Natural Gas: A Green Bridge to Hell

Not my title, but one that suits. Naomi Oreskes is known to me from the brilliant Merchants of Doubt on the truth-management practices “from tobacco to global warming.”

I’ve had this realization that the same folks behind horizontal fracturing’s economics, “science” and the proliferation of fracked wells being forced on landscapes and communities across the east are the same folks who bought their own scientists who told us cigarettes were really good for us.

The current natural gas truth-spinners are the same people who took the tops off mountains and put them into creeks that had names, where people with names once lived normal lives.

The proposed MV pipeline that Floyd County would suffer is part of a legacy. We’re focused, rightly, on the symptom of that legacy that might change the lives of many of us, not for the better.

But we need to be mindful of the spin in this “green bridge” so that we don’t let our neighbors buy any snake oil.

Rather a lot of Diigo annotations from Green Bridge to Hell pulled from the longer TomGram article are posted below:

When looked at in a clear-eyed way, natural gas isn’t going to turn out to be the fossil-fuel equivalent of a wonder drug that will cure the latest climate disease. Quite the opposite: its exploitation will actually increase the global use of fossil fuels and pump more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, while possibly suppressing the development of actual renewable alternatives.
Different studies of this sort tend to yield quite different results with a high margin for error, but many conclude that when natural gas replaces petroleum in transportation or heating oil in homes, the greenhouse gas benefits are slim to none.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were 342,000 gas wells in the United States in 2000; by 2010, there were over 510,000, and nearly all of this increase was driven by shale-gas development — that is, by fracking. This represents a huge increase in the potential pathways for methane leakage directly into the atmosphere. (It also represents a huge increase in potential sources of groundwater contamination, but that’s a subject for another post.)

There have been enormous disagreements among scientists and industry representatives over methane leakage rates, but experts calculate that leakage must be kept below 3% for gas to represent an improvement over coal in electricity generation, and below 1% for gas to improve over diesel and gasoline in transportation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently estimates average leakage rates at 1.4%, but quite a few experts dispute that figure. One study published in 2013, based on atmospheric measurements over gas fields in Utah, found leakage rates as high as 6%-11%.

But recently the Wall Street Journal reported that state officials in North Dakota would be pressing for new regulations because flaring rates there are running around 30%. In the month of April alone, $50 million dollars of natural gas was burned off, completely wasted. The article was discussing shale oil wells, not shale gas ones, but it suggests that, when it comes to controlling flaring, there’s evidence the store is not being adequately minded. (At present, there are no federal regulations at all on flaring.) As long as gas is cheap, the economic incentives to avoid waste are obviously insufficient.

Meanwhile, global fossil fuel production and consumption are rising. A recent article by the business editor of the British Telegraph describes a frenzy of fossil fuel production that may be leading to a new financial bubble. The huge increase in natural gas production is, in reality, helping to keep the price of such energy lower, discouraging efficiency and making it more difficult for renewables to compete.

We’ve all heard about the Keystone XL Pipeline through which Canada proposes to ship oil from the Alberta tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and from there to the rest of the world. Few people, however, are aware that the U.S. has also become a net exporter of coal and is poised to become a gas exporter as well. Gas imports have fallen steadily since 2007, while exports have risen, and several U.S. gas companies are actively seeking federal and state approvals for the building of expanded gas export facilities.

All of the available scientific evidence suggests that greenhouse gas emissions must peak relatively soon and then fall dramatically over the next 50 years, if not sooner, if we are to avoid the most damaging and disruptive aspects of climate change. Yet we are building, or contemplating building, pipelines and export facilities that will contribute to increased fossil fuel use around the globe, ensuring further increases in emissions during the crucial period when they need to be dramatically decreasing.

Certain forms of infrastructure also effectively preclude others. Once you have built a city, you can’t use the same land for agriculture. Historians call this the “infrastructure trap.” The aggressive development of natural gas, not to mention tar sands, and oil in the melting Arctic, threaten to trap us into a commitment to fossil fuels that may be impossible to escape before it is too late. Animals are lured into traps by the promise of food. Is the idea of short-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions luring us into the trap of long-term failure?

The fossil fuel industry and their allies have spent the past 20 years attacking environmentalists and climate scientists as extremists, alarmists, and hysterics. Their publicists have portrayed them as hair-shirt wearing, socialist watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) who relish suffering, kill jobs, and want everyone to freeze in the dark. Extremists do exist in the environmental movement as everywhere else, but they represent a tiny faction of the community of people concerned about climate change, and they are virtually nonexistent in the scientific community. (Put it this way: if there is a hair-shirt wearing climate scientist, I have not met her.)

Sometimes you can fight fire with fire, but the evidence suggests that this isn’t one of those times. Under current conditions, the increased availability and decreased price of natural gas are likely to lead to an increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Preliminary data from 2013 suggest that that is already occurring. And global emissions are, of course, continuing to increase as well.

Natural gas is not the bridge to clean energy; it’s the road to more climate change.


Montgomery County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday Night, Aug 25, 7:15 PM

We strongly encourage Montgomery County residents who are concerned about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting tomorrow night at 7:15 in Christiansburg. If you have information to share, it is likely to be welcome considering the lack of communication between EQT and Next Era and local government. In Floyd, most of what our local government knows about the proposed project is based on what they have received from citizens of Floyd County.

If you have a written statement, it’s a good idea to bring a copy for them to keep so that it can be entered into the public record.

“Public meetings are the second and fourth Monday of each month at the Montgomery County Government Center, 755 Roanoke St. in Christiansburg. Closed sessions begin at 6 p.m. if needed. Open sessions begin at 7:15 p.m. Citizens are invited to attend and allowed to speak at each meeting.”


When To Say No



I’m sorry to focus so often lately on the intended assault on Floyd and other adjacent counties by the planned interstate 42 inch natural (fracked) gas pipeline that will stretch more than 300 miles from West Virginia to the North Carolina border of Virginia.

I will let the image express how the thought of such a thing disturbs all of us–not just our neighbors in direct line of the pipe. The current maps could bear no resemblance to the ultimate route, so we all stand at risk just now.

Here’s what a 42 inch pipe looks like going in. It would be excavated and blasted into a trench about 20 miles long from the north to the south boundary of Floyd County.

The blasting threat lies not only in the months of near or distant explosions and mini-earthquakes and flying rock and dust. That’s a relatively minor nuisance compared to the risk to our wells.

Up to a thousand feet either side of the blast, the flow of a farm or family well could be destroyed by changes to the rock fractures that hold our water underground. So that’s a swath 20 miles long and more than a quarter mile wide threatening both the quality and the quantity of our water, even as the forever-pipe is going in the ground.

Imagine this scar down the side of Alum Ridge or down the Blue Ridge Escarpment that plunges down towards Franklin County. Imagine it during five inches of rain from a tropical storm.

Our surface waters are at risk, too.

Please share this image off this site or get the larger image from Flickr and pass it along to anyone you know who is also concerned about the legacy of the land they pass along to their children.

Speaking of which–that inheritance may lose a lot of value if the old homeplace is bisected by this pipeline.  Would you be excited about an otherwise beautiful piece of land with a buried pipe-bomb underneath it? Insurance companies may not be excited about offering you an affordable homeowners policy. There’s a lot we’re not sure of yet.

And know that it’s not just this one pipe we are opposed to. It is the whole flawed old economics that says to do what keeps the shareholders happy–a failed relationship with the plant that fans the flames of illusory “unlimited growth.” Period. Shale gas is a brief but costly part of that delusion.

And in Southwest Virginia, we don’t want to be any part of it.

From Fred’s blog, Fragments From Floyd


Citizens Preserving Floyd County Tables Tonight at Crosby Stills and Nash Concert

Deepest of appreciation to the Guacamole Fund for providing Citizens Preserving Floyd County with the opportunity to engage in outreach tonight at the Crosby Stills and Nash concert in Roanoke. 

“We are a tax exempt, public charity that has been helping to coordinate events for organizations that work in the public interest since 1974. We focus on supporting grass roots activities, with education, outreach, networking and funding, in the areas of the environment and wildlife, social change, peace with justice, energy and a non nuclear future.”


Latest Projected Map

Here’s the latest map depicting a possible route being considered. It is based on reports from landowners that have been contacted. Many thanks to our local Floyd County government for their assistance in creating this important resource.

It was shocking and sobering for many folks last night to see where their land lies in relation to the land that is being explored. 



Group rallies opposition to gas pipeline through Floyd County

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 4:45 pm

A united community and region pack enough push-back to defeat or at least significantly temper corporate plans to route an interstate high-pressure natural gas pipeline through Floyd County and neighboring counties in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

That was the theme Thursday night of a meeting hosted by Citizens Preserving Floyd County. More than 200 people attended the gathering at Floyd EcoVillage to discuss concerns about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Blacksburg resident Elizabeth McCommon, a veteran of battles with energy utilities, told the crowd that a regional effort would be required to ensure the pipeline’s defeat. She said she would reach out to potential allies in the New River Valley.

Discussion Thursday night focused on the county’s vulnerable groundwater, property owners’ options when surveyors want access to their land, safety and other topics.

Jerry Boothe, a former member of the county’s board of supervisors, said easements previously sold to Dominion during the utility’s ultimately unsuccessful bid a decade ago to build a natural gas pipeline through Floyd and other counties could be transferred to other companies. The company ultimately abandoned plans to build the Greenbrier Pipeline after failing to secure enough customers for the pipeline’s gas.

Frank Mack, a spokesman for Dominion Transmission, a Dominion subsidiary, confirmed Friday that “any valid easements that we paid in full could be sold and assigned to an interested company or individual.”

News coverage in 2005 reported that few such easements had been sold in Floyd County.

Meanwhile, Mara Robbins, acting director of the recently organized Citizens Preserving Floyd County, said the campaign to block the pipeline has attracted some of the “most sharply focused minds in the county,” people with passion, energy and commitment to preserve the county’s quality of life.

EQT Corp., based in Pennsylvania, and NextEra Energy, based in Florida, announced plans in June to seek customers for a 330-mile pipeline that would transport natural gas from West Virginia to a delivery point in Pittsylvania County.

Robbins elicited applause from Thursday night’s crowd when she recounted a conversation she said she’d had with an employee of EQT about the proposed routing of the pipeline through seven counties in Virginia.

Robbins said she told the woman that “Floyd County was going to be a very complicated piece of the puzzle” for EQT and NextEra’s joint venture. And that observation seemed valid last night as Floyd residents who had come back to the land or never left it described strong ties to the county’s scenic beauty and agricultural heritage and determination to block the pipeline.

One focus of Thursday’s meeting was water and the potential for groundwater contamination.

Floyd County’s comprehensive plan notes that the county’s location along the Blue Ridge Plateau means that water flows out of the county and not in. The county includes tributaries of the New River and headwater streams for several rivers, including the Roanoke River, according to the comprehensive plan.

The plan notes that Floyd County “lacks true aquifers” but relies instead on water-filled fractures that can be vulnerable to contamination.

“Water is probably our biggest concern right now,” Robbins said.

Safety concerns also received attention Thursday night.

Gini Cooper, who played a role in opposing the Greenbrier Pipeline, said Thursday night that a high-pressure natural gas pipeline in Floyd County could pose significant safety risks and overwhelm regional fire departments and other emergency responders.

A so far undetermined number of county landowners have received letters from a right-of-way acquisition contractor working for EQT and NextEra. The letter notifies the landowner that their property is located within a survey corridor for the pipeline and reports that they will be contacted for permission to survey the land.

Earlier this week a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said property owners have no legal obligation to allow such surveyors on their property.

But Boothe noted Thursday that Virginia law allows surveyors for natural gas companies to work on private property without a landowner’s permission if specific notification requirements have been met.

Jane Cundiff, a county landowner who has received notice that her property is in the survey corridor, advised others in the same boat to use a camera and notes to document surveyors’ time on their land.

Fred First serves on two committees for Citizens Preserving Floyd County. He told Thursday’s crowd to prepare for “an environmental confrontation of epic proportions.”

McCommon and others stressed that organizing opposition quickly and raising money for the long haul — to hire attorneys, to pay Robbins for her time and more — would be key elements as the campaign to block the pipeline proceeds.

EQT and NextEra have said the pipeline will help meet growing demand for natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal for power generation. As envisioned, the gas pumped through the pipeline will have been extracted from Marcellus and Utica shale formations through hydraulic fracturing, a process often referred to as “fracking.”


Landowners are encouraged to express concerns

If you are a landowner affected by this pipeline proposal, consider stating your concerns at the Floyd County Board of Supervisors meeting tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM. It would be good to make them a matter of public record. You will only have 4 minutes to speak, but if you bring a written statement it will be duly recorded even if you cannot read it within the 4 minute time period allotted.

Our local government has been very attentive to our concerns and are taking the situation seriously. Please be respectful and thank them for their service and their support.

“Regular meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month at 8:30 am and the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm in the Board Room of the County Administration Building, 120 West Oxford Street, Floyd. Adjourned or special called meetings are scheduled when necessary. All meetings are open to the public. A Public Comment Period is held at each regular meeting.”