Pipeline project not popular with West Virginia residents

By: Mike Marsh

The Mountain Valley Pipeline Project, commonly refereed to as MVP, announced late last week that they are filing suit against 100 West Virginia residents who have refused to allow access to their properties for surveys. MVP claims that eminent domain, which is the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation, gives them the right to this access, even though they have not yet filed an official application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The MVP sees high economic potential in the state of West Virginia. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appears to agree.

Tomblin says “West Virginia continues to be one of our nation’s energy leaders, and the [MVP] will help create new construction jobs for our workforce and identify markets for our state’s abundant supply of natural gas. We appreciate…our state and their willingness to work with local economic developers to provide natural gas service in areas that would benefit from both new industry and downstream growth. These investments have the potential to create good-paying jobs and by keeping key byproducts in our state…”

Some residents in West Virginia do not see the project as positively. Lawsuits were filed against residents across 10 W. Va. counties along the new corridor of gas line projects, which were recently proposed in February, because they did think MVP had the right to conduct this project on private property. The MVP provides list of all the counties in West Virginia that will be effected by the project with individual maps that show exactly where the line will be dug once the project begins.

This is a map showing the whole area of West Virginia and surrounding states where the proposed gas line will run through.

MVP-Rev3-3-Overall-10132014

A lot of the opposition has come from residents in Southern West Virginia, who oppose one of the big natural gas transmission lines which has been proposed by MVP to transport gas from fracking areas in the state southward. Several active grassroots groups have formed trying to oppose the line and preserve the land that the people value.

This is pretty characteristic of rural West Virginia’s attitudes in recent decades. People living in southern West Virginia are very attached to the land, perhaps due in part to the long history of agriculture. Many people who’ve moved to this part of the state lately have done so because of their attraction to this sort of landscape.

It is easy to see how people become distraught at the thought of things like this, which are seen as encroachments on their private property. The farming history in West Virginia speaks for itself and when time and resources are put in to maintaining private property for agricultural purposes, there is going to be opposition to anything requires digging up someone’s source of livelihood. The video below flips through some pictures of what a pipeline digging site in West Virginia looks like. This isn’t a small operation by any means and it’s evident parts of the land get pretty torn up.

The criticism towards MVP is not the first time counties in Southern West Virginia vouched to protect their land. Similar opposition successfully stopped a 765kv electric transmission line and a proposed 4-lane upgrade of Rt. 219 all within the last 10 or 15 years.

The West Virginia Surface Owner’s Rights Association offers advice to residents who are wondering about what they can do legally when it comes to oil and gas drilling that is planned to be conducted on their property. They believe that a gas driller, producer, or operator should not have the power of eminent domain to lay its gas lines from its gas wells to compressor stations. In their opinion it is clearly a private, not public, purpose.

The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association are on board with the MVP project. They are confident that MVP will facilitate natural gas transpiration and make it a lot easier for gas collected from drilling operations to reach oil and gas processors in the south. The WVONGA have a cumulative investment of nearly $10 billion in W. Va. They have more than 15,000 miles of pipeline throughout the state, own about 20,000 oil and gas wells, and provide oil and natural gas to roughly 300,000 W. Va. homes and businesses.

It makes sense that the people in the community are hesitant to let these projects come in and start installing pipelines underneath their property, but with compensation being offered to those in locations where the lines need to be constructed and assurance that once they are finished the property will be restored, it is not an too unfair of a proposition. As it stands, the project is scheduled to begin in December of 2016.

This is the current timeline for the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. Once started, the gas line should be in service by mid-2018:

TimelineIllustrated_MVP_111214

 

 

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Get the facts straight! Discrepancies in Congressman’s plan for West Virginia’s Highway Trust Fund

By: Mike Marsh 

West Virginia Republican Congressman, Alex Mooney, had an interesting proposition that stirred up controversy among West Virginia environmentalists and reporters. Last year when Mooney was running for a seat in the West Virginia Congress and was speaking during a West Virginia Business and Industry Council forum in Charleston, he was quoted saying “we should sell parts of our national parks to help fund the Highway Trust Fund.” His motive behind this proposition is that he claims 17 percent of highway user fees “are going to transit [programs], not to highways,” and that something needs to be done in order to restore the West Virginia Highway Trust Fund.

Selling parts of national parks, especially iconic parks in West Virginia like Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which Mooney reportedly proposed as a park that might be effected by new highway programs, had many people asking questions, and rightfully so. Harpers Ferry National Park definitely holds its own in regard to the Wild and Wonderful slogan.

2010-09-02-Harpers-Ferry-From-Maryland-Heights-Panorama-Crop

The National Parks Conservation Association says that “we believe that America’s national parks and historical sites embody the American spirit. They are windows to our past, homes to some of our rarest plants and animal species, and places where every American can go to find inspiration, peace, and open space.” With so much wildlife in an area that is designed to be preserved for its natural beauty, it is scary to think about any program that would infringe on these conserved and protected areas.

Mooney received plenty of backlash from his highway proposition and was quick to mention that he was misquoted and what he said about restoring the West Virginia Highway Trust Fund was taken out of context. Moody explained to The Journal’s editorial board “that [Harpers Ferry National Park proposition] was a misquote…I keep getting asked that, and I didn’t say that.”

What Mooney supposedly intended with his highway proposition was that he wanted to sell land controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management to fund the Highway Trust Fund. This was a big contradiction compared to the statement he was quoted on pertaining to selling parts of national parks to fund the Highway Trust Fund, considering the BLM does not manage national parks. National parks are operated and run by the National Park Service.

What Mooney’s intentions were with his idea to restore the Highway Trust Fund in West Virginia were still unclear, but Congress ended up passing an $11 billion “stop-gap measure” that rapidly revamped the Highway Trust Fund, which was close to running out. This however, came at the expense of public transportation, which left many still scratching their heads.

Like what was mentioned earlier, Mooney was reported to have said that 17 percent of the Highway Trust Fund goes to non-highway programs, specifically public transit programs, so there is some discrepancy in what he is saying regarding how much federal money is really being put towards public transportation from the Highway Trust Fund. It appears that what his plan is actually doing is reducing that percentage even further, and he doesn’t see a need for federal funding at all.

The Journal explains in their article that he would not be using the money from the trust fund to help public transit programs, and commuter trains that serve West Virginia counties like Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan would be devastated by this. Many public transit programs in the state would have a very hard time funding themselves without federal money. So when Mooney is quoted saying “as much as is possible, public transit programs should pay for themselves,” and at another point in time quoted saying that 17% of the money from The Highway Trust Fund would go towards transit programs , the discrepancies are obvious.

For someone who has recently passed the 100-day milestone representing the state of West Virginia in Congress, they sure do appear to be having a difficult time getting their facts straight regarding informing the public as to what their plans for the state really are.

 

 

 

 

Deer overpopulation impacting eastern forests in multiple ways

By: Mike Marsh

The deer population in the eastern United States is starting to take its toll on the healthy balance of forest ecosystems. No vertebrate species in the eastern United States has a more direct effect on the ecosystem than the white-tailed deer. According to the Nature Conservancy, many state deer populations are continuing to rise well beyond historical norms. So where is all the harm in a large population of deer? The problem starts with what the deer are grazing on.

Deer feeding on preferential plant species has changed the composition and structure of forests. The Nature Conservancy states that in their opinion, there is no greater threat to forests than overpopulation of deer. They also say that only invasive exotic insects and disease have been comparable in magnitude to the issues forests are facing when there are too many deer.

Here is a map released by Quality Deer Management Association in 2008 depicting whitetail deer density in the United States. The northern part of the West Virginia area has one of the higher whitetail deer densities.

http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?t=294575

*The legend for the map is as follows: (Deer per square mile)*

  • White = Rare, absent, or urban area with unknown populations.
  • Green = Less than 15
  • Yellow = 15 to 30
  • Tan or Brown = 30 to 45
  • Dark Brown = Greater than 45

The Nature Conservancy also says that cutting down the impact of deer’s plant diet is a key forest restoration strategy and in future it will become necessary in order to help maintain functioning forests in a climate that is already showing signs of warming. It is eye-opening to learn that overpopulation of deer actually has a more of a negative impact on forest ecosystems than the potential consequences of global warming.

Since deer management cannot be regulated at the federal level, the states have the right set their own regulations regarding wildlife. West Virginia specially has made efforts to reform these regulations because of the impact the deer population was having on the states timber production.

According to a report on the negative impacts of high deer population, published by the Office of Legislative Auditor in Charleston, West Virginia, the Division of Natural Resources has pursued a strategy increasing the hunting and fishing opportunities in West Virginia. The state of West Virginia has purchased land specifically dedicated to hunting and have also changed game management polices and increased deer population in the forests.

This is an issue for the state, and the report sees the DNR’s policy of further increasing the states deer population as not being in the best interest for the citizens of West Virginia.

The report claims that scientific research has determined that deer in populations over 20 deer per square mile harm forests saplings due to “over browsing”. The result of this is that these highly concentrated areas with deer are not seeing any regeneration of hardwood forests. Too many deer means negative effects on the state’s wood product industry, farm industry, and the ecological health of West Virginia’s ecosystem. The effects on timber production is the biggest concern for West Virginia because of the amount of money it generates for the economy.

The report says that the economic impact of hunting and fishing in West Virginia is around $200 million dollars annually, which is a fraction of what the wood products industry generates. The timber from West Virginia is worth $1.3 billion annually to the states economy.  They claim that increasing the deer population may have a short term positive economic impact on West Virginia, but in the long term, the growing deer population will dramatically harm West Virginia’s ecosystem balance and the forest economy.

The amount of deer hunted in West Virginia has substantially grown each year. This table gives on idea of the rate at which deer have been harvested, but this still isn’t having much of an impact on slowing the of overpopulation of deer.

http://www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/DeerHarvest.shtm

In places where deer density exceeds 20 per square mile, plant species such as sugar maple, white ash, tallow poplar, hemlock, pin cherry, oak, and aspen are eliminated from the ecosystem, and with high deer populations continuing to exist in these areas, there is a very slow regeneration of these commercial plant species. West Virginia’s economy is experiencing significant economic losses due to this fact. When an industry generates as much $1.3 billion annually, it is easy to see the concern that state environmentalists and economists have on the relationship between deer population and the declining timber revenue.

The question raised with all of the information in this report is how, or will, the state will come up with an ethical way to reduce the deer population. Simply encouraging more hunting is not going to be a solution that can fix this problem, and the idea of killing of any wildlife animal species in large numbers will have further ramifications on the ecosystem and the entire food chain. The timber industry may need to take a wait and see approach for now to determine whether or not this excess deer population problem will ever be fixed.

 

 

 

Coal mining CEO might be in deep trouble for disregarding worker safety

By: Mike Marsh 

Coal mining is undoubtedly one of the backbones of West Virginia’s economy. This is a positive sign from an economic point of view, but when you get into the ethical problems, environmental worries and safety concerns that come along with the industry, questions are being raised concerning whether or not the coal industry in West Virginia is doing everything they can to follow codes and regulations.

It wouldn’t be as controversial if the coal industry was following the safety regulations that are imposed in order to protect the environment and ensure safety for workers on the job, but earlier this year a former West Virginia coal mining CEO was put on trial for violating coal mining safety regulations.  Don Blankenship faces four criminal counts and up to 31 years in prison for alleged safety violations at mines operated by Massey Energy, which he headed from 2000 until his retirement in 2010. This is thought by some to be the worst U.S. coal industry disaster in 40 years.

The trial which started in November of 2014 was delayed to be held near the end of this month. The federal grand jury’s indictment charges that Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia.  The explosion killed 29 men.

According to Energy Blog, the United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts was quoted stating “The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched. No other company had even half as many fatalities during that time.”

Blankenship’s trial, in which he is being charged with conspiring to violate safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia, is a case that when resolved should set more of a precedent for future safety violations in the coal mining industry. When something this tragic happens and so many lives are lost when allegedly safety codes weren’t followed by the companies CEO, it is a though pill to swallow.

Blankenship is not new to being under suspicion for breaking the rules and being unethical. Bloomberg Business reports that he was accused of using more than $3 million in political contributions to help a West Virginia Supreme Court judge get elected in 2004. That same judge ended up being the deciding vote in a split decision to overturn a $50 million jury award against Massey Energy stemming from a business dispute with a rival coal supplier.

The Massey Energy explosion case started to get more interesting and controversial recently when the federal appeals court decided to lift a gag order on the case. The gag order prevented the court proceedings from being made public, and disallowed the participants in the lawsuit from saying anything to the media.  This is a significant sequence of events because lifting the order will allow the victims of Blankenship’s alleged criminal disregard to safety to speak freely to the media and tell their stories about how the coal company’s conduct has negatively impacted their lives.

There is hope that these types of disasters can be avoided in the future with more strict enforcements of safety regulations but unfortunately there are people out there who are accused of cutting corners with regard to worker safety and these types of allegations against powerful figures in the coal mining industry in West Virginia cast a dark shadow over the profit coal mining companies generate for the state.