2018-01-17 / Front Page

DEP officials hear opposition, no support for gas pipeline permits

by Kate Shunney

A map included in Mountaineer Gas’ DEP application shows the natural gas pipeline route. A map included in Mountaineer Gas’ DEP application shows the natural gas pipeline route. Four state environmental officials heard a steady stream of opposition from residents who gathered at a January 9 public hearing about the proposed 23-mile Mountaineer Gas pipeline.

Officials from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Water and Wastewater Division and Office of the Environmental Advocate attended the meeting at Berkeley Springs High School Tuesday night, January 9.

More than 80 individuals filled the school’s auditorium for the hearing. Of those, 32 stood to comment on the record about an application by Mountaineer Gas to get stormwater management permits from the DEP for pipeline construction. All speakers asked the DEP to deny the permits, or objected to the gas project on environmental grounds.

No county or state elected officials attended the meeting.

More than 80 people gathered in the Berkeley Springs High School auditorium on January 9 for a hearing on DEP approval for a natural gas pipeline through Morgan County. More than 80 people gathered in the Berkeley Springs High School auditorium on January 9 for a hearing on DEP approval for a natural gas pipeline through Morgan County. Speakers hit several themes during an hour and 45 minutes of testimony. Water quality and water protection topped the list of concerns related to the proposed pipeline construction.

Mountaineer Gas’ construction plans show dozens of stream crossings for a 10-inch gas line. Some pipe along the 23-mile route would be laid by excavation, while other streams would be crossed through horizontal directional drilling (HDD) under waterways.

Mike Law, a resident of eastern Morgan County, said Mountaineer’s construction designs aren’t specific enough. Law said the pipeline would cross Sleepy Creek, which he called “one of the most pristine creeks on the East Coast.”

John Webster of Berkeley Springs said the natural gas and fracking industries are about to collapse financially. He urged the DEP not to rush permits for a new gas pipeline.

“Either stop the pipeline now or wait five years to see how this all plays out,” said Webster.

Frank Rodgers of the Cacapon Institute also asked the DEP to wait on issuing permits to Mountaineer for the pipeline.

Federal energy regulators haven’t approved construction of a gas supply line coming from Pennsylvania and across the Potomac River to Morgan County. Rodgers said there is no need for West Virginia to approve pipeline permits now.

Several speakers said they believe the era of burning fossil fuels for energy is coming to a close, and the DEP should not approve natural gas pipelines that extend that era.

“We need to move on to clean energy,” said Lee Barron, who lives within three quarters of a mile from the proposed line route.

“There are alternatives to gas and oil fuel. There are no alternatives to water,” said Alice Wilson of Martinsburg. She argued that karst, or porous geology, in the area means a gas line poses a risk to those who draw their drinking water from the ground, and to local wetlands.

“I don’t expect your agency to protect us,” said Laura Steepleton of Eastern Panhandle Protectors, an anti-pipeline group. She said Mountaineer Gas claims it will be sensitive to environmental impacts, but has not contacted local groups that work to protect the quality of Back Creek and other area waterways. She said Mountaineer’s DEP application doesn’t include any plans for water monitoring for streams that would be crossed by the pipeline.

Patricia Kesecker, whose family farm is at the center of an eminent domain case for the pipeline, said a December 5 fatal gas explosion on a family farm in Illinois shows the risks of gas lines cutting across farms. Kesecker said the proposed Mountaineer line would cut across their “best farm field” and is a liability for her family.

Christiana Graham, a property owner in the Sleepy Creek area, said the line will run within two miles of her new home and threatens her water supply. She called climate change “an existential threat.”

Brent Walls of Berkeley County said Mountaineer’s application is “insufficient” because it lacks a communications plan and mitigation details for stream crossings. He said in the case of a spill of drilling fluids during construction, those fluids would reach the water intakes for Washington County, Md. and Berkeley County public water in a matter of hours.

Charles Marsh of the Sleepy Creek Watershed Association said Sleepy Creek, which would be crossed by the pipeline, is classified as an “impaired stream” that still needs protection. Marsh said the creek is home to three endangered species.

“Disruption to Sleepy Creek should be avoided,” he said.

Susan Taylor Dropp, a county resident for 25 years, said the planned route for the pipeline is a source of concern for her subdivision. The development has already been “cut off” by the state closure of a bridge reaching the homes there. Dropp said the planned pipeline route would cross the only access road to her subdivision.

“How will mostly elderly residents leave? How do we get out if there’s an accident or explosion?” she asked.

Dropp said traffic along Martinsburg Road during two years of pipeline construction would be another problem.

Two pipeline opponents from Upshur County also spoke against Mountaineer’s stormwater permits for the project. April Keating said large pipelines in her area have led to problems with drinking water and the health of residents near compressor stations.

“We can’t separate pipelines from fracking and fracking from water,” she said.

Kevin Campbell said if the Eastern Panhandle pipeline is built, gas companies could add larger pipelines in the same easements later.

Matt Hahn of Berkeley Springs called the pipeline a “stupid idea” when West Virginia should be investing in renewable energy industries to create jobs.

Tracy Cannon, a resident of Back Creek for 33 years, said the vegetation along the pipeline would be kept down with toxic herbicides that could wash into area streams. She said her neighbors have concerns about the effect of pipeline construction on their well water. Cannon urged the DEP to take environmental and human costs into consideration.

“Nobody here believes the DEP is going to do the right thing,” said Russell Mokhiber of Berkeley Springs. “We live in the corporate state of West Virginia.”

Mokhiber urged pipeline opponents to run candidates against Morgan County Commissioner Bob Ford, Delegate Daryl Cowles and State Senator Charles Trump, all of who have publicly supported the pipeline project.

Members of 350-DC, a climate action group in Washington, D.C. said the D.C. Council has passed a resolution against the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project, citing risks to the Potomac River from a pipeline under the riverbed. For hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents, the river is their sole source of drinking water, said John Qua.

Dawn White of Berkeley Springs said karst geology causes sinkholes in the region, and should be a cause for concern.

“I wouldn’t worry so much about contamination of water, but about it disappearing,” she said.

White said the DEP is “going to be under enormous pressure in Charleston until their decision is made,” citing the political influence of those in favor of the pipeline project. She encouraged citizens to contact the DEP and “give them the courage to do their work. Remind the DEP they represent us,” she said.

The DEP will accept written comments about the Mountaineer Gas stormwater permit application through January 19. A copy of the application can be viewed on the DEP website or by calling Sharon Mullins, Division of Water & Waste Management, 304-926-0499, ext. 1132 or emailing Sharon.A.Mullins @WV.gov.

Comments can be emailed to DEP.Comments@wv.gov. Include the permit number (WVR310880) in correspondence.

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Who *would* support this? Why

Who *would* support this? Why were none of the businesses that would supposedly benefit from the pipeline there to voice their support? Everyone knows fracking is bad, and this pipeline would carry fracked gas. Who/what are our “representatives” standing up for? Not people, not us.

when elected officials fail

when elected officials fail to set aside time for a meeting such as this ,it displays a disregard for the interests of the very public whom voted them into office