Dangers of fracking, benefits of Clean Energy in West Virginia are covered in the 28-page newspaper, Renew West Virginia
By Michael M. Barrick
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One of the most established and influential environmental and social justice organizations in West Virginia is printing and distributing 29,000 copies of its own newspaper – Renew West Virginia.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) stated in a news release, “The publication … examines the health and pollution impacts of the fracking boom in other areas of West Virginia, and details fracking-related projects proposed for the greater Huntington area. It also explores the nationwide growth of renewable energy and related jobs, with a focus on the renewable energy efforts underway in Cabell and Wayne counties.
It will be distributed to residents of Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Jackson and Roane counties. It is being sent to those “ … who reside near some of the proposed pipelines and their associated compressors stations,” explained OVEC in the statement. It is also available online.
The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline, as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.
The newspaper has been published, said OVEC in its release, to answer the question, “What is our energy future?” The question is timely, argued the organization. It noted, “A total of nine large diameter pipelines are proposed to come through the Huntington area. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, which are largely completed already, the fracked-gas pipelines proposed for the Huntington area are not yet in construction, and some are still in the planning phases.”
It continued, “Columbia’s Leach XPress pipeline is planned to bore under the Ohio River near Camden Amusement Park, and Columbia’s Mountaineer XPress pipeline is currently in the public comment phase. There is also industry discussion now about fracking the very deep Rogersville Shale which underlies the Huntington area.”
As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.” – OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson
There is a better way, argues OVEC in Renew West Virginia. OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson said, “All across the United States, a new energy for citizen action is emerging. We need to tap into that energy and work with others concerned about the severe climate impacts of these planned developments in our neighborhoods.” She continued, “As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.”
Robin Blakeman, OVEC’s project coordinator, added, “We see the problems our neighbors in north central West Virginia have faced with the rise of deep shale fracking-related activities. We’ve published Renew West Virginia because we want to make certain that people know deep shale fracking-related activities are not the same as our grandfathers’ oil and gas industry.” She added, “Renewable is doable! We can choose to move West Virginia’s economy into the 21st century by embracing cleaner renewable energy.”
Indeed, the impact of fracking upon the state’s northern counties, as well as residents in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere are revealed in the newspaper. On page 3, under the headline, “Not Your Grandfather’s Oil and Gas Industry,” a new fracking well pad dwarfs an older well. With that startling contrast catching your attention, readers are informed, “To learn what this oil and gas rush would mean for our communities, we look to our northern neighbors. Explore these pages to learn more about what our region faces, about fracking-related activities, and about cleaner, healthier alternatives.”
A number of topics are covered, including the growth of renewable energy. There is also a section on the Rogersville Shale field – 12 to 14 thousand feet under about 12 counties in West Virginia and several more in Kentucky – which is in the sights of the gas industry. The Marcellus Shale, in contrast, is about 5,000 feet below the surface. The publication asserts, “If the Rogersville Shale is extensively developed, the Huntington/Wayne County area would be harmed by unprecedented deep fracking, with much of the oil and gas apparently slated for export overseas.”
Additionally, the publication points out that much of the gas being extracted from the West Virginia shale fields are earmarked for export, despite federal regulations designed to prevent that. It shows how a state court victory for citizens could thwart industry plans to export the gas they seek to extract. The ruling prevents gas companies from accessing private property. Hence, depending upon other factors, the ruling could severely limit construction, and hence production and, ultimately, export of the fracked gas. Consequently, the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, not to mention the many adverse impacts of fracking, could conceivably be severely restricted by West Virginians firmly standing for their rights.
In that decision from a case in Monroe County, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Monroe County Judge Robert A. Irons ruling that landowners do have the right to prevent pipeline surveyors from coming on their property to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). This was a clear win in checking gas companies’ abuse of eminent domain. He ruled what MVP’s attempts to get on private property without permission based on the premise of eminent domain is illegal because it was “private taking for private use.” In other words, the pipeline is not for public benefit, affirmed the court, but for the profit of the energy companies building them.
Other issues explored include public health and environmental complaints in Pennsylvania; the impact upon water supplies from depletion of lakes to pollution through leaching; earthquakes occurring where none had before the fracking boom; public health impacts, ecological risks, and overall nuisances of fracking well pads; and, a review of the impact of nine proposed pipelines, many of which would run under or near the Ohio River.
Readers are also encouraged to know and defend their rights. “Folks in West Virginia living along the paths of these proposed pipelines are advised: If pipeline land men come looking for you, know your rights! OVEC can suggest knowledgeable and trustworthy lawyers.”
The dangers of compressor stations are illustrated vividly through the photo of a child who was part of a health study in New York. As noted in the caption, residents suffered from asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and rashes. On the same page, readers learn. “The Pennsylvania Medical Society has called for a moratorium on new shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
In-depth reporting is provided on the “typical steps” for a Marcellus Shale gas operation. Numerous photos tell their own stories. Radioactivity in fracking well waste is explored. The paper notes, “In December 2016, the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters reported on a study that found some well waste from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania contained radioactive material not previously reported, with the potential for leaching from landfills into the environment.” Over two pages, Renew West Virginia thoroughly reviews the science that proves fracking creates radioactive waste. Furthermore, they note that disposal of it is barely, if at all, regulated.
The newspaper also includes news of grassroots victories against pipelines; points out that the clean energy economy employs four million people in the United States; and, provides extensive analysis of solar energy.
OVEC will distribute copies of Renew West Virginia at an informational meeting at 6 p.m. on Wed., March 15 at the Main Cabell County Library, 455 9th Street (at the corner of 5th Ave. and 9th St. in downtown Huntington).
To contact OVEC or to learn more about Renew West Virginia, click here.
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.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Insight revealed at Marcellus Academy of West Virginia Sierra Club
By Michael M. Barrick
BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – Fracking poses clear, serious and even deadly public health risks said two experts on the topic at the Marcellus Academy, an educational initiative of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The event – held June 27th and 28th at West Virginia Wesleyan College – was the fifth such gathering said Liz Wiles, the chairperson of the Sierra Club in West Virginia.
Dr. Mike McCawley, of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, and Dr. Jill Kriesky, of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP), discussed public health research and assessments regarding the health threats associated with fracking; each also touched upon policy challenges and suggestions.
Breaking the ‘Pathway to Exposure’ the first step; multiple diseases identified
Kriesky said that her organization’s objective is to provide accurate, timely and trusted public health information and services associated with natural gas extraction.
Hence, the EHP first focuses its response on breaking the pathway to exposure, explained Kriesky. This is done by warning the vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children and those with asthma and respiratory diseases.
The group monitors air and water quality and is beginning to do the same with soil. It offers community outreach through partnerships with watershed groups, community groups and those concerned about the placement of gas wells near schools.
They also conduct health assessments, though, revealed Kriesky, “We don’t recruit people. They find us. People know when they’re sick.” Health assessments include gathering a full health history of the client, vital signs and symptoms, determination of exposure (including researching the potential of occupational or household source exposure), and recommendations for further medical consultation, and cutting off the pathway of pathogens.
The group has had enough clients now to predict when people will begin presenting with symptoms. Noting that the agency does not have a “control group” for research purposes, she said, “All of Washington County (Pa.) is within one mile (of fracking activity). The whole county is essentially a control group.”
Kriesky said that 113 people have met the screening criteria, meaning “they have to have a plausible exposure.” Illnesses of the respiratory, dermatological, eye, nose and throat, gastro-intestinal, cardiac, neurological, psychiatric, endocrine and ear systems were documented.
Kriesky pointed out that 60 percent of the 113 people reported nose and throat illnesses, 58 percent neurological symptoms, 57 percent psychiatric illnesses and 53 percent had respiratory symptoms.
Kriesky said, “A skeptic might ask, ‘How many people have you seen,’ but we ask, ‘How many does it take?’ There is pretty decisive evidence that these are health impacts – chemical and non-chemical – from fracking.”
She encouraged attendees to challenge elected officials. “This is about policy. It is worthy of action. We need to do something about it.”
In fact, EHP has put forth some specific proposals.
It is proposing a health registry which would provide data for long-term research that would inform public policy. The group prepared a white paper on the health impacts of fracking, data on emissions and a compilation of existing health registries. It also held a national workshop that proposed the development of registries from NGOs and existing data; proposed a “case definition” of what a person impacted by unnatural gas development looks like.” Kriesky explained, “It would help practitioners understand that if you see this, then you are seeing symptoms related to Marcellus shale development. That does not exist now.”
Kriesky said immediate steps can and should be taken, such as requiring that fracking activities be moved a safe distance from places where there are vulnerable populations, such as schools.
McCawley challenges EPA, tells about fracking research station
McCawley, meanwhile, called for improved and expanded monitoring of dust and other particulates by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such as those emitted by diesel engines.
Those people most vulnerable to the damaging effects of fracking – those living closest to it – are showing signs of pediatric asthma, cardiopulmonary disease and cancer, said McCawley. He argued additional research must be conducted, but accused the EPA of being an impediment to further and refined studies. “They know about it. They aren’t doing anything about it,” asserted McCawley. He added, “It’s the not regulated part we should be concerned about.”
McCawley argued that even though disease rates are increased in fracking areas, the EPA does not measure particulate matter associated with fracking – for instance dust and diesel fuel – at small enough levels to accurately assess their impact upon people. Researchers, for instance, are finding people experiencing inflammation that is association with any number of diseases. “That’s a problem,” McCawley insisted, adding, “Anything that can cause inflammation in the cell can cause disease.” So, he said, he looks for opportunities to metaphorically “kick the EPA in the shin.” He did here.
The EPA, said McCawley, is not measuring appropriate dose levels of particulate matter that cause cancer, affect auto-immune and neurological systems, and pass through the placenta, causing birth defects and diseases. He asked, rhetorically, “Should there be regulations for this? I think so. Maybe I’m out on a limb on this.”
In the interim, WVU is measuring particulate matter from its own experimental gas well in Morgantown. McCawley said the university will monitor exposure levels, health records from hospitals, and medical symptoms, in particular those associated with cardiopulmonary diseases.
Wiles said the information was valuable. “I was surprised to learn that the EPA is doing monitoring in a way that does not give the correct picture on particulate levels.” She hinted at some action in response. “This could be an initiative for us this year. It is yet another example of how fossil fuels in general are bad not just for the environment, but people. They go hand-in-hand.”
This one issue is an example of the work facing the Sierra Club, said Wiles. “We are very much about grass roots, local people working on local issues. We want the people of this state to know the consequences from Marcellus development.” She concluded, “Then, go out and educate folks in their communities.”
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We all lose when we allow corporations to exploit and divide us
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: This is the third 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.
While gas industry leaders, environmentalists and public health experts debate the health and safety risks to people and the environment caused by the controversial gas drilling method known as fracking, the greatest threat it poses to West Virginia is being overlooked – fractured relationships.
We already see this in the coal industry all over West Virginia. Bumper stickers proclaim our loyalty. We are either “Friends of Coal” or we declare, “I love mountains.” The former group supports mining, the latter stands in opposition to it. Indeed, this conflict has been captured beautifully by West Virginia native Kathy Mattea on her album, “Coal.” Those who have seen her in concert have heard her speak with pride about her family members that worked in the mines, even as she plays songs that lament issues such as black lung disease. In short, when it comes to the value of coal mining, we are a people divided.
The same is true over fracking, the process of extracting natural gas from deep underground through horizontal drilling. While energy industry officials insist the process is safe, many of those living closest to it, insist otherwise, pointing to the noise pollution associated with the construction of well pads; the flaring that produces fierce, bright flames that light up the night sky; pollution to ground and surface water; and, the impact upon the narrow, harrowing roads throughout the region.
As a researcher and practitioner in the public health sector, I am convinced by those being impacted by it. However, as concerned as I am about public health and safety, as well as the environment, what most bothers me more is the disharmony that is already occurring between neighbors because of it. We are letting the debate divide us into camps. It is easy to see. At a Consol Energy public forum held at Jackson’s Mill recently, neighbors stood outside the Assembly Hall arguing with one another. Elsewhere in Lewis County – where fracking is just now gaining a strong foothold – neighbors have quit speaking to one another.
I’d like to say that this is not the West Virginia way. We’re recognized by outsiders as friendly, neighborly people. But we have allowed the energy industry to divide us for a century. And this battle is just beginning.
So, we must pause and ask ourselves: Shall we allow this to happen – again? If so, West Virginia will not be divided into winners and losers. Rather, when we are at each other’s throats – when we have fractured relationships – we all lose.
Only we can prevent that.