The Bad Luck of the Alleghenies: What’s Under the Ground

There was once a wide shallow life-filled sea that filled the bowl to the west of the Crystalline Appalachians—as the Blue Ridge geology is sometimes described. The area is now known as the Cumberland or Allegheny Plateau of the Central Appalachian Basin. Along with the Ridge and Valley Province from Pennsylvania to Alabama, the region’s bedrock consists of sedimentary strata laid down like a two-thousand foot thick layer cake.

When continents collided a few hundred million years ago, it lifted the ancient Blue Ridge higher still and rucked up the Fold-Fault mountains of the Ridge and Valley layer cake that have eroded since into long more-or-less parallel low sandstone ridges above less resistant limestone valleys. But the Allegheny Plateau was not impacted by the pushing and shoving of continents, so there, the layers are relatively undisturbed and neat—one on top of the other.

View the cross sectional image. The horizontal strata of the Allegheny Plateau are to the left of the image, the Blue Ridge to the right.

What is, in the rear view mirror of history, unfortunate for that geological land form (and in the end not so great for its people) is that one of those buried layer components of the ancient oceans consists of the oily carbonaceous deposits of millennia of dead algae and phytoplankton that piled up thick and stayed that way—compressed and in place over the years to form coal.

Or oil shale. And you know the rest of the story. Any place Big Oil can gain access to those deep-dead organic compounds (Carbon in the form of coal, oil or gas) it will do whatever it takes to extract it to the last possible drop. This black-gold rush create lots of jobs, then much fewer as mechanization and Mountaintop Removal replaced pick and shovel mining and the boom went to bust, as natural gas will and already is.

The latest verse of that song is fracking the Marcellus and Utica shale within this same geology—from which is extracted deeper, less efficient, unconventional energy that requires huge amounts of chemical-laden water and whose highest dollar return at the end of thousands of pipeline miles across private property is overseas.

Move over, landowners, just passing through on the way to end users in Europe. With the government in the pocket of industry, eminent domain hangs as a threat to force the taking of the land (and water) of thousands of Appalachian farms and homesteads “for the greater good” of society (provided they own the right corporate stock.)

This is NOT going down well with a people who take their identities from the places they have lived for generations. Communities like Floyd are insisting that they have a say—including veto power—to refuse to allow access and probable risks to the long term health of their land.

What we have here is a growing stand-off—not between NIMBYs and a legitimate only-choice / best-possible way forward in our energy future. It is a struggle between simple folk taking the seven generation view of things, looking at the BIG PICTURE standing resolutely against get-rich-quick maintain-the-status-quo Big Oil Hamfists and their bankers and lawyers and senators and spin-merchants-of-doubt.

The F in FERC is for Federal, and this rubber-stamp agency at the top of the peck order (F may also stand for Fox guarding the hen house) does not give a tinker’s damn about the well-being of you and me.

But the  increasingly organized and geographically spreading opposition is not just speaking out against this or that pipeline to but against PIPELINES and FRACKING and another generation of carbon in the air our great grandchildren will breathe. And in this struggle, we are seeing more clearly those things that we are against, but also those unalienable rights that we stand for.

See Our view: The big picture on the pipeline – Roanoke Times: Editorials

We have to end this HERE and NOW. Investors across the nation are saying NO to coal. Investors in natural gas had better be paying close attention.

Stay tuned. I think we’re about (within a generation or less) to witness a regime change. Or a revolution.