to natural gas operations associated with hydraulic fracturing has been documented.” They reported, “A Duke University study in Pennsylvania that tested sixty-eight water wells found that groundwater near drilling areas contained methane concentrations seventeen times higher than wells where drilling was not taking place.”
4. Air Pollution
The silica dust which pours out of fracking sites in large clouds through the processing of sand are clear health hazards. These silica dust clouds have been associated with tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and autoimmune disease.
The fracking process releases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and benzene, among other pollutants. According to FrackCheckWV, “…one of the most toxic types of air pollution is insidiously invisible to our eyes. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, such as benzene and formaldehyde, are released both intentionally and unintentionally from gas collection and treatment equipment. These chemicals contribute to asthma-inducing smog, are toxic to our organs and significantly raise the risk of cancer to those who inhale them. While our eyes cannot detect these emissions, infrared photography has recorded dramatic clouds of black VOCs issuing from gas facilities.”
In addition, Hays and Law point out, “Significant air pollution emissions come not only from natural gas drilling and processing operations, but from transportation as well,” noting that roughly 4,000 truck trips occur at each well.
5. Waste Disposal
Of the five million gallons of water that is used at a fracking site, as much as three million or so is left over for disposal. Presently, the industry has few regulations to guide their disposal and because of a decision by Congress to exempt the industry from the Clean Water Act, the exact content and composition of the fracking fluid is considered proprietary. This means that local emergency response, public health, and environmental protection workers cannot develop appropriate and complete emergency response plans.
In addition, once the wastewater is disposed of, whether on site or at an undisclosed location, it then mixes with the earth’s hidden threats, such as arsenic, mercury, heavy metals and radioactive materials. All of this can then leach into ground and surface water supplies.
6. Public Health Issues
The public health sector has not prepared for the impact of fracking, argue Hays and Law. “The recent boom in shale gas production has left the public health community scrambling to catch up.” They explain, “Epidemiologic studies often require significant time and resources (e.g. prospective cohort studies), which have been far outpaced by the rate at which shale gas operations have developed. Environmental and health-related governmental agencies have lacked the capacity to adequately investigate public health considerations of shale gas extraction. There are political interferences as well, and currently there are no members on state and national advisory committees with recognizable public health expertise.”
7. Quality of Life Issues
Jill Kriesky, who has a doctorate in economics, authored the essay, “Socioeconomic Change and Human Stress Associated with Shale Gas Extraction” for PSR. Sharing a personal experience, she wrote, “Spending a few hours in towns in the active Marcellus Shale drilling region of Pennsylvania provides even a casual observer with sights and sounds of undeniable community change. Thousands of diesel-powered trucks carrying water, chemicals, and equipment to and from drilling sites roar through towns and rural landscapes, creating traffic jams and degrading already poor-quality road surfaces. Local hotel, temporary industry-built ‘man camps,’ and restaurants are filled with an influx of drilling teams from Texas, Oklahoma, and other points south and west, here only long enough to drill and frac, then move on to another site. A visitor who spends a little more time chatting with social service providers, town leaders, and long-time residents will hear about additional stressors that lie below the surface. Homelessness is on the rise among those who have long struggled near the economic margins, and are now forced from inexpensive housing by landlords seeking higher rents from gas workers.”
What she observed is common throughout the region. In Harrison and Lewis counties in North Central West Virginia, rental prices have grown exponentially to where even a small home or apartment rents for nearly $1,000. Some homes rent for double and triple that. As one hourly worker who makes just a little over minimum wage observed from his home in Weston, “This has become a town of haves and have-nots. There is no middle class left.”
Homeowners, too, are impacted. Property values decrease as much as 75 percent, making getting loans for mortgages or upkeep nearly impossible. It also precludes selling one’s land if one wants to get away from fracking operations.
8. Related Pipeline Development
While the gas industry would like to separate the issues of fracking and the development of at least five pipelines in West Virginia and surrounding states, the two issues are inseparable. One does not exist without the other. The destruction that the construction of a 42” pipeline would cause to mountains, streams, drinking water, endangered species and property values is directly connected to the existence of fracking. The pipelines, in particular the proposed 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the somewhat shorter Mountain Valley Pipeline, are currently mapped to go through three national forests and some of the highest peaks of the Allegheny Front. Even industry officials have expressed doubts about this route. Alluding to one of its southern “alternate” routes, a Dominion Energy official wrote, “Of great significance is the jumbled arrangement of ridgetops south and east of Thorny Flat. The mountain ridges in this area . . . consist of a jumbled mass of peaks and ridge tops. Trying to cross this terrain with a 42-inch pipeline results in a combination of steep side slope traverses and up and down approaches to ridgetops, requiring heavy equipment winching on both sides of the ridge from a narrow staging area on top. . . . Slope restoration and stabilization would . . . be difficult to achieve…”
This is why Dominion and its partners have applied for a permit to go through the Monongahela National Forest (as well as the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests). However, as the National Forest notes on its website, “…the Monongahela straddles the highest ridges in the State. Elevation ranges from just under 1000′ to 4863′ above sea level. Variations in terrain and precipitation have created one of the most ecologically diverse National Forests in the country.”
So, regardless of where the companies attempt to cross the Allegheny Front, they will have problems. They will either have to use a route they consider undesirable, or go through land set aside for all U.S. citizens to enjoy. Perhaps the forest routes are preferable because the energy companies hope that once the permits are approved, oversight will end.
Despite the strategy of inevitability that the gas companies have adopted regarding the various pipeline projects, they are experiencing some stiff opposition to the proposed routes, but not just from environmentalists. At least one public health agency has been proactive. The Monroe County, W.Va. Board of Health, writing the Forest Service in opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), asserted it “…is firmly opposed to the construction and installation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through any route in Monroe County.”
The primary concern expressed by the board is due to the karst topography of the region. Writing for the board, Dr. J. Travis Hansbarger, argued, “Chemical, fuel and oil spills during construction will go unfiltered into caves, underground streams and drinking water.” He added, “Groundwater in karst areas can travel as quickly as a few thousand feet to over a mile a day.” Noting that the current proposed route for the MVP passes within a few hundred yards of a creek’s headwaters, he observed that the drinking water of roughly 4,000 people – including those in a nursing home, an assisted living facility, two medical clinics, several day care centers and three public schools – would be threatened. He also cited the industry’s history of explosions, arguing, “Serious questions have been raised about the possibility of evacuation routes for these public facilities should an explosion occur.” In fact, the state of West Virginia abandoned an evacuation disaster drill planned for the region a few years ago because it was apparently easier to abandon than conduct. In short, though the scenario was about the failure of the nearby Bluestone Dam, the conclusion is the same – the state does not have the capabilities to evacuate the region, regardless of the disaster. This leaves the entire population close to the pipeline in Monroe County – and presumably anywhere else – quite vulnerable.
9. Misuse of Eminent Domain
From the beginning, say landowners, the energy companies have bullied their way onto people’s land, generally through threatening the use of eminent domain. This is true for both fracking operations and pipeline development. Last September, hundreds of people turned out at Jackson’s Mill to hear from officials with Consol Energy explain how fracking would impact their communities. However, 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.” The lack of transparency led local residents to hold a forum of their own about six weeks later. It also left them wondering just exactly what the intentions of Consol are.
Meanwhile, in Randolph County, Joao Barroso has spent nearly a year doing battle with Dominion because the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is mapped to pass through his property. Speaking to a community gathering in Mill Creek last autumn, Barroso vehemently disputed the company’s claims that it would improve the environment of his land or be fair to him economically. He also took issue with the way in which the company first dealt with him. “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 me, mentioning eminent domain and the importance of the survey.”
He has held firm through the winter months and continues to negotiate with Dominion in ways – if successful – could lead to significant changes in the way landowners are compensated by gas companies, should the pipelines be approved.
10. Climate Change
According to Hays and Law, “In the atmosphere, methane contributes to global climate change, which in turn affects human health in a number of ways, including heat waves, extreme weather events, flooding, water contamination, sea level rise, expansion of insect ranges and populations, worsening air quality, crop damage, and social instability and conflict.” Indeed, methane from fracking traps nearly 90 times as much heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In short, fracking is aggravating climate change.
11. Potential Earthquakes
In Oklahoma, which is also a “land-rush” state because of fracking, an unprecedented level of earthquakes is being experienced. Historically, the state would experience about only two earthquakes annually of at least 3.0 magnitude. However, in 2014, the state experienced 567 such quakes. According to the Washington Post, “Scientists implicated the oil and gas industry – in particular the deep wastewater disposal wells that have been linked to a dramatic increase in seismic activity across the central United States.” While industry officials try and pressure state scientists to downplay the connection and outraged citizens write demanding action to the problem, “Both the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey have confirmed a connection between the recent oil and gas boom and a sharp uptick in seismic activity in Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, and Ohio, as well as Oklahoma,” according to the Post article.
Clearly, with this evidence, West Virginia emergency planners now need to add earthquakes to their Hazard Vulnerability Analyses. In light of the convoluted nature of the Mountain State’s emergency preparedness efforts, that is almost certainly too much to expect at this time.
12. Industry Instability
Finally, the industry is not as stable as it would have the public believe. Officials planning a “cracker” plant near Parkersburg have said recently that they are reconsidering their plans. The plant, if built, would convert gas liquid into polyethylene, used in many plastic products. In short, like any industry, the gas extraction business is not immune from market forces – most of which are beyond its control. The geopolitical situation that has developed as a result of Russia’s aggression in Europe and growing instability in the Middle East is impacting the livelihoods of those hourly workers trudging in the mud every day for Halliburton, Dominion and the others. So, just as quickly as a coal miner would find himself turned out of his home when the steel industry began its decline, so too will a gas field worker find himself in a home with a $1,500 monthly rent payment – or mortgage – and no paycheck to cover it, when forces far beyond his control put him on the unemployment line.
The benefits of fracking are championed daily by the energy extraction industry. It boils down to two messages – “We create jobs,” and “Gas is clean.” We have already seen that the energy industry cares about producing jobs only when it is to their benefit. Even though this industry will create, at best, a generation of limited employment, we are already witnessing layoffs within the industry. Why? Because, at the moment, other energy products – oil in particular – are less expensive. So, the two benefits cited by the gas industry simply are not reliable. What is reliable, though, is the science that reveals that there at least a dozen dirty reasons to oppose fracking, because it is not “clean.”
So, as the Physicians for Social Responsibility did five years ago, we call for “…a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing until such time as impartial federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develop and implement enforceable rules that provide adequate protection for human health and the environment from fossil fuel extraction processes that use hydraulic fracturing.”
In the interim, perhaps West Virginia University could fulfill its mission of serving the people of West Virginia by sending its public health students to the field to study fracking. It could implement a training program for emergency preparedness officials. Our political system could use a shot of ethics. Perhaps WVU or another state university or college would establish an Institute of Political Leadership from which would come the state’s future political leaders. There, they would be trained not in ideology, but in the fine art and dirty work of governance and compromise.
The people are waiting. Our institutions – industrial, political and educational – need to catch up. The Forest Service was overwhelmed with letters expressing opposition to the pipelines dissecting our national forests. Roughly 125 people in Monroe County stood in unison when county commissioners there tried to end a meeting with pipeline officials who were not answering questions. In Lewis County, more than 200 responded to a call to learn about fracking and its dangers.
Meanwhile, gas company officials are counting upon West Virginians to remain “docile,” as one gas company official said in a local paper. Elise Keaton with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association thinks that is a mistake. She said, “Clearly, he is not from here. We may seem ‘docile,’ but if that man was being completely honest with these folks about just a few jobs, decreased property values, loss of land, dangers from leaks and explosions he would probably see a different reaction.”
Knowledge is powerful. For now, the energy companies seem to be bulldozing through West Virginia and neighboring states with fracking activities and pipeline route preparations. Yet, as more West Virginians and all of those who care about social and environmental justice learn about the dirty dozen reasons to oppose fracking, it just may be the people who are moving earth (and heaven) to rescue what is left of “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business 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.
Michael M. Barrick is an experienced freelance journalist based in West Virginia. He holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.