Another Million or Two

That’s how many additional shale gas drilling wells are predicted to be included in the “all of the above” energy menu of our President and the Virginia Governor.

Add up what that means to your children’s future. Do the accounting of debits and credits with regard to another 30 years or carbon fuels from “unconventional” sources, now that we’ve blown our way through all the easy carbon.

Calculate the number of hundreds of millions of gallons of potable water that will be sucked out of our groundwater, lakes and rivers–water and turned to fracking fluid–water that can never be used again for human consumption or for watering crops or livestock.

► Shale Drilling Destroys Regional Water Resources

Tally the thousands of miles of additional land despoiled by pipelines like the Atlantic Coast and its evil twin, the Mountain Valley  proposed to cross Floyd County.

And on that land, add up the total of devalued property (homes, schools, businesses, wetlands, hiking trails, scenic highways); the acres of altered, deforested, herbicide-sprayed personal places forever;  the  immeasurable loss to visitors and natives alike of the beauty, tranquility and wholeness of precious places defiled.


Calculate the metric tons of additional carbon (CO2 and MUCH more methane than previously admitted from wellhead leaks) and the degrees of atmospheric temperature increase, the number of inches of sea level rise, the number of species of birds, salamanders and as-yet-unnamed creatures that will disappear into extinction because they cannot adapt as quickly as our planet is being changed by human choice at the highest levels–not at the grassroots.

Our future is being stolen by our politicians and their corporate handlers—clearly against the will of the people who have the clarity of vision to see that the “cheap, clean and abundant” alternative of shale gas is a lie, pure and simple.

Natural Gas: The Bridge is OUT

Naomi Oreskes is known to me from the brilliant Merchants of Doubt on the truth-management practices “from tobacco to global warming.” As she considers our energy future,  if we continue down the path we’re on,  she says we follow a “Green Bridge to Hell.” I think she’s spot on with that conviction.

I’ve had this dope-slap realization that the same folks behind horizontal fracturing’s economics, “science” and the proliferation of fracked wells being forced on landscapes and communities across the east are the same folks who paid for their own scientists who told us cigarettes were really good for us.

The current natural gas truth-spinners are the same people who took the tops off mountains and put them into West Virginia creeks that had names in places where people with names once lived normal lives.

The proposed Mountain-Valley pipeline that Floyd County would suffer is part of this legacy of power, profit and indifference to people or places. We’re focused, rightly, on the local pipeline’s threat, a symptom of that legacy that might change the lives of many of us, not for the better.

But we need to be mindful of the high-dollar spin in this “green bridge” so that we or our neighbors don’t buy any snake oil.

Find below rather a lot of Diigo annotations from Green Bridge to Hell pulled from the longer TomGram article (emphasis mine.)

If you don’t care to read more, just consider this: that natural gas is not the bridge to clean energy as advertized; it’s the road to more climate change. It’s a green road to hell.

When looked at in a clear-eyed way, natural gas isn’t going to turn out to be the fossil-fuel equivalent of a wonder drug that will cure the latest climate disease. Quite the opposite: its exploitation will actually increase the global use of fossil fuels and pump more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, while possibly suppressing the development of actual renewable alternatives.
Different studies of this sort tend to yield quite different results with a high margin for error, but many conclude that when natural gas replaces petroleum in transportation or heating oil in homes, the greenhouse gas benefits are slim to none.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were 342,000 gas wells in the United States in 2000; by 2010, there were over 510,000, and nearly all of this increase was driven by shale-gas development — that is, by fracking. This represents a huge increase in the potential pathways for methane leakage directly into the atmosphere. (It also represents a huge increase in potential sources of groundwater contamination, but that’s a subject for another post.)

There have been enormous disagreements among scientists and industry representatives over methane leakage rates, but experts calculate that leakage must be kept below 3% for gas to represent an improvement over coal in electricity generation, and below 1% for gas to improve over diesel and gasoline in transportation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently estimates average leakage rates at 1.4%, but quite a few experts dispute that figure. One study published in 2013, based on atmospheric measurements over gas fields in Utah, found leakage rates as high as 6%-11%.

But recently the Wall Street Journal reported that state officials in North Dakota would be pressing for new regulations because flaring rates there are running around 30%. In the month of April alone, $50 million dollars of natural gas was burned off, completely wasted. The article was discussing shale oil wells, not shale gas ones, but it suggests that, when it comes to controlling flaring, there’s evidence the store is not being adequately minded. (At present, there are no federal regulations at all on flaring.) As long as gas is cheap, the economic incentives to avoid waste are obviously insufficient.

Meanwhile, global fossil fuel production and consumption are rising. A recent article by the business editor of the British Telegraph describes a frenzy of fossil fuel production that may be leading to a new financial bubble. The huge increase in natural gas production is, in reality, helping to keep the price of such energy lower, discouraging efficiency and making it more difficult for renewables to compete.

We’ve all heard about the Keystone XL Pipeline through which Canada proposes to ship oil from the Alberta tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and from there to the rest of the world. Few people, however, are aware that the U.S. has also become a net exporter of coal and is poised to become a gas exporter as well. Gas imports have fallen steadily since 2007, while exports have risen, and several U.S. gas companies are actively seeking federal and state approvals for the building of expanded gas export facilities.

[…and yet the interstate pipelines line the one that would be inflicted on Floyd County could be taken by eminent domain, justified as being for the “greater good.” Shipping fracked Pennsylvania or WV gas to Europe is NOT for the greater good of US taxpayers. — FF]

All of the available scientific evidence suggests that greenhouse gas emissions must peak relatively soon and then fall dramatically over the next 50 years, if not sooner, if we are to avoid the most damaging and disruptive aspects of climate change. Yet we are building, or contemplating building, pipelines and export facilities that will contribute to increased fossil fuel use around the globe, ensuring further increases in emissions during the crucial period when they need to be dramatically decreasing.

Certain forms of infrastructure also effectively preclude others. Once you have built a city, you can’t use the same land for agriculture. Historians call this the “infrastructure trap.” The aggressive development of natural gas, not to mention tar sands, and oil in the melting Arctic, threaten to trap us into a commitment to fossil fuels that may be impossible to escape before it is too late. Animals are lured into traps by the promise of food. Is the idea of short-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions luring us into the trap of long-term failure?

The fossil fuel industry and their allies have spent the past 20 years attacking environmentalists and climate scientists as extremists, alarmists, and hysterics. Their publicists have portrayed them as hair-shirt wearing, socialist watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) who relish suffering, kill jobs, and want everyone to freeze in the dark. Extremists do exist in the environmental movement as everywhere else, but they represent a tiny faction of the community of people concerned about climate change, and they are virtually nonexistent in the scientific community. (Put it this way: if there is a hair-shirt wearing climate scientist, I have not met her.)

Sometimes you can fight fire with fire, but the evidence suggests that this isn’t one of those times. Under current conditions, the increased availability and decreased price of natural gas are likely to lead to an increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Preliminary data from 2013 suggest that that is already occurring. And global emissions are, of course, continuing to increase as well.


End of the Age: A Splendidly Disturbing Time

We toured the 31 outdoor wooden “sculptures” in a distant Floyd County field with both our imaginations and the creating artist’s names and a brief hint at explanations about each piece staged over a half mile winding trail.

The one pictured here is called the “Harvester” and the artist, Charlie Brouwer, explains it this way.

Charlie says “While mowing the grass one day, I realized that in a way, I was harvesting it. Later I read a parable about harvesting. Jesus explained it by saying “The  harvest is the end of the age and the angels are the harvesters.”

I decided I’d rather be on the side of the angels than the grass, so I pitched in to help, as you can see.

And of course one thing inspiring another, it brings to mind–to my mind at least–the certainty of the notion that indeed we do live at the end of an age.

The age behind us has been called the Holocene by the geologists, a time span at whose proximate end the Industrial Revolution has met The Information Age. The carbon-powered frenzy of that age has brought us into the Anthropocene–an age of uncertain duration where human activities dominate every biome to the exclusion of and by the massive extinction day by day of entire groups of former creatures.

Shale gas fracking is just one symptom of the end of the age, a manifestation of the greater disease for which the EQT-NextERA Mountain-Valley Pipeline in Floyd and adjacent counties is a symptom.

The disease is 200 years old, and stems from a pathology of intentional reimagining that somehow our species lives above and independent of nature and “the environment.” Our economic system has been built upon this failing notion. This delusion will not go on much longer.  But it will not end because rational intervention wins the day.

I’m not saying we can’t effectively prevent this pipeline route through Floyd County. I’m not saying that fracking is not getting serious heat across the country just now.

But with a wider view of what lies ahead, I don’t think a few fingers in the dike are going to make life a hundred years from now be “life as usual” as we experience it today.

We’ve come to the boundary between what was and what will be. There are profound dysfunctions that many but not all see that in the end will be refractory to our usual ways of activism, thinking or voting.

I’m just almost convinced that, in the words of David Hilfiker:

 …the forces arrayed against environmental sanity are simply too strong for the usual political or personal fixes to be effective.  And until we understand what we’re up against, we can’t react effectively.    American consumerism, the structure of our government, the nature of our economic system, the power of the corporations, and the dominance of media are a tightly interwoven web that is virtually invulnerable to human attack.” 


Invulnerable, given the time frame, which has systems falling apart and tipping points  being exceeded at a much faster rate than the NEXT economy, the NEXT society, the NEXT land-and-ocean ethic is coming into place.

As consumers, as voters, as thinkers we will not in sufficient numbers do what needs to be done in support of any top-down way to pull us back from the brink. I think that is an unfortunate truth about the future our children are about to inherit.

But mind you, those potential future reorderings are coming into place in small pockets, and my hope–a reasonable hope that can live in the absence of unreasonable optimism–is in fighting the good fight in my here-and-now, with what energy and strength and wisdom I might have gained in 60-plus years.

Making a small difference, creating ripples even within that tiny pond is a worthwhile reason to get up every morning.

The dying beast of the fossil fuel era, even as we act as if it will go on forever, is coming to an end across all of agriculture, transportation, commerce, travel and infrastructure. Much of the unrest in the world is symptom of this unsustainable pressure on a fixed and vanishing resource. Marcellus shale and the 2.5 million miles of pipelines that scar this nation and threaten groundwater, air and human dignity are final convulsions of the end of the age.

I’ll give Mr. Hilfiker the final word:

 “Despair, grief, even cynicism and apathy are normal responses to the coming tragedy. We must not push them aside but recognize their reality and allow ourselves to grieve. And we must help each other navigate through these painful waters. But we must also remember that what’s coming makes it even more important to find hope within our grief and act with courage and decisiveness. We can’t make it all better, but we have been given the opportunity to participate in what is perhaps the greatest human struggle in recorded history. We are witness to a time in history like no other, and we can make a difference. Helen Keller once said, “I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time.” 

Waters Below. And Beyond.

From start to finish, horizontal fracturing (fracking) is a last-gasp means of making money at the cost of water.

Every deep-well extraction requires up to 7 million gallons of water (combined with a cocktail of some 500 chemicals). A single well can be fracked up to 18 times. 18 x 7,000,000 x the number of existing wells plus the new ones that have to go in every day to take the place of the wells that have already stopped producing.

That’s water that once was useful for human and animal drinking, for crop irrigation, for making the family meal. Not any longer, not any time soon. Forever, for all practical purposes.

But fracking’s abuses of water are done at some distance from Floyd County. It is our water (and that of the other 13 counties along the course of this proposed pipeline) that are at risk in our own yards and in our coming months and years.

How much risk? We can’t say for sure, because there are not many other 42″ pipes among the 2.5 million miles of fossil fuel pipelines already afflicting thousands of US counties and tens of thousands of American families. Two and one half million. Miles.

While we are concerned over fracking’s distant water footprint, what will we say about our own wells when those of our neighbors just a short piece away have been fouled or the flow shut off entirely by the blasting, excavation, road-building, right-of-way herbicide spraying, accidental spills, intentional disregard, and negligence of strangers who could not care less what they leave behind?

It is becoming a much better-known fact that if one well’s groundwater source is fouled, that fouling can spread an unknown distance in every direction because of the communicating rock fractures that stores water in Floyd County and other Blue Ridge and NC Piedmont counties or the underground limestone caverns and rivers of the Ridge and Valley counties .

And so every impacted county resident needs to understand “My water is your water” regardless of where they live. This right to adequate volume and quality of water should not be among the takings of eminent domain, but our water’s integrity for the long term will not be assured by the takers. It will not be their problem once they’re gone.

This is true, all the way back to the land in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other human landscapes where this corporate dysfunction takes root, ostensibly for the greater good.

Our pipeline issue is just a symptom. Floydians are swarming against it like white blood cells against a pathogen. The immune response is becoming system-wide.  Fracking must end. The other end of the “natural gas bridge” needs our full support and attention. Currently, there’s no other end of the bridge under construction.

We’ve almost waited too late because of this “cheap and clean” injection that is only a sedative against the pain of moving ahead.

So while we work against this pipeline, we work against all pipelines and for the return of a collective politic that takes the long view,  that puts the health of the planet and true well-being of the planet ahead of the corporate bottom line.

GRAPHIC: a doodle on iPad using Adobe Ideas app. There’s Buffalo Mountain, the confluence of our creeks with the rivers of others, and the rock fractures we cannot see but upon which we depend for a liquid that not a one of us can live without.


When to Say NO

I’m sorry to focus so often lately on the intended assault on Floyd and other adjacent counties by the planned interstate 42 inch natural (fracked) gas pipeline that will stretch more than 300 miles from West Virginia to the North Carolina border of Virginia.

I will let the image express how the thought of such a thing disturbs all of us–not just our neighbors in direct line of the pipe. The current maps could bear no resemblance to the ultimate route, so we all stand at risk just now.

Here’s what a 42 inch pipe looks like going in. It would be excavated and blasted into a trench about 20 miles long from the north to the south boundary of Floyd County.

The blasting threat lies not only in the months of near or distant explosions and mini-earthquakes and flying rock and dust. That’s a relatively minor nuisance compared to the risk to our wells.

Up to a thousand feet either side of the blast, the flow of a farm or family well could be destroyed by changes to the rock fractures that hold our water underground. So that’s a swath 20 miles long and more than a quarter mile wide threatening both the quality and the quantity of our water, even as the forever-pipe is going in the ground.

Imagine this scar down the side of Alum Ridge or down the Blue Ridge Escarpment that plunges down towards Franklin County. Imagine it during five inches of rain from a tropical storm.

Our surface waters are at risk, too.

Please share this image off this site or get the larger image from Flickr and pass it along to anyone you know who is also concerned about the legacy of the land they pass along to their children.

Speaking of which–that inheritance may lose a lot of value if the old homeplace is bisected by this pipeline.  Would you be excited about an otherwise beautiful piece of land with a buried pipe-bomb underneath it? Insurance companies may not be excited about offering you an affordable homeowners policy. There’s a lot we’re not sure of yet.

And know that it’s not just this one pipe we are opposed to. It is the whole flawed old economics that says to do what keeps the shareholders happy–a failed relationship with the plant that fans the flames of illusory “unlimited growth.” Period. Shale gas is a brief but costly part of that delusion.

And in Southwest Virginia, we don’t want to be any part of it.