Tag Archives: West Virginia

A Year after Historic Flooding in West Virginia, Documentary Photo Project Launched

West Virginia Rivers Coalition invites volunteers to document lasting flood impacts to the Elk River in pictures

Charleston, W.Va. – Marking the one-year anniversary of the devastating flooding that impacted many parts of West Virginia, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a nonprofit organization focused on river conservation and restoration, is launching a crowd-sourced photo documentary project on one of the impacted rivers – the Elk River – to document lasting effects of the flood.

WV Rivers logoPeople interested in contributing to the project can go to WVRivers.org to download a free app to their phones called Water Reporter. The app allows users to upload photos to an online map, creating an inventory of potential cleanup projects. Anyone who spends time on or by the river is invited to contribute.

Although much of the Elk River is once again open for recreation, there are still dangerous spots containing debris like household appliances, tires, and home furnishings.

Executive Director Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, observed, “Several affected communities still have a long way to go to fully recover. Seeing the river restored to its health and beauty is part of that healing process. This project is a way for people to help identify areas of the river itself that still need attention.”

The photo documentary will be on display during West Virginia Rivers’ Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle. Scheduled for Labor Day, Sept. 4, at Coonskin Park, the free event invites paddlers of all ages and skill levels to participate in a 3-mile float on the Elk River ending at Coonskin Park. Paddlers will be welcomed with a free picnic and family-friendly Elk River festival once they are off the river.

The Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s SPLASH event series and benefits the West Virginia Headwaters Waterkeeper, a program of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. For information on the Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle and the Elk River photo documentary project, visit WVRivers.org.

For more information on the SPLASH Event Series, presented nationally by Toyota, please visit www.splashseries.org.

Courtesy article

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Don Blankenship Got by with Murder

His shameless contempt for working people is business as usual in West Virginia

By Michael M. Barrick

I was with my uncle once when he was appealing a local property tax assessment. He was told that he had the right to appeal, but that the appeals board could, if it wanted, actually raise his taxes if they deemed it appropriate. They could also uphold it, or reduce it, but that initial caveat was enough to give pause.

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Don Blankenship (Credit: Wikipedia)

It’s too bad that isn’t the scenario faced by Don Blankenship as he appeals his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. He just recently completed his paltry one-year prison sentence for that conviction, which was based on charges after 29 coal miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine, which at the time was owned by Massey Energy. Blankenship was its CEO and court testimony revealed that he was intimately involved in the conscious efforts to violate mine safety standards – violations that eventually led to the explosion that killed the UBB miners. These facts were supported by the “Report to the Governor” by the Governor’s Independent Investigative Panel. It characterized the April 5, 2010, explosion: as “ … a failure of basic coal mine safety practices.”

So, if there was justice in this country, Blankenship could appeal, but would face these options, as did my uncle:

  1. Conviction upheld
  2. Conviction overturned
  3. Conviction upheld, and the judges rule that the one-year sentence was a perversion of justice and that Blankenship is to immediately be returned to prison for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately only the first two options are available. So, the families of those killed at UBB are again subjected to another news cycle of Don Blankenship pretending he is not only innocent, but as he wrote in his little pamphlet after his conviction, “An American Political Prisoner.”

Meanwhile, surviving family members of the UBB tragedy are unwilling prisoners to the memories of their lost loved ones, for that and photographs is all that is left of them.

This, sadly, is too typical of the stories out of West Virginia. Don Blankenship got by with murder. His self-published book is infuriating; his continuing denials and appeals nauseating.

The state of West Virginia is the poster child for the horribly negative effects upon working class people by crony capitalists. This is not news. Sadly, to a large extent, the people of the Mountain State have brought this upon ourselves. We elect people to office who not only refuse to ensure proper laws and regulations are in place to protect miners and all of the state’s workers, but also instead roll them back.

The discovery of coal, gas and oil throughout the state in the 19th century led to an unholy alliance among industrialists and politicians; to this day, it continues to subjugate the people of West Virginia for its own personal profit. The judiciary is next to useless, as it is full of minions financed by – you guessed it – Blankenship. The new governor, Jim Justice, not only has a record of ignoring and delaying payment of fines for his own mining operations, he is the state’s richest man. He talks the game, but his record suggests that his preferential concern is for his cronies, not his constituents.

wv-dep-logoMeanwhile, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is known throughout the state as the “Department of Everything Permitted.” And, that was before Justice purged it of previous top officials who were constantly criticized by environmental and public health advocates. In comparative hindsight, they were true champions of the people. So, despite the evidence of extreme threats to public health and the environment, Mountaintop Removal permits are rubber-stamped by DEP, despite the best efforts of citizens and environmental groups such as Coal Mountain Watch, OVEC, and countless others.

Meanwhile, anyone attending the various meetings for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline has witnessed the collusion among industry, politicians and law enforcement, in scenes reminiscent of the West Virginia Mine Wars when private detectives and local cops worked for the coal companies. At one meeting in Jackson’s Mill in 2014, I saw several hundred residents – some who had driven more than two hours over the state’s winding roads – leave in total disgust. They saw that the cards had been stacked against them before they walked through the door. What had been billed by industry officials as a “town hall” was really an opportunity to spew forth propaganda. They aligned themselves as if at a trade show. There was absolutely no opportunity for citizens to ask questions in a public forum that would have allowed for give-and-take. The gas company knows how to silence citizens. But just in case they failed, standing outside were several county deputies dressed in full riot gear.

The message was delivered loud and clear: We’re in charge, this is a show, and there is nothing you can do about it.

It is this absolute control of West Virginia’s economy and political system by the fossil fuel industry that allows them to be disdainful of the people of West Virginia – and to cause Don Blankenship to delude himself into thinking he’s a political prisoner. The truth is, he is simply another fat cat conducting business as usual in West Virginia, and getting by with murder in the process.

State seal_old goldWest Virginia’s state motto is “Mountaineers Are Always Free.”

Well, we aren’t. In fact, it is we, not Don Blankenship, which are the political prisoners. If only we had the fight in us that Blankenship has. How long will we be prostrate at the feet of the likes of Blankenship?

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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To receive a PDF of the Governor’s Independent Investigative Panel on the UBB disaster, send an email to michaelbarrick56@gmail.com

Mountaintop Removal Semantics Debate Gives Ammunition to Energy Industry

Dispute is a distraction causing some environmentalists to miss the forest for the trees

By Michael M. Barrick

WESTON, W.Va. – On April 27, five environmental groups released a statement pointing out that the plans for the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would include widespread destruction – what they termed “decapitation” – of nearly 40 miles of mountain ridge tops along the proposed route, including just a few miles from here.

In alerting the public to the devastating impact of these plans by Dominion Resources, the groups issued a news release with the headline, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Trigger Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” In response, the groups were attacked by some other environmentalists who claim that what is planned by Dominion does not constitute Mountaintop Removal (MTR).

High-Mountain-Crossing_900 DPMC

This graphic from the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition shows where mountaintops would be removed for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Though here pipeliners would cross the ridges, there are 38 miles of mountain ridge tops – 19 each in West Virginia and Virginia – that they would reduce from 10 to 60 feet.

In fact, it has led to quite an online discussion – a discussion that has been relatively polite but undeniably silly. I fail to see the consternation over making a distinction. Dominion is planning on removing the tops of mountains. What else to call it? Calling it what it is does not diminish the horrors of MTR as we’ve come to see it. However, failing to call this type of pipeline construction MTR does diminish the horrors it will unleash upon our communities and the land that supports them.

So, when we received the news release, we headlined our article, “ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” I’ve had a couple of readers object to the use of the MTR moniker. I have responded that at the Appalachian Chronicle we will continue to call it Mountaintop Removal because that is what it is. Whether the fossil fuel industry extracts gas, oil or coal, the outcome is the same: destroyed sacred mountaintops.

Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.”

This type of discord within the environmental social justice community is exactly what Dominion Resources and their co-conspirators in the fossil fuel industry want. What is most disturbing is that it is a self-inflicted wound.

The odds are stacked against us. Let us not get bogged down in semantics; in doing so, we give ammunition to the energy industry. Let us agree, that when you remove the tops of mountains, create millions of tons of overburden, destroy streams and forests, and harm public health, what you are doing is MTR. The scale is irrelevant. Destruction is destruction.

And Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Just three days remain to submit comments to FERC about the ACP

By April Pierson-Keating

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The comment period on the 42” Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”

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Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County with heavy sediment resulting from the Stonewall Momentum pipeline construction in the summer of 2015. This would be the fate of thousands of miles of watershed should the ACP be built. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property on the pipeline). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, and public health, or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC.

Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property – water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.

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A convoy of fracking industry gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

The evacuation zone a pipeline this size is 2 miles.  If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS layered maps at http://www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission, or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations, or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property value (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will runoff into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42” monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and tributaries nine times, and cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the stream bed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this project (bear in mind this is info given to the FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The DEIS says the work tours will be 6-12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety, public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be locally hired? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy rates. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools, and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the DEIS yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp

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In this standard operating procedure for the natural gas industry, pipeline construction passed within 100 feet of this home in Big Issac, W.Va., creating a permanent safety risk and a long season of no sleep for residents during construction. The stream nearby was also compromised. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate Karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified, and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical, and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety, and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other types of energy – clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Companies like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the Power Plus Plan to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted on paper or electronically, at www.ferc.gov. Search for 556-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, click on the link for the DEIS, and choose the docket # for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge are also part of the picture.

© April Pierson-Keating, 2017. Pierson-Keating is with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance. To view their gallery of photos from pipeline construction and fracking operations, visit here.

Lindsay Barrick to Lead Caldwell Arts Council

Longtime Caldwell resident that benefited from the Council as a student is named Executive Director

Lindsay Barrick

Lindsay Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – The Caldwell Arts Council (CAC) is pleased to announce that Lindsay Barrick will become its sixth Executive Director, effective April 29. During her time as the CAC Social Media Manager, Barrick has overseen the creation and dissemination of content on various social networking platforms. She has been a long-time advocate and supporter of the CAC, other arts venues, and many individual artists, musicians, writers, and thespians.

She currently serves as Director of Programs and New Media for St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hickory as well as studio manager and printmaking instructor at the Hickory Museum of Art. A native of West Virginia, she spent most of her formative years in Caldwell County. Barrick is passionate about the arts and the people of Appalachia.

She said, “I am honored and thrilled to serve an organization I have loved since I was a young girl. It will be my great joy to continue the important work of Caldwell Arts Council: introducing school children to live theatre through our Artists in Schools program; preserving traditional Appalachian music through JAM; encouraging participation in poetry and acting through our annual competitions; supporting non-profits and individual artists in their vital efforts through grants; and presenting opportunities for artists and musicians to share in the thrill of exhibiting their craft.”

Barrick continued, “I also look forward to developing new ways to connect our community members and the arts. I have tremendous respect for former Executive Director Lee Carol Giduz and current Executive Director Adrienne Roellgen. I know much can be learned from their leadership.” She also praised the current staff, volunteers and board, adding, “Launi, Cathy, Bob, our dedicated volunteers, generous board members, and I already work so well together. I’m excited about the possibilities going forward.”

Barrick said, “Adrienne will continue to serve as Executive Director through April 28. We appreciate her enduring enthusiasm and love for Caldwell Arts Council. We wish her and her family the very best as they begin an exciting new chapter in Los Angeles.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.

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OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Dangers of fracking, benefits of Clean Energy in West Virginia are covered in the 28-page newspaper, Renew West Virginia

By Michael M. Barrick

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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.

OVEC pipeline map

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission 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.”

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Graphic from Renew West Virginia. Courtesy of OVEC.

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.”

OVEC Well pad flaring

A modern well pad. Note the flaring. Dangers also include storage tanks for explosive, volatile natural gas condensate. Courtesy of OVEC.

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.

OVEC cluster of trucks

Fleets of various large trucks, oversized for the two-lane highways of West Virginia, many hauling hazardous and radioactive materials, clog the northern counties of West Virginia, as well as part of other central Appalachian states. Courtesy of OVEC.

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.”

OVEC child with bloody nose

A child that was part of a health study in New York about the public health dangers of fracking. Photo: Minisink, N.Y. health study.

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.

Informational Meeting

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).

Learn more

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.

OVEC fracking process

Source of graphic: ProPublica; used with permission. Use does not imply ProPublica’s endorsement of any content of this newspaper.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Saluting the Red Admiral

Butterfly made daily afternoon visits during early summer days at West Virginia State Park

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A Red Admiral butterfly hanging out on the deck  of a cabin at Bluestone State Park in Hinton, W.Va. in late June 2016. Photo by Rick Carter.

By Michael M. Barrick

HINTON, W.Va. – This past June I had the fortunate opportunity to spend several days with a lifelong friend at a cabin at Bluestone State Park in southern West Virginia. Weather was ideal, so we spent our late afternoons just hanging out on the deck. My friend, always ready with his camera, noticed a butterfly flying about in a manner that made us question its sobriety.

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Bluestone Lake near Hinton, W.Va. Photo by Michael M. Barrick.

Eventually, it landed. Just about eight feet from us. He would sit on the banister of the wooden deck. This became an afternoon ritual. So, as you can see, my buddy Rick Carter had the opportunity to get some great shots of the Red Admiral butterfly. It wasn’t until we saw the photos up close that we appreciated this critter’s attitude. So, upon our return to civilization, I contacted some friends at The Center for Biological Diversity and they quickly identified our visitor. The Red Admiral likes moist, temperate environments, which is why we would find them visiting the thick Appalachian woods overlooking a lake.

Here is a little of what the Butterflies and Moth website has to say about the Red Admiral (to learn more cool stuff, visit the website):

Life History: The Red Admiral has a very erratic, rapid flight. Males perch, on ridgetops if available, in the afternoon to wait for females, who lay eggs singly on the tops of host plant leaves.

Adult Food: Red Admirals prefer sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and bird droppings; visiting flowers only when these are not available. Then they will nectar at common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa, among others.

In addition, our friend Tierra Curry with The Center for Biological Diversity sent this along: In her words, “Check out this amazingness.” Learn how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

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Bluestone Lake near Hinton, W.Va. Photo by Debbie Smith.

Saluting the Red Admiral! Just another reason to enjoy a quiet summer afternoon in The Mountain State.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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An Open Letter to W.Va. Governor Justice and DEP Secretary Caperton

On behalf of all West Virginians, I challenge you to serve the people, not your cronies in the fossil fuel industry

By S. Tom Bond

 Note: I have penned the following Open Letter to Governor Jim Justice and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton; I encourage you to do the same or join us in signing this by contacting the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance at MLPAWV@gmail.com or use the contact page. 

Editor’s note: Both Justice and Caperton have long careers as energy company executives and have records’ – including recent firings at WV DEP – that the state’s environmental groups find counter to the DEP mission as does the Charleston Gazette-Mail. To get a sense of how things operate in Charleston, read this admission by former DEP Secretary Randy Huffman that the DEP is compromised by crony capitalism.

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Lewis County Farmer Tom Bond tells his story in the Documentary Film ‘In the Hills and Hollows’ by Keely Kernan

Dear Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton:

How is the air down there in Charleston?  Still clean? Do you plan to move out into the country near some of the new Marcellus drilling industry? Maybe near a compressor station with eleven of those big engines, roaring and belching 24 hours a day?

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Jim Justice

Or perhaps near a well pad where there is 24 hour light and noise and chemicals and diesel smoke with lots of PM-2.5 coming out the exhaust. Particulate matter 2.5 microns or less is now known as a cause of Alzheimer’s-like effects, you know. Going to bring along your grandchildren and your Mom along? Families like that live out here, and the young and the old are particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals, smoke, fumes, and dust.

Maybe you are like the famous story on Rex Tillerson, who has inflicted that kind of misery on many thousands of people. Then he complained when a water tower to enable fracking was erected in sight of his own piece of earth.

Do you think those who drink water without the taste of chlorine shouldn’t complain when their well is poisoned with a complex mixture of water slickers, detergents, and anti-oxidants, antibacterial compounds, and God-only-knows what else? Maybe they deserve car-busting roads and interminable delays when they use public roads too?

I can see you demurring all the way from here. I think that you are like Rex Tillerson, the ultimate not-in-my-back-yard guy!

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Austin Caperton

So you are going to govern the state for all the people.  For all the people of West Virginia – like John J. Cornwell was governing West Virginia for all the people, including the miners, at the time of the battle of Matewan? Oh yes! Those corporations provided good living for officers and investors, but not miners. It’s been like that since West Virginia was established. Wealth carried off, mostly north and east, but occasionally to build a motel in Florida.

So I’m being a little hard on you. You are just doing it to bring jobs, jobs, jobs, you say?  You do realize gas and oil extraction are capital intensive and labor weak, don’t you? That once the drilling is done by those fellows brought in from elsewhere, they will go away and leave few permanent jobs? You certainly know several companies are developing automated drilling, so drilling labor will go the way of coal labor, too.

Oh yes! Obama killed coal the fable says. You really know better than that, don’t you? Coal companies, going to more mechanization, especially long wall and surface mining that can use huge equipment, killed coal jobs. That Obama fable was a tool, using prejudice and diversion of the truth, to affect voters who were slow to catch on.

What moral code do you have that allows collateral damage to rural residents in peacetime to profit private industry? Forget for the moment all the externalized costs, the true cost of the extraction, the damage to other industries, global warming, destruction of surface value for farming and timber, recreation and hunting.  What justifies forest destruction, land disturbances, public annoyances, and public health for fossil fuel extraction? Especially when last year 39 percent of new electrical capacity was solar and 29 percent was wind power.  (Coal has been showing a decrease for the last two years.)  There is no CO2 from the renewable resources!

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West Virginia residents stand in solidarity against fracking at the first “Hands Across Our Land” fracking protest iin 2015. Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

How do you decide people are unworthy of protection? Simply because of rural residence? Those who can’t afford to move elsewhere, or too attached to the family plot?

Hey guys, people out here are probably more astute than you think. Some of us don’t think very far ahead, and few are articulate, but, given time, it all becomes too clear.

West Virginia has the highest rate at losing population in the nation.  We have the lowest ratio of employment to employable people in the nation. College kids have been heading for the door, and so are a lot of high school grads.

Is corrupting the environment and allowing the wealth of our state to be carted off by favored industries your best game? That is the past, present (and future?) of Almost Heaven! We country folks keep hoping for better!

S. Thomas Bond is an eighth generation West Virginian writing from his farm in Jane Lew, W.Va. He is a farmer and retired chemistry professor. He is interviewed in Keely Kernan’s Documentary Film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” which is about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia. 

Postscript: Please note the irony of the slide show of beautiful West Virginia scenery on the governor’s website. Let’s not let him have a pass on using the state’s natural beauty to disguise the extreme damage he has done to the people, environment and legal system of West Virginia. – M.B.

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The Cost of Reaching the Moon Must Not Be Forgotten

Honoring the memories of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee

By Michael M. Barrick

Fifty years ago, the USA was shooting for the moon. In fact, exactly 50 years ago today, as I sat in the recliner at my grandmother’s house to spend the night, a news flash came on the TV that I will always remember – some of the men I considered the greatest heroes on earth had died in a fire in the Apollo 1 Command Capsule in a routine shake-down for their upcoming NASA mission.

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The Apollo 1 official crew portrait. L-R: Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA.

The three men who died that night were Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. I was most familiar with Ed White because two years earlier he was the first man to walk in space – a death-defying feat that I watched on TV. Indeed, I watched every launch and splash down, not to mention feeds from space during the mission (a marvel in itself), whether at home or in school.

Astronauts were heroes to me because they were modern-day explorers, risking it all.

In the turbulent 1960s, they were a welcome relief from the weekly body counts out of Vietnam and of those protesting the war (think Kent State); of fire hoses, attack dogs, beatings, false arrests and murders being the daily risks faced by Civil Right activists; and, national leaders being assassinated at an alarming rate.

I was a 10-year-old boy, soon to be 11. My imagination had been captured like never before – or since – by the space program. I grieve that my seven-year-old granddaughter has no such heroism to capture her imagination. These are perilous times, complicated by a momentum of mediocrity in our institutions and a very unpredictable president.

nasa-logoThe space program was an explicit acknowledgment that we could literally shoot for the moon despite all of our domestic and foreign challenges. We could do anything if we were focused enough. We taught our children that. We teach our granddaughter that.

For me, however, it wasn’t history. It was the future! Maybe even my future. What red-blooded American kid didn’t want to be an astronaut? We watched the space program unfold before our eyes on TV. Our granddaughter will see it only at the Smithsonian.

I watched those space launches and splash downs. I got goose bumps to see those astronauts emerge out of a helicopter onto an aircraft carrier to the salutes of those on board.

But on that evening half a century ago, they weren’t on my mind. I was enjoying the “alone” time with my grandmother and her cooking, as well as her unlimited supply of Coca-Cola.

And then the news flash. The heroes were dead, as explained in this news report from the next day.

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L-R: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom training for their Apollo 1 flight. Credit: NASA.

On that tragic evening 50 years ago today, as the newscaster interrupted the show I was watching, I rushed into the kitchen to tell my grandmother Grannyred – affectionately called so because of for her hair color – in sobs what I had just learned. She took my hand and we went back to watch the news. I think she thought it best I not watch it, but she was also a tough realist who really never shielded us from much of anything. Her favorite phrase (at least to me) might have been “Get over it” or some version of it.

Not this night though. She comforted. Eventually, exhausted, I fell asleep. I woke up in the chair on a very frosty morning, a blanket over me. She said no more. Time to move on I guess.

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NASA

NASA did. Two-and-a-half years later, I watched the first men land on the moon. Had astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee lived, it would have been them. Instead it was others. The men who died did not do so in vain. Lessons learned allowed NASA to accomplish the task assigned to it less than a decade earlier by President John F. Kennedy: to send and safely return a man to the moon by the ends of the 1960s.

Sadly, neither major political party is interested in reviving the space program. However, if you’d like to teach somebody young about it, I recommend the movie “October Sky” based on the book “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam. Hickam, a West Virginia native, was a NASA engineer.

rocket-boysIn the movie, Homer has a dramatic exchange with his teacher, Miss Riley. He says in desperation that his options in the isolated, southern West Virginia town of Coalwood are limited to do as his father and neighbors did – work the mines. Miss Riley responds firmly, “As long as you’re alive on this earth, you have a choice!”

It was true then and it is true now. So, if we truly want to honor the memories of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, we need to fund NASA. We need to go where no person has gone before. Let us give our children some hope in the midst of the terror. Maybe even, by turning our attention to the values of space exploration, it will serve as a catalyst for cooperation between nations – and one day, peace. It’s a much better use of resources than building a wall along the US/Mexican border and starting a tariff war in the process.

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© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Drawn to Mother Earth

The essential blessings of nature

By Michael M. Barrick

Growing up in West Virginia, I was blessed with my own private forest to explore. It was not large – less than an acre – but it was plenty for a seven-year-old. Elk Creek ran just below it, and two small tributaries fed it, one of which I damned up to form a small pond.

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Blackwater Falls in Tucker County, W.Va.

At first, it was just my playground. Then, as I grew older and was inundated with a strong dose of social justice teaching from the priests in our parish – not to mention our mom – it was where I meditated. For hours, I would sit on the picnic table under an aged and tall tree canopy that served as an aviary and allowed only slivers of sun through on the brightest of days. It was, as John Denver sang, “Cool, and green and shady.” It put in me the desire to become the “Boy from the Country” he sang about.

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Sandstone Falls on the New River near Hinton, W.Va.

There was no better place than our wooded “sacred spot” to sort through questions and concerns. The songs and chirps of the birds, the rustling leaves in a gentle breeze, the creek tumbling over the rocks, all inspired. This is why nature photos are put on PowerPoint slides in meetings and in hallways in hospitals; we are instinctively drawn to our Mother Earth for comfort, healing and peace.

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A trail along Crooked Run in Lewis County, W.Va.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

Photo credits: Blackwater Falls, Rick Carter; Sandstone Falls, Debbie Smith; Crooked Run, Michael Barrick.

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