Slaves represented half of all property wealth in the South in 1860. Slaves provided the energy that fueled the southern agriculture-based economy including export of cotton for northern and European textile industries. Political interests revolved around maintaining and enlarging slave-based wealth. Abolitionists who sought the end of slavery were reviled as enemies who would ruin the economy and strand assets of $10 trillion in today’s terms.
A bitter, divisive civil war broke out. Slaves were emancipated. Valuable human property was forfeited. The South struggled to start a new economy.
Gas, oil, and coal now provide the energy that fuels our economy. “Extreme extraction” is how we get this energy. In West Virginia, extreme extraction blows up mountains for coal. Extreme extraction harvests shale gas by drilling 1 ½ miles into the earth, then horizontally drilling mile-long bores like spokes on a wagon wheel, then injecting pressurized chemical-laden water into the boreholes. For oil, extreme extraction digs sludge-like bitumen in Alberta tar sands, sets up platforms in mile-deep oceans and in stormy arctic seas, and plunges drill bits in remote jungles. A political form of extreme extraction makes allies with extreme despotic governments like Saudi Arabia, leads into extreme conflict in the Middle East, and makes common cause with corrupt governments.
The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is just another piece of extreme energy. The construction itself would be unprecedented—a 42 inch pipeline buried in steep, rugged, pristine terrain. The gas would come from the extreme energy shale “fracking fields.”
Investment in this $5 billion pipeline makes economic sense only if pipeline revenue pays for itself and adds profit. Protecting this investment asset would include continuing an assured supply of “fracked” gas, maintaining customer demand, and quashing competing alternatives. Big-money energy investors use well-funded political and propaganda power to aggrandize and protect their assets. Such investors resist the “new abolitionists” who advocate public policies for energy conservation and renewable technologies that might weaken or even strand conventional energy investment potential. Lessons of the antebellum southern slave-based economy are instructive as we watch West Virginia policymakers pander to powerful coal and gas industries.
Society’s extreme dependence on carbon-based fuels is increasingly leading toward extreme climate and ocean disruptions. When my young grandchildren are my age (66), coastlines will be submerged, agriculture will be in flux, and according to the Pentagon, global unrest will be extreme due to water and food scarcities and population displacements.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not just an economic cost/benefit issue or a “not in my backyard” issue. It has profound moral, ethical, and spiritual contours. Slavery in the United States was more than just about the economy. The United States faced a profound decision about an economy that exploited energy from enslaved human beings. Emancipation was a rocky path; yet emancipation was the right moral thing. Moving together toward responsible energy consumption, clean energy opportunities, and energy conservation is the right moral covenantal responsibility with future generations. Making together common sacrifice for future life on Earth is the right moral pathway. Recognizing our own extreme addiction to extreme energy is a first step toward emancipation from denial, and to then step courageously and confidently into the freedom of a new beginning.
I grew up in Pocahontas County. My family has lived here since the 1700s. It is a rich heritage that runs deep and defines me as a proud West Virginian. Pocahontas is the post card of all that is good about our state. The people are honest, caring and hardworking. I understand the yearning to live and work here. It is in my heart every day. I presently live in Morgantown, where I work as a teacher and my husband works as an environmental program manager for the city. These mountains are where my soul finds solace.
It is with an earnest heart that I say Pocahontas County is too valuable to allow a pipeline project to destroy what is excellent and unique about it. This pipeline will not have a long term benefit for the people. It is an economic band aid that manipulates trust and work ethic, leaving a permanent, lowered standard of living for the area. We will become another place where rich companies exploit our resources and leave the people with the refuse of company gain.
I currently live in an area surrounded by gas industry and personally experienced the fracking boom in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. I lived in a quiet farming area when the development began. Dozens of white, out of state trucks, mostly from Texas, lined the back roads. Extreme potholes and big truck traffic made hazardous driving. Soon the local stories of degradation of quality of life became daily conversations. A well blew up one night across the ridge from us. We felt the quake and saw the pollution; the story was on the news less than a day. The next two explosions never made the news. Burning wells lit up the night skies. Huge pipeline trenches appeared. Public areas marked off with no trespassing signs. Property value degraded. Water was taken in huge amounts from the nearest source. The tradeoff is shaded over in the name of industry and jobs but I know that the quality of life was stolen from that area
The Atlantic Coastal Pipeline project has many well-supported adverse effects. Why would we give up the power we have over our own destinies for such a small return? We are responsible for the greatest resource on the east coast. Pocahontas is the keeper of the water. The Monongahela National Forest was created expressly to protect this watershed and those downstream. Karst rock, with underground lakes and caves, considered alongside the elevation and extreme terrain changes makes any construction project a challenge. Twenty inch pipelines in hilly parts of Brooke County recently exploded and officials admitted to the difficulty of building this pipeline. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is 42 inches and going through the most mountainous part of the state. It is unfathomable that they will bury this pipe 10 feet underground without seriously compromising water drainage and quality.
This area has priceless intrinsic value. The bio-diversity of our forest is among the most diverse and unique in the world. It is also very vulnerable to disturbance and loss of habitat. Pocahontas is an irreplaceable haven from developed areas of constant activity, noise and light pollution. Clean water and access to land that sustains us is not to be taken for granted.
It is a gift to live in Pocahontas. The heritage of independence and place are a source of pride. This is not just any place in West Virginia. The quality of life for our people is more important than short term economic benefit with significant long term consequences.
Vada Burgess Boback
This letter is in response to the article about the proposed pipeline in last week’s Pocahontas Times. I was shocked to learn that our County Commission, rather than acknowledging the very reasonable and legitimate concerns of many of our leading citizens in a respectful manner, dismissed and insulted the good people who turned out to voice their opinions. I was surprised by the statement of Commissioner McLaughlin, who basically stated that because he won an election, he has a blank check to take any position without listening to or considering other points of view. I was even more appalled at the statement of Commissioner Jamie Walker, who said “I’ve been here for 39 years, since the day I was born…. I’ve watched the trees grow. But ain’t none of that put one single dollar in my pocket.”
This is not the 12th century anymore and the world has changed a lot since then: for example, much of the eastern United States has become a clogged, congested, overcrowded rat race of traffic jams, asphalt and concrete. Our county is one of the last oases of pure, pristine wilderness and people will pay to see it and experience it, but not if we accept the cheap bribes of oil and gas companies to use it as a through way or a dumping ground for outside interests.