From the Alleghenies of West Virginia to the Blue Ridge of Virginia, citizens joining forces to battle fossil fuel industry over public and ecological health
JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – West Virginians facing crucial quality of life issues with the onslaught of the deep shale oil and gas industry are banding together for the sake of their communities.
On December 15, more than 40 people representing 30 citizen groups from across West Virginia, as well as one Virginia group, gathered to meet one another and to discuss each group’s work surrounding deep shale oil and gas issues.
The various groups and coalitions work to address one or more of the detrimental impacts of oil and gas production on communities, human health and the environment that arise from activities associated with deep shale hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
Their concerns include property rights; air, water and noise pollution; compressors stations; water withdrawal from our state’s streams and rivers; pipelines; wastewater treatment facilities; waste disposal and waste transportation; as well as public policy proposals looming when the West Virginia Legislature begins its regular legislative session this January 2016.
Attendees included representatives of community action groups, based in areas where the rural way of life and the environment are directly impacted by fracking/gas, as well as members of statewide organizations such as the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Also in attendance were leaders from the faith community, scientists and public policy/economic professionals.
“Monroe County citizens are broadly mobilized to focus on blocking the development of frack gas infrastructures,” said Monroe County resident Laurie Ardison, who is with Preserve Monroe and POWHR, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights. POWHR is an interstate coalition group working to protect the water, local ecology, heritage, land rights and human rights of individuals, communities and regions from harms caused by the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures.
“We have an opportunity to develop clean jobs with renewables and cheaper energy efficiency programs. Locking us into fossil fuels for the future is going to pull us away from forward thinking economic development,” said April Keating with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.
“Clearly, we can increase our capacity and impact when we work together towards common goals,” said Janet Keating, the principal organizer of the meeting and executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington.
“Coming together from across the state working on various issues related to shale gas development, we learned common concerns connect us,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We see a need to work together to set the best way forward for a healthy environment and economic future for our state.”
“There are negative health consequences for the people who live near fracking sites. It is time for policy makers and the industry to recognize that people who live next to natural gas facilities are paying a high price,” said Conni Gratop Lewis of the West Virginia Environmental Council.
Another attendee stated, “The meeting was an energizing experience for me. I had been feeling a bit burned out lately, but now I feel like we may have a chance of beating this assault.”
“From pipelines cutting through the highland mountains to waste inundating the lowland fields and wetlands, the recent boom of oil and gas development is as harmful to many as it is economically beneficial to a few,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “As the region celebrates any short term economic gains, we must also fight to preserve the air we breathe, the water we rely on, the forests we enjoy, and the health of those who live near the drilling and production operations.”
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2015
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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.”
© 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. Learn more.
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Three years after Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, Appalachia and all of the planet is as vulnerable as ever to fossil fuel industry
April 22, 2018 — Three years ago this morning, I was having breakfast with our daughter Lindsay in Charleston, W.Va., reflecting upon the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference we had organized with the help of countless of others. It has broken up the day before, and we allowed ourselves an extra night int he Mountain State’s capital to visit our favorite restaurant for dinner — Leonora’s Spagetti House.
We were hopeful. Despite a steady, cold rain that morning, the outlook we took from the conference reflected that spring morning; while it was cold and rainy, the grays and browns of the West Virginia winter had finally turned green in the Kanawha Valley. Indeed, during the warm and sunny days of the conference, the 50 or so gathered often looked longingly out the window at the budding leaves gently moving from the invisible breeze.
But we stayed inside, because we were gathered for a common and critical purpose — preserving Appalachia and all of the planet. We presumed, as you will read below from the article posted shortly after the gathering, that people from all backgrounds and disciplines could and would agree that the earth is sacred because it is the source of life.
We did. However, three years later, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has been crushing all efforts at preserving our air, land and water. EQT (Pittsburgh), Dominion (Richmond), and Duke Energy (Charlotte) have set up a nice little triangle of fossil fuel dominance in Appalachia. Since 2010, they have bought the legislators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal and state regulatory agencies have ignored the law and will of the people and greased the tracks for the very companies they are supposed to hold in check.
I am saddened, but I am in awe of our allies (many mentioned below) that continue to fight the good fight to preserve Mother Earth. On this Earth Day, let us recommit ourselves to being part of that fight. — MMB
Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference
Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.
The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.
It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.
The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.
The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.
Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.
Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.
As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”
Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”
Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”
Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”
© 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.
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