A local environmental group has reorganized to oppose a plan to build a large-diameter natural gas pipeline through Pocahontas County. Eight Rivers Council, which focuses on improving the land, water and air of Pocahontas County, met at McClintic Library last Thursday evening to elect officers and plan a course of action.
According to the group’s website, “Because all humans share the need for clean water, Pocahontas County, West Virginia, headlands for eight rivers, has a special responsibility for preserving and protecting this most precious resource. Families who have lived in Pocahontas County for generations can hardly believe that our future water supplies might be contaminated. The county has very little industry. Rivers start here, so we don’t get pollution from upstream towns or businesses. What could possibly threaten our waters?”
The Council originally formed in response to natural gas industry activity that had reached into Pocahontas County from other areas.
A natural gas boom in the U.S. began in 2003, when a company successfully utilized horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing (“fracking”) to produce natural gas from Marcellus shale wells in southwest Pennsylvania. After the potential became evident, gas companies scrambled to buy up leases in the viable Marcellus region, which includes a broad swath from central West Virginia to southern New York. Along with the gas boom came reports of water pollution in newly developed areas.
Eight Rivers Council formed in 2011, after land agents from gas companies flooded into Pocahontas County to buy up drilling rights from local residents. The group’s founders were concerned that Marcellus drilling would expand into the county and threaten its water supply. Since then, the prospects for Marcellus drilling in Pocahontas County seemingly have abated, and Eight Rivers Council stopped holding meetings.
But the surge in natural gas production in the Marcellus region created the need to transport the gas to markets along the Atlantic Coast, and a new gas industry project inspired Eight Rivers to mobilize.
A coalition of energy corporations, led by Dominion Resources, has proposed construction of a 42-inch pipeline through northern Pocahontas County, which would cross several rivers and streams. Concerned about the certain and potential impacts of pipeline construction to the pristine waters of Pocahontas County, Eight Rivers rallied at McClintic Library on Thursday evening.
Allen Johnson, of Frost, was elected the group’s new president.
“We hadn’t met for quite awhile, so part of this was just getting together,” said Johnson. “I was pretty pleased with the turnout. We had more than 20 people. There was much talk about the pipeline and how to write letters to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission]. We saw a slideshow on letter writing, property rights and how FERC operates. There’s been a lot of questions about that.”
Johnson said the group will work together with other groups, such as the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, to try to stop the pipeline project from being built. The group’s greatest hope is that a grassroots effort will convince the federal government to disapprove Dominion’s plan to build the pipeline across 30 miles of national forest, when other alternatives are available.
The Council also discussed a project to help local students go to college.
“We would really like to do a scholarship for a high school senior who’s going to go into a field related to our mission, like community development, environmental sustainment, environmental science or possibly a rural studies field. A scholarship that would be consonant with our goals. A committee’s going to work on that. We want to invest in our young people and get young people involved.”
The Council plans to hire an expert to study the economics of Dominion’s proposed pipeline through Pocahontas County.
“We approved $1,400 to get an economic analysis, because that’s what FERC will make its decision upon,” said Johnson. “Dominion can’t just go and get eminent domain and FERC can’t just approve a pipeline just because a company wants to do it. They have to show that it meets a compelling interest. It may be something like national energy security, to reduce the amount of energy we import from Saudi Arabia. They would also have to show that there are enough customers willing to buy the product and that it makes economic sense for the national interest. There’s three pipelines being proposed, so the question will be, ‘do we need three pipelines?’ or will they approve just one or two of them and which ones will they approve and why.”
Johnson takes the Eight Rivers helm from outgoing president Cyla Allison.
“Beth [Little] and I were quite concerned about the threat of fracking in Pocahontas County,” said Allison. “So we decided we would start an organization that was focused on the environment, on clean water and clean air, and we put it together.”
The group garnered community support for its goal to prevent fracking in Pocahontas County.
“It was a tremendous amount of work to get the group rolling,” said Allison. “It was a full-time, part-time job. Our major focus was education, because if people understand and know what the threat is, then we can come together and solve the problem. We had a number of meetings with the County Commission. We turned out 125 people for a meeting and we made the Commission very aware of how we felt.
“We presented a petition to the County Commission and each person that signed it had been educated about the issue. That took a lot of time. We didn’t just hand it out and people would sign it without thinking about it. These were educated people.”
Eight Rivers Treasurer Beth Little, of Hillsboro, said the group has plans to produce a documentary about a local water management plan.
“Apparently, there’s a free TV studio down in the Clay Center, the arts and humanities center in Charleston,” she said. “You can make a 30-minute show and we want to do one on our Water Resources Task Force and the county’s water plan. Pocahontas County has the only water plan in the whole state. Water is a big deal right now, so that’s something we want to do.”
Eight Rivers Council welcomes new members.
“It’s open to anybody who’s concerned about the land, the water, the air, the things that people here care about to keep them healthy,” said Little. “We don’t have a regular meeting schedule but we do a lot of email communication.”
Anyone wishing to receive email updates from Eight Rivers Council can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The group has a website at www.eight-rivers.org.