April Pierson-Keating: In WV, fossil fuels threaten our future (Gazette)

By By April Pierson-Keating

Appalachia has been staked as a production center and transportation ground for natural gas with the proposal of a giant new pipeline. The Trump administration has vowed to support this pipeline and others — but this polluting infrastructure is not what our communities need. Now more than ever, we need clean energy solutions that will provide good jobs and a brighter future for our people.

The 301-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through 11 counties in West Virginia and potentially affect the hundreds of waterways it crosses along the way — yet none of the gas would be provided to the state’s citizens. This, coupled with the 14 percent rate of return on investment given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, means this pipeline is a money-making scheme for the owners of the project.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is only one of many large pipeline projects planned for West Virginia, a state that bears an unequal burden of poisoned water, decimated roads, and sick people in the name of the gas industry. We certainly need jobs, but these jobs are temporary; if we are to have hope for our future, we must turn away from the boom-and-bust model and tap into sustainable ways to boost our economy.

The MVP would carry fracked gas for export, but horizontal hydraulic fracturing often contaminates water with carcinogens and endocrine disruptors and brings up heavy metals and radioactive elements like radium-226 from inside the earth, ruining what was once crystal clear water — and thus health and property values for people living there.

In a state with only 20 oil and gas inspectors and over 55,000 active wells, sufficient enforcement of regulation is impossible, putting water at risk. The Southern counties are known for karst, or porous underground geography, and Monroe County in particular is a no-build zone because of it: any substance that contaminates these underground streams will not be possible to remove. Just such a tragedy happened in Peterstown, West Virginia, in 2015.

New pipelines require compressors to move the gas, but these facilities put out tons of toxic chemicals and microfine particulates, making those living near them ill. Leaking gas infrastructure is all too common, and methane is 86 times stronger than CO2 for warming the climate. 2016 was on track to be the hottest year ever, following three consecutive years of record-breaking warmth.

Augmented by contamination and higher global temperatures, water scarcity becomes an even larger threat. With each frack job taking up to 9 million gallons of water to complete, it isn’t clear we will have enough water left for more fracking, let alone for survival.

Promises that he would “bring back coal” helped Donald Trump win the presidency and Jim Justice to secure a gubernatorial win. But the market’s decline is driven by competitive alternatives like natural gas and cheaper renewables. Coal communities suffer enough without empty promises.

Building pipelines in low-income communities while ramping up production of natural gas is part of the predatory nature of the industry. Threats of eminent domain intimidate landowners into signing easement agreements that favor the companies, but the landowner must continue to pay taxes on the land while the gas company uses it to make a handsome profit.

The story goes that fossil fuel expansion is our best hope for jobs and tax revenue. But this is a re-hashing of the same tired line that has been used for over a century to keep our people dependent and powerless. Since the rise of cheaper solar power, we now have options, just not the courageous leadership we need to implement them.

West Virginia carries a legacy of 500 mountaintops decimated by mountaintop removal mining. We could put people to work reclaiming these desolate areas by installing solar-panel farms, bringing true energy independence and jobs for veterans, recovering drug addicts and displaced coal and gas laborers.

Contamination from petroleum-based plastics is a curse, but we can grow hemp, which creates biomass and eats CO2. Industrial hemp will produce thousands of products, including fuel, paper, shoes, textiles, building materials and biodegradable plastics. Keeping our trout streams free of sediment will do more to preserve our tourism industry than contaminating it with construction of pipelines.

Our mountains should be a source of clean water and a high quality of life, not a dumping ground for industry. There are dozens of ways to grow a sustainable economy that could also make us a leader on the world stage. It is time we stopped coming in dead last in terms of health, happiness, and economic well-being.

Saying no to the Mountain Valley Pipeline — indeed, to all new pipelines and their associated infrastructure — is the first step.

April Pierson-Keating is co-founder of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a multi-county group promoting clean water through clean energy.

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