Nearly 20 years ago, Gilbert Grosvenor, former president of the National Geographic Society said at the 1998 international Groundwater Symposium, “We are at a crucial turning point. If we do not change the way we respect and manage our freshwater supplies within the next ten years, we might as well write off civilization as we know it.”
Our need for an intimate connection with water is illustrated in this quote from author and water researcher William E. Marks, “Water touches each one of us every day, for it is a mystery on which our very lives depend. Our human bodies are mostly water. Each day we must drink water so it may flow through us to do its work of nourishment and waste removal. Without this constant flow of water,we would cease to exist.” (2001)
The heartbreaking and tragic train derailment and subsequent explosions in Fayette County are likely to be used as evidence of a need for another transport system for fossil fuels, such as pipelines. But let us not forget the four pipeline accidents which occurred in the month of January: Jan. 14 – natural gas pipeline explosion in Mississippi, Jan. 17 – 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into Yellowstone River in Montana, Jan. 22 – three million gallons of saltwater drilling waste spilled from pipeline in North Dakota, Jan. 27 – natural gas pipeline in Brooke County, WV. Pipelines are not the safe, reliable answer some propose they are, and I fear this recent accident will be a rallying cry for their quick construction in our area.
Exploitation of fossil fuels is leading to the industrialization of rural areas, and in our region we are on the cusp of such a transformation, with four companies proposing 42-inch wide natural gas pipelines in our region. Two proposals that could directly affect Greenbrier County are the Atlantic Coast pipeline, proposed to go through Pocahontas County around Durbin, and the Mountain Valley pipeline, which is proposed to go from the Nettie area, through the Rainelle area to Grassy Meadows and on into Summers and Monroe Counties, crossing the Greenbrier River (by drilling under it) at Pence Springs. In addition, there is a proposal to build a compressor station in Grassy Meadows.
The building of a 42-inch pipeline on our mountains will inevitably cause soil erosion and sedimentation that will affect our water. More troubling, what are the possible consequences of leaked methane percolating into our soil and water? After the diesel spill last month interrupting water service to so many homes and businesses, are we willing to introduce new potential contaminants to the water in our area?
The possible dangers of pipelines also bring to mind the tragedy in Fayette County. According to industry technicians, the blast zone of a 42-inch pipeline is approximately 1,200 feet. In the Rainelle area, there are homes within or close to that 1,200 foot margin which would be destroyed in the event of a disaster. Accidents on remote, steep, wooded mountain terrain will be even more difficult to contain, and could cause forest fire and other disasters. We cannot subject our region to further horrors of the kind we have seen in the past few years in our state.
As a society and a species, we seem to have an enormous appetite for resources to power our cars, electrify and heat our homes, etc. We have been incredibly ingenious in creating technologies to both feed and create that appetite. In the meantime, we are poisoning ourselves, and the future for our children and grandchildren. We seem to have forgotten our intimate relationship to the natural world.
Let’s turn this tide, let’s focus our creative genius toward safer and more sustainable technologies. Let’s resist the construction of the pipelines in our area, and do our part to protect water and land for ourselves and our descendants.