Like the judge in Fayette County, 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 offending party promises to correct the violations and pay a fine while the operation continues.
Autumn Bryson, an environmental consultant, documented these and many more 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 which rises dramatically when the contents are forced up mountainsides. Explosions and asphyxiations do occur and 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, with dying vegetation the only indicator.
BTEX, a highly carcinogenic and neurotoxic fluid, can also be transported in such pipelines. Although this material has electronic leak detection, only leaks greater than 1.8 percent of the daily flow are spotted. With an expected flow of 1.4BILLION 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.
However, it is reported that 60 to 80 % of fracking hazards result from compressor stations located every 40 to 100 miles along the pipelines. These 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, being 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 this gas.
Moreover, scientific research is increasingly revealing that exposure to long-term, low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can also destroy health. The effects include damage to 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, blood and cancer. Yet, under pressure from the oil and gas companies, hydrogen sulfide has been exempted from the Clean Air Act.
Despite these hazards, if their lease offer is refused, for-profit gas companies claim they can take property by “eminent domain”. This high handed approach has helped galvanize very diverse Appalachian groups into coalitions actively opposing 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 is another rapidly-growing, successful coalition. When faced with trouble, people in Appalachia do what they must.
Some say the solution is to ban fracking altogether as New York State, Vermont, Maryland, several Canadian provinces and ten nations have done. But the NY ban did not include the entire fracking infrastructure and that state is now battling pipelines and toxic waste from elsewhere.
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