Newly formed environmental group West Virginia Wilderness Lovers (WVWL) hosted a public meeting at the Durbin Fire Hall last Thursday to provide information on a proposed Dominion, Inc., natural gas pipeline through northern Pocahontas County. The event was moderated by Bill McNeel, of Marlinton. Speakers included WVWL founder Lauren Ragland; Ed Wade, Jr., with the Wetzel County Action Group; and Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director with the Clean Air Council.
The proposed 42-inch pipeline would pass through approximately 22 miles of the Monongahela National Forest and cross several waterways in northern Pocahontas County. A preliminary Dominion map shows the pipeline crossing the county from east to west, north of U.S. Route 250.
Ragland began her presentation with information on jobs. She cited statistics showing no significant increase in jobs resulting from natural gas industry activity in other areas of West Virginia. Ragland distributed a November 2011 article from the Wetzel Chronicle, which reported the highest unemployment rate in the West Virginia, despite a large increase in natural gas industry activity.
The article reads: “The industry has drawn some criticism for using out-of-state labor, but [Wetzel County Commissioner Scott] Lemley acknowledged there’s only so much government can do about it. ‘We can’t control what private industry does. They have their own employment guidelines,’ he said.”
Ragland said a pipeline project would not provide many local jobs.
“The bottom line is – you can listen to Dominion or you can listen to West Virginia employment numbers,” she said. “The jobs from the pipeline are for very skilled, union workers who have done this for years.”
An April 2014 report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy states:
“While there was some increase in economic activity due to the increase in the oil and gas industry activity, there are complaints that most of the drilling jobs have gone to out-of-state workers. Despite its growth, the oil and gas industry accounts for less than two percent of all jobs in Wetzel County, and the county’s unemployment rate remains high.”
The entire report, which examines the impact of the natural gas industry in rural Wetzell County, can be found at wvpolicy.org in the Economic Development – Energy section of the site.
Compressor stations are used to pressurize and push natural gas through pipelines. High noise levels, air pollution, the need for access roads and permanent surface activity raise environmental concerns about compressor stations, which can cover several acres and include multiple turbine engines.
On the company’s website, Dominion states that just three compressor stations would be built along the pipeline’s 550-mile span: one at the pipeline origin in the Clarksburg area; one in central Virginia and a third near the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
Ragland said Dominion’s claim that just three compressor stations would be built does not comport with industry standards.
“The industry says these compressor stations would have to be every 10 to 40 miles to get the natural gas up and over these mountains,” she said. “Dominion has been quoted lately as saying that’s not true and there’s only going to be one far away and one in Virginia. That’s not what their industry says.”
“The noise hazards that go along with compressor stations and the liquid separators are documented,” Ragland added. “I’m not making this up, it’s documented. They scream, they fluctuate.”
The speaker distributed handouts with contact information for various elected officials, and said political pressure is needed to stop the pipeline.
“What can we possibly do?” she said. “One thing – communicate with our elected officials. We have federal laws for everything from historic sites to birds to salamanders to the beauty of the area. This is a protected area. It should be, but we have to be strong and say, ‘we want it to be protected.’”
Wade resides in Wetzel County, where natural gas industry operations greatly increased in the last five years. The construction worker photographed and videotaped gas industry construction and other activities occurring near his home.
Several of Wade’s photographs and videos document the construction of a 24-inch gas pipeline near his home. He played a very loud video of a jackhammer-equipped excavator drilling holes into a streambed. Wade’s photographs showed cloudy water a mile downstream from the boring operation.
Wade explained that, for a 200-foot stream crossing, 180 boreholes were drilled into the streambed and banks, which were filled with eight pounds of TNT each. Blasting of the charges resulted in a rubble-filled trench across the streambed, which was dug out for installation of the 24-inch pipeline. Several of Wade’s photographs indicated severe stream sedimentation in areas of pipeline construction.
Wade said not all of the pipeline built in Wetzell County is underground, and showed several photographs of permanent surface facilities, including compressor stations and maintenance stations. Wade showed videos of gas and brown water being expelled from the pipeline under high pressure during testing and cleaning operations.
The Wetzel County resident said his homeplace had been greatly degraded by the natural gas industry and that he does not want to see the activity come to Pocahontas County. Wade said his primary concern is the impact to waterways in the National Forest.
“This National Forest and sections of these mountains have been put back for a reason – for us and our kids and grandkids to enjoy,” he said. “I support economic development. I’ve been in construction for many years. But there’s a place for everything and this isn’t the place – our National Forest – for this.”
Walker appeared via a Skpe connection and discussed air pollution that results from natural gas operations. All phases of production and distribution create air pollution, he said. Pollutants include nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other harmful compounds. The Clean Air Council spokesman said NOx and VOC emissions from a 42-inch pipeline compressor station could equal the emissions from 700 idling school buses. Walker’s slideshow presentation can be viewed at cleanair.org in the “Outdoor Air” section of the site.
Following the speakers’ presentations, McNeel opened the floor for questions and comments. Cheat Mountain homeowner Rebecca Trafton read a statement why she opposes the pipeline:
“And now, we may stand by quietly observing while a gaping wound is cut through our forests, across our rivers, over our mountains. Are we going to let this happen, and forsake this rare aspect of excellence in the Mountain State? We will lose the beauty of our land forever, following the tradition of out-of-state landowners who treated our land, our mountains and rivers and forests, as a resource they could damage and desert. These wounds never fully heal. They leave great scars, as this pipeline will do.”
Dominion was invited to provide a representative at the meeting, but none was present. The company has stated the purpose of the project, which it calls the Southeast Reliability Project, is to improve the natural gas supply in Mid-Atlantic markets. The pipeline would begin in the Clarksburg area and terminate in North Carolina. Dominion spokesman Robert Orndorff is scheduled to meet with the Pocahontas County Commission on August 19 to provide information on the proposed project.
See The Pocahontas Times website for video clips from last Thursday’s WVWL meeting in Durbin.