Like Judge Copenhaver in the recent Fayette County case, who, without a hearing, nullified West Virginian’s right to stop toxic dumping, in 2015, Governor Tomblin allowed construction to continue on a pipeline project when a cease and desist order should have been given. The WV DEP issued a “consent order” for a company that had incurred 53 pipeline violations in only a few months. In such an order, the WV DEP offers the violator the option of promising to correct the violations and negotiate the amount of fine while the operation continues.
Autumn Bryson, an environmental consultant, documented many more than the 53 violations in a fifteen-mile stretch of the 55 mile, 36-inch diameter, Stonewall “gathering” pipeline. This pipeline carries 700 million cubic feet of gas per day with shut-off valves every 25 miles. Usually located in rural settings, gathering pipelines are nearly unregulated.
Natural gas is invisible, odorless, poisonous and highly explosive. In interstate pipelines, it is transported at an average pressure of 1,440 pounds per square inch. And when the contents are forced up mountainsides, compressors increase that pressure dramatically higher. Explosions and asphyxiations are known to occur. With valves miles apart, the resulting fires have lasted for up to a week. Gas pipelines are said to be monitored for leaks by aircraft once every few years. Dying vegetation is the only indicator from the sky.
BTEX, a highly carcinogenic and neurotoxic fluid, is but one of many transported in such pipelines. Although there is an electronic leak detection system, only leaks greater than 1.8 percent of the daily flow are spotted. With an expected flow of 1.4 BILLION cu/ft/day, this means that over 25 million cubic feet of poison will escape daily from every leak just under 1.8 percent of flow. BTEX transport does not require a FERC permit.
Somewhere between 60 to 80 % of fracking hazards result from compressor stations which are located every 40 to 100 miles along the pipelines. These giant machines run constantly. Some use diesel fuel which is known to cause asthma, lung cancer and heart problems. All emit carcinogenic, neurotoxic VOCs. formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide, which is heavier than air, accumulates in low areas. The EPA has reported that venting, leaks from well head equipment and compressors, spills, malfunctions or build-up in enclosed or low-lying areas can create lethal levels of it.
Exposure to long-term, low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can also degrade human health. Besides causing cancer, it can damage the cardiovascular, immune, digestive, respiratory and central nervous systems, as well as the ear/nose/throat complex and muscle, bone, skin, teeth, gums, urinary tract, and blood. Yet, thanks to the powerful oil and gas company lobbyies, hydrogen sulfide is exempted from the Clean Air Act.
Despite these hazards, when pipeline lease offers are rejected by land owners, for-profit gas companies often claim they will take the property by “eminent domain”. This high handed approach has helped galvanize very diverse Appalachian groups into coalitions that actively oppose pipelines.
One of these, POWHR (Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights), unites preservation groups through the Virginias and North Carolina along the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route. By delaying construction with regulatory tactics, POWHR has bought time for conditions to change in their favor such as lowered gas prices. Kentucky’s Friends for Environmental Justice, another rapidly-growing coalition, has stopped Kentucky’s Blue Grass pipeline. When faced with trouble, people in Appalachia do what they must.
Many believe that the solution is to ban fracking altogether. New York State, Vermont, Maryland, several Canadian provinces and ten nations have done just that. However, because the NY ban did not include the entire fracking infrastructure, that state is now battling pipelines and the hazard of toxic waste generated elsewhere.
Member, Environmental Justice Committee
WV Mountain Party
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