Tag Archives: Tom Bond

West Virginia Senate Bill 508 Would be a Gift to Energy Industry

So-called ‘Nuisance’ legislation filed after more than 200 state residents living in fracking fields filed nuisance suits against Antero Resources and others

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – Here in the heart of the Marcellus Shale fracking fields, more than 200 residents determined to protect their health, land and lifestyle, filed suit against Antero Resources and two other energy companies more than a year ago. Tired of intrusions upon their health, land and even ability to sleep at night, the citizens hope to recover compensation for damages that the gas industry has caused in this region of the state from site development and well pad activity; traffic congestion; water use and contamination; air pollution; waste disposal; public health issues; quality of life issues; and, eminent domain abuse.

More and more, it feels like the residents of this state are viewed by ‘our’ representatives in the same dismissive light as any other animals inhabiting the land; that we have no more rights than the deer or groundhogs do.” – Mary Wildfire, a resident of Roane County, W.Va.

While that litigation is currently scheduled for trial in May if the litigants do not reach an out-of-court settlement, the energy industry’s representatives in the West Virginia State Senate aren’t waiting to see what the courts have to say about the impact of the energy industry upon the state’s residents. West Virginia State Senator Ryan Ferns – along with six co-sponsors – has introduced Senate Bill 508, which would severely curtail the criteria for residents to file a nuisance suit against the energy extraction industry. The bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary committee on Feb. 4, the same day it was introduced in the senate.

As stated at the end of the bill, “The purpose of this bill is to establish the standards applicable to the common law claim for private nuisance. The bill lists elements and establishes requirements including the requirement that physical property damage or bodily injury exist before a person can seek damages for a private nuisance. The bill also prohibits private nuisance claims if the activity at issue is conducted pursuant to and in compliance with a permit, license or other approval by a state or federal agency or other entity. The bill also requires a plaintiff to have either an ownership interest or possessory interest in the property at issue to have standing to bring a private nuisance claim.”

Proponents argue that West Virginia is too litigious of a state and this bill will help create a more suitable business climate.

Residents, especially those exposed to the impacts of fracking the past several years, have a different view. They say that the bill, if passed, would severely limit their rights as landowners and provide the energy extraction industry with far too much protection from liability for the damages it causes to people and communities.

Mary Wildfire, of Roane County, argued, “It seems to me that gas companies enjoy quite enough privilege in this state. They can slap a huge well pad on the land we spent years working to earn the money to buy, and more years working to build a house and farm on. Most of us don’t own the mineral rights and have neither any say in this, nor do we derive any benefit. They can make noise and light and fumes sufficient to drive us from our homes for months; they can permanently damage the water we depend on, and we’re supposed to be satisfied with truckloads of water filling outdoor tanks; we can’t get compensation unless we can prove that our water didn’t have the contaminants before drilling, a prospect which not only costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, but is rendered virtually impossible by the fact that the companies don’t even have to tell us what to test for. If our land happens to lie on the path they’ve chosen for a pipeline, they’re entitled to take as much of it as they like for that. If there are risks due to these massive pipelines, that’s our problem.”

She asked, rhetorically, “Is the convenience and profitability of the gas companies the legislature’s only imperative here – or do we who live here matter at all?” Answering her own question, she continued, “More and more, it feels like the residents of this state are viewed by ‘our’ representatives in the same dismissive light as any other animals inhabiting the land; that we have no more rights than the deer or groundhogs do.”

Nancy Bevins, of Uphsur County, said, “It is clear some of the state legislators want to reduce the cost of extraction by transferring damage done by gas drillers and strip miners to the rural folks living in and near these sacrifice zones. I would guess most legislators can afford to live in an area unaffected by such activity. But not everyone has that option, or the desire, ability and funds to move. Can you imagine working your entire life, settling down in your home to finally retire, only to have your neighbor allow a well pad on the border of your property?  Six hundred feet from your home?”

She added, “Residents of our state deserve protection from outside multimillion dollar corporations. What SB 508 does is to revise the definition of a nuisance suit almost out of existence. This bill favors corporations over middle class and poor West Virginia citizens.”

She concluded with the plea to state lawmakers: “Please vote no on SB 508!”

Tom Bond, a farmer in Lewis County, said, “Obviously, this is an intent to take away precisely what common law nuisance was intended to cover. Under the definition in SB 508, if you don’t have grounds for an ordinary lawsuit, you can’t bring a nuisance suit.” He continued, “There would be no way to redress aesthetic values, or rights established by custom or habit. It places persons taking initiatives for short-term private gain over those with long-time established interests. It also favors those who would violate legal prohibitions against actions that might injure people in the neighborhood or downstream or downwind.  In other words, it advances a ‘cowboy’ attitude in those doing business other than the usual business in an area.”

John Cobb, also of Lewis County, offered, “Among the most basic and fundamental rights we enjoy are property ownership and the ability to be safe, secure and comfortable in our homes. For hundreds of families whose homes are near the Marcellus Shale and other shale drilling activities, compressor stations and the roads to these sites, they can no longer enjoy their homes or their land.  Rather that protect the rights of these families, proposed SB 508 strips them of those rights.”

He continued, “You have the right to do what you want on your own property, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of your neighbors and others in the community to enjoy their property. If your activities affect others, they can hold you accountable under nuisance law for violating their private property rights. Nuisance occurs when activity on one property interferes with the enjoyment and use of your property, but no physical trespass or invasion to your property occurs. ‘Nuisances’ don’t stop at the property line. The law of nuisance recognizes that real injuries exist even when the activities do not cause injury to people or property.”

Bond, who is also a retired chemist, observed that legislation designed to benefit the extraction industry ignores economic realities. He said, “Coal is a walking corpse, producing lots of money for a very few and a few jobs, is on the way down. Its waste condemns it to ‘least desirable’ position among familiar fuels, and, in spite of what little regulation the state forces on it, converts thousands of acres of West Virginia to wasteland each year. At least three major coal companies are bankrupt.”

He added, “Unconventional gas and oil drilling are wobbling like a drunken sailor. At best it is a ‘transition fuel’ to renewable sources of energy, and money has been spent, and continues to be spent, like the sailor did while becoming drunk. People in the discovery and production end of the business enjoy bright hope, but have high cost of production, transportation and liquefaction, and ignore huge supplies near the big markets, Europe and China.

Bond concluded, “It is clear some of the state legislators want to reduce cost of extraction by transferring damage done by frackers and strippers to the rural folks living in and near these sacrifice zones. They can’t conceive of any way to improve life in West Virginia other than knuckling down to coal, oil and gas interests, and this new initiative is about the only advantage they can confer, since laws and enforcement are already so favorable to those interests. “

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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SB 508 sponsors and contact information

Ryan Ferns, a Republican from Ohio County, is the bill’s primary sponsor. Information about Ferns and the co-sponsors are listed below.

  • Ryan Ferns, (R), Ohio County, represents Senate District 1, which includes most of the state’s northern panhandle. He is chair of the Health and Human Resources and Labor committees. Email: ryan.ferns@wvsenate.gov
  • Ron Stollings, (D), Boone County, represents Senate District 7, in the southwestern coal fields. He serves on the Health and Human Resources committee. Email: ron.stollings@wvsenate.gov
  • Art Kirkendoll, (D), Logan County, represents Senate District 7 with Stollings. He is on the Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: art.kirkendoll@wvsenate.gov
  • Craig Blair, (R), Berkeley County, represents Senate District 15, which includes much of the eastern panhandle. He is Vice-Chair, Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: craig@craigblair.com
  • Mitch Carmichael, (R), Jackson County and Majority leader, represents Senate District 4, which includes counties in shale fields of central West Virginia near the Ohio River. Email: Mitch.Carmichael@wvsenate.gov
  • Jeff Mullins, (R), Raleigh County, represents Senate District 9, which includes southern coalfield counties. He, too, sits on the Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: jeff.mullins@wvsenate.gov
  • Corey Palumbo, (D), Kanawha County, represents Senate District 17, which includes portions of Kanawha County, which is home to the state capital of Charleston. He is on the Health and Human Resources committee. Email: corey.palumbo@wvsenate.gov

 

Related Articles:

A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking

W.Va. shale fields fertile ground for nuisance lawsuits (Energy Wire)

Citing Medical Studies, Activists Call for End to Mountaintop Removal Permits

Fracking Poses Threat to Public Health, Say Experts

 

Related Links:

West Virginia Senate Bill 508

Petition to Oppose SB 508

WV Senate Districts Map

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The Conflict between Dominion Theory and Stewardship

The earth’s resources are not unlimited

By S. Tom Bond

All we eat, much of what we wear, much of our buildings, and much of our quality recreation depends on the biological world. In the biological world, energy is supplied by sunlight, and materials are recycled over and over. What dies and decays is recycled by microorganisms and used by the next, over and over. We don’t find dead, undecayed dinosaurs.

The same is true of humans, at least until lately. An early Western explorer observed that when you got to a Native American village you might think, “Here is the dump, where is the village?” But in the Stone Age, the volume of trash consisting of animal and plant remains would disappear in a decade or so and go back to the earth. About the only remains from the Stone Age are arrowheads, scrapers, a few trinkets, and, in protected locations, things that haven’t decayed yet.

When the proto-industrial age began, a new system became the rule: extract a mineral, process it into something useful, use it, and discard the remains. No decay! The extraction stage took something out of the earth, destroying what lay over it and around it. The processing stage required energy, at first supplied by wood and charcoal, but when the industrial age began in earnest about two hundred years ago, fossil fuel use began to operate much like extraction of raw materials, destroying the biological world around where it takes place. The final step is to discard the used products, which don’t decay.

The consequences of this last step are very significant. Solid waste is everywhere. I pick it up out of my meadow where it is thrown by passersby. Little dumps used to be up every hollow, (the remains are quite common through the countryside) but now trash is hauled to a few central locations where it is carefully contained between layers of earth and plastic to extend its life. Much is dumped in the ocean, making great deserts on the bottom in some places. The ocean has many places where it is full of plastic – hundreds of pieces per cup of seawater, down to microscopic bits, that sea creatures eat and which kill them.

Soluble and suspended industrial byproducts enter water and are carried away to enter municipal water intakes and poison creatures that live in and near the streams. Even fish that live deep in the ocean are being affected by chemicals used for medicines, cosmetics, solvents, plasticizers and other compounds that microorganisms do not degrade. Geologists have given a name to the new layer we humans are forming on the earth, which will be quite conspicuous to researchers in the future – the Anthropocene.

When the first copper, bronze and iron were made, the earth’s population was relatively small and the human “footprint” was also small. As the population grew, industrial waste became more abundant. The Romans, 2,000 years ago, found some areas contaminated and degraded, but added considerable more to it. The lead from the Romans is more conspicuous in the geological record than anything until the Spanish began to smelt silver in the 1600s in Peru. The Romans used lead for pipes for water and lined their cooking pots with it; those rich enough to afford these luxuries poisoned themselves, slowly and unknowingly.

Today, the problem is that the new cycle that sustains huge and growing populations is weak at every point. There are limits to what can be extracted. The term “extractivism” has been defined to describe the belief that this new, non-biological paradigm can go on forever without breaking down. It is popular with corporations, some economists and some others. In religion it takes the form of belief it is God’s intention for man to dominate the earth. The opposite view is that man is a caretaker of the earth that God made “and found good.”

Naomi Kline expresses it this way, “Extractivism is a nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one purely of taking. It is the opposite of stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continue.”

In addition to depletion and pollution, extractivism can be blamed for colonialism and war, as western nations determined that outsides have as much right to a nation’s resources as to that nation’s citizens. The other consequence of extractivism is climate change. Despite clear scientific evidence of it, politicians funded by the fossil fuel industry continue to deny its existence. As a result, we end up with policies formulated in the halls of Congress that essentially ignore the consequence of imperialism and global warming.

The resources of the earth are not limitless. Capitalism can work in a climate of cooperation and consideration of the needs of others. It doesn’t have to be dog-eat-dog process based in the politics of elimination that serves only the top dogs.

Tom Bond is a retired chemistry professor and a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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.

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/appalachianpreservationproject
On Twitter: @appchronicle

Interesting Times for Fossil Fuel Industries

International economics and politics impacting U. S. fossil fuel production

By S. Tom Bond

After beginning to rise in late January and February, the price of oil has begun to go down again. Statements made by the Saudis indicate they are aware of the coming end of the Age of Oil, and they intend to produce as much of it as possible before it looses its value. They have a tremendous advantage compared to the recent developments in extreme extraction-fracking, deep-sea drilling and Arctic drilling. Wells are already in place for their oil, and it only costs $20 a barrel to produce – prices which are well below the cost of extraction for the new methods.US dollar

Extreme extraction, including mountaintop removal, has been extremely successful – in attracting complaints, as its costs go far beyond what is put on the balance sheet. They include damaged aquifers, contaminated surface water, health effects, loss of surface property productivity and value, along with living handicaps for people in the neighborhood of extraction, and expense to local governments. As a result, lawsuits and scientific research are impacting extreme extraction techniques.

Global climate change due to burning hydrocarbons is accepted by 97 percent of scientists studying it, and most opposition is traced back to think tanks devoted to protecting carbon burning. The challengers are funded by the businesses they seek to protect.

Extraction is a mature process struggling to achieve marginal improvement, yet receives vast subsidies. Alternate energy, such as solar and wind power continue to make considerable advances, in particular solar technology. The University of Cambridge, UK, has recently announced a new process that will reduce the cost of solar-grade silicon by a factor of five. One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price.

The international oil companies have major problems. The total extraction by the seven “majors” has declined by over 10 percent since 2009, even though they have raised their capital expenditure by 40-70 percent during that time. Their share of global production has fallen from 12.7 percent to 10.4 percent.

Intertwined with energy is the problem of the U. S dollar requirement for buying oil. After World War II, the U. S. dollar was tied to gold, and at the Bretton Woods Conference it was decided to make it the sole currency for international exchange. This made it necessary for countries to get U. S. dollars to pay for oil. When Richard Nixon was in office, the dollar was taken off the gold standard and allowed to float. At the present time, countries still have to buy oil in dollars, which acts as a wealth pump for the United States, since it can create new dollars, and no one else can.

This is an increasingly sore spot for world trade in energy. Those who have tried to sell for other currencies make for a sad list: Saddam Hussein, who took Euros; Muammar Gaddafi, who wanted gold-backed currency; and, Iran is selling oil in its bourse for several different currencies.

Now Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar. Two great pipelines are planned from Russia to China for natural gas, with construction to begin soon. Both need the exchange. There is no need for the dollar there, certainly. What happens when the dollars come home? A new investment bank is being set up by the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to compete with the World Bank.

Presently the U. S. is a great military power. It spends more money on its military than the next 14 countries combined, and the others don’t count for much. The U.S. has bases all over the world with brushfire wars going in half a dozen places. The population is exhausted by these continuous little wars, and the draft remains quite unpopular. Even drone pilots are having enough after one tour of duty. The VA hospitals are a mess.

Russia is now in the place where the United States was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This time the U. S. has missiles within easy range of Russia, but both have an ample supply of atomic warheads to set the whole world on fire.

These are interesting times, indeed.

Tom Bond is a retired chemistry professor and a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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.

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