Category Archives: fracking

You Can Stand Us Up at the Gates of Hell, But We Won’t Back Down: An Open Letter to Virginia DEQ Director David Paylor

Dear David Paylor:

During a conference call with you on Friday, July 20 regarding the DEQ’s Notice of Violation (NOV) to the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) I could not stop thinking about the turtles. While you spoke to people whose drinking water is at stake, while you evaded questions from people supporting those people, while you continued to be politely but arrogantly dismissive, I kept picturing those turtles. When you told me there was no mechanism in place to stop work while the DEQ reviewed over 13,000 citizen concerns I was still thinking about the turtles.

If I thought you would actually take any of this into account, I might mention more details about the obvious and irreparable damage being done to the headwaters in my region while your agency delays and delays and delays the review of comments while continuing to allow construction to commence. Here’s the thing: I no longer think that you’re listening to anything but the inside of your own head as you decide which line you could deliver that might placate us the most, throw us off track or deny your accountability.

Snapping turtles are not endangered. The turtles that local residents have seen crossing 221 right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway are probably mostly snapping turtles. Perhaps a red eared slider or a painted turtle. But what if some of them could be the critically endangered bog turtle? They are among the “species of greatest conservation need” in the Roanoke area. “The Bog Turtle is a threatened species inhabiting the high elevation wetlands of Bent Mountain in Floyd, Roanoke and Franklin Counties. It will be directly impacted during construction and will continue to be impacted by the altered hydrology of the wetlands after construction.

I did not talk about the turtles on the call, given that it was intended to address the NOV. They have been talked about a lot, though, by residents of Bent Mountain over the last few weeks. Evidently the part of 221 that the MVP is crossing has been well known as an area where turtles cross the road, especially during and shortly after mating season when they lay eggs. The last person I heard mention them was a man in a pick up truck who was shouting something through his window as I hung a banner on the side of 221 with the DEQ’s phone number on it, accompanied by the hashtag #ChallengeCorruption. At first I could not hear what he was saying, but then he rolled down his window and shook his fist as he hollered: “That’s where the turtles lived!” He gestured towards the area where bulldozers and out of state workers have reduced a wetland to a boggy field with a 42 inch pipe planted in it. The turtles are long gone.

You are in a position of power in the agency you direct, capable of issuing orders and making decisions that affect many, many lives. And though I do my very best to treat everyone I encounter as a human being and someone capable of behaving in a humane fashion, my observations of you over the past four years have not encouraged that impression. As far as I am concerned, your job, which has to do with environmental quality, should also have to do with the people’s voices. You have not demonstrated the ability to answer to anyone but corporate invaders, money and political ambition. Over and over, I have seen you behave like you did on that phone call, similarly dismissive of the citizens you are supposed to serve.   

There are a lot of other things I could talk about in regards to pipeline construction in SWVA: Bottom Creek, which is dear to my heart; the ancient orchards butchered in acres, the steepness of the slopes and the depths of the sediment already tainting people’s well and spring water. But there’s something about imagining that elderly farmer in the pick-up truck stopping on the side of the road to help a turtle reach the other side that I cannot get out of my head. Perhaps it is because it demonstrates compassion so vividly, a trait that you do not seem to have. Perhaps it is because I know that many critically endangered Indiana Bats already lost their habitats through tree cutting during their mating season. Perhaps it is because the Roanoke Logperch may not recover from the damage already done to the Roanoke River. Perhaps it is because I stopped on the side of the road in late May to help a mama snapper cross the road, her back covered in mud from where she had just laid eggs. By the time those eggs hatch, often in August (if they have not already been dug up and decimated), where will they go?

This is one of the things that haunts me when I try to sleep at night.

I hope it now haunts you too.

I hope it haunts you enough that you’ll consider doing the right thing and stopping construction on the MVP, working with your citizen’s State Water Control Board and the citizens of Virginia whom you are supposed to serve to protect their water, their rights and their environmental quality of life. The depth of corruption you continue to contribute is reprehensible and we will continue to challenge it. Our communities are stronger than the corporations you seem to prefer. We will not back down.


Mara Eve Robbins


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Floyd County’s Ground Water Is Unique and Vulnerable

“Ground water is the source for all public water supplies serving Floyd County residents. Ground water supplies are divided into northwestern and southeastern sections according to the subsurface configuration and composition of the bedrock. Floyd County lacks true aquifers; it relies instead on water-filled fractures….the risks of contamination in any shallow wells are significant.” (written into law by Floyd County government.)

Fortunately, someone official at one point in time made the effort to preserve Floyd’s natural resources – considering things like our water source as important. After watching the disturbing documentary ‘Gasland’ a couple of nights ago, I was alarmed at the response of the gas and pipeline company’s when residents water supply was no longer drinkable, “Move!” they said.  And their elected officials had been offered 6 figure salaries to go work for these same corporations.

Which is why I was thrilled to hear Karen Maute make this statement in an email last night, “Not only are you working to protect water for residential and farming use…You are working to protect Floyd County’s future growth and economic development.  At present, it appears that Floyd Co. may have it’s human heath, agricultural productivity and future economic growth and development significantly, negatively impacted, more so than any other county in VA, due to…its unique and vulnerable water resources.”

Floyd water is special.  It does not come from a deep protected aquifer miles under ground, may wells are considered shallow even if they are hundreds of feet.  Our water runs into the rivers and streams of many counties downstream of us. We take that responsibility seriously. We don’t want to jeopardize anyone, in Floyd or any other county, with a risky pipeline project.

Folks in Floyd County have always protected our water supply. That’s why it’s so good and clean now. We understand that our children and grandchildren will be inheriting unique underground water sources, wells, and springs, which is the main reason we oppose the fracked gas pipeline project.

 This is a continuation of Fred First’s previous article, Confluence: Water and the Pipeline, please read.



Confluence: Water and the Pipeline

Many of you attended the showing of”To the Last Drop“–the locally-filmed Floyd County water documentary shown at the Eco-village on September 14. The ideas and interviews for that film started in the summer of 2013 long before there was any knowledge of Mountain Valley’s proposed interstate pipeline.

So it was well timed that Partnership for Floyd’s efforts culminated with the premier showing at just the time that our water–and that of all impacted and down-stream counties–was rising to the top of Preserve Floyd’s concerns. We began to consider the impact of natural gas pipelines on the water across more than 800 miles of landscape threatened by the combined length of Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

While our attention still resonates with voices, places, hopes and concerns from the movie, let me just say a bit more about water as we continue to be vigilant against any forces or agencies that put tomorrow’s water at risk. Towards that end, I’ll share a “this I believe” kind of statement I wrote recently in the process of trying to distill my thoughts:

Ninety-five percent of Floyd County residents get their water from wells. From an injury to any one, other neighbors can suffer. So we are vigilant to protect our ground and surface waters today, even as we also look ahead. Adequate clean water in our county is a right, far into the future, that we are not willing to put at risk. And as we care for the water that falls on this plateau, we are also mindful of its quality as it passes through communities between here and the Gulf or the Atlantic. Ultimately, water is a shared necessity to life that we care for together across space and across time.

Our actions to insure that our waters are protected today become a legacy of reliable water for the next generations. Water, adequate and clean, is a right, not a commodity. We are committed to the water commons, and resist any threats to it, from whatever source they might come.

Consider thoughtfully these ten water-commons principles. They guide us towards a dedication to continued water stewardship that we stand FOR. The current frenzy of over-building of natural gas wells, holding ponds and pipeline construction right-of-ways are not consistent with these water principles, and represent values, purposes, methods and ends that we stand AGAINST.

Pass it On...
If you find any resonance with this commitment to stand our ground for our water, please share it with your social media contacts, friends, neighbors, churches and organizations. 

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.


Short-term Energy Shell-game


But what if it’s all just a short-term bubble?


The Reality is that the so-called shale revolution is nothing more than a bubble, driven by record levels of drilling, speculative lease & flip practices on the part of shale energy companies, fee-driven promotion by the same investment banks that fomented the housing bubble, and by unsustainably low natural gas prices. Geological and economic constraints – not to mention the very serious environmental and health impacts of drilling – mean that shale gas and shale oil (tight oil) are far from the solution to our energy woes.

▶ High productivity shale plays are not ubiquitous and wells suffer from very high rates of depletion.

▶ Because depletion rates are so high and drilling locations increasingly unproductive, industry is forced to drill ever more wells just to offset declines.

▶ Wall Street promoted the shale gas drilling frenzy in order to profit from mergers & acquisitions, resulting in prices lower than the cost of production.