If you think silt fences will hold back the erosion, sedimentation, and landslides caused by pipelines built on steep mountain slopes in West Virginia, think again. Last month, the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a cease and desist order for Energy Transfer Partner’s Rover Pipeline for completely disregarding and violating erosion sedimentation and control measures. The photo evidence tells the story of numerous violations and polluted streams.
The truth is that fracking has been harming West Virginia’s rivers, streams, and drinking water for the last decade. With Earthworks, I’ve visited residents in Doddridge and Ritchie counties whose wells have been polluted from nearby fracking. It takes an average of 5 million gallons of water to frack one well in West Virginia, and companies get to pollute much of this water – for free – by first pulling it out of our rivers and streams, then blending it with toxic chemicals before injecting it underground, where it can eventually reach aquifers.
And now, new pipelines like Rover and proposals for pipelines including Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast will lock the state and the entire Marcellus and Utica Shale region into decades more of increased fracking. The result will inevitably be irreparable damage to more mountain streams and creeks and more than likely, residential wells.
I’m from Pocahontas County, the birthplace of eight rivers, and one of the counties in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ACP is asking the WV DEP to grant a blanket 401c water permit (a type of permit under the US Clean Water Act) to disturb 740 documented water bodies, including 98 perennial streams and specially classified trout streams. Several crossings will occur along Clover Creek, a known local trout stream that has yet to even be classified by DEP.
This 42” pipeline will blast through fragile and porous terrain and run up and down steep mountain slopes, some more than 40% grade. That’s steep – no pipeline of this size has ever been built on slopes as steep through cave systems where localized impacts could affect drinking water miles away.
Time and time again we have seen where mitigation plans outlined on paper, most especially the incomplete plans provided by pipeline companies, don’t match the reality on the ground. And, we have also seen that contractors that build these pipelines can rarely be trusted.
At the recent WV DEP hearing on the ACP water quality permit, Pocahontas County residents shared real concerns about impacts to their drinking water wells, loss of tourist revenue from visitors who come to trout fish in the Elk River watershed, and the spread of invasive species. And, they are dismayed that this pipeline provides no permanent or quality jobs – only temporary and hard, high-risk work installing silt fences on steep slopes.
Pipeline companies are racing to the finish line to be the first to pipe fracked gas out of West Virginia to new markets, most likely for international export. Serious questions are being raised about the political will and capacity of the WV DEP to monitor, inspect, and prevent the impacts of all the pipelines now being built and proposed for our mountain state. It takes a lot of time, money, and commitment to protect our rivers and streams – taxpayers who fund the WV DEP know this – but once again companies want free access to pollute our mountain waters.
We’re working hard to keep the history of West Virginia’s boom and bust natural resource economy from repeating itself. We’ve lost so many mountaintops and streambeds to the coal industry—let’s not cede another tragic loss of our homes, landscapes, and waters to the gas industry.
Traci Hickson serves as Earthworks’ Foundation Relations Manager and works remotely from her home state of West Virginia, where she volunteers to protect mountain habitat and water.