In light of our success addressing coal, Appalachian Mountain Advocates has expanded our focus to tackle the natural gas industry now taking hold in Appalachia. We’re fighting investment in natural gas from cradle to grave.
Central Appalachia is underlain with natural gas deposits buried in rock deep underground. To recover this natural gas, the industry relies on an inherently dangerous and environmentally damaging process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking requires drilling and injecting millions of gallons of water laced with an amalgam of chemicals into the ground at a high pressure to fracture the rock and release gas.
The process itself is proven to be devastating to the environmental and public health. Even more, cheap abundant natural gas will inevitably delay investment in renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Rather than serving as a bridge to renewables, major investments in natural gas are likely to dramatically reduce the incentives to convert to clean energy sources. Much like with the coal industry, the sunk costs involved in major infrastructure investments make it that much harder to advance the research, development, and construction required to transition to affordable renewables.
We are deeply involved in opposing several specific projects targeting our region. Read more below to learn how we’re addressing natural gas, cradle to grave.
Natural Gas and Climate Change
Natural gas is not part of a clean energy future.
The science shows that shifting from coal to natural gas wouldn’t have any significant impact on climate change. From the potent greenhouse gases leaked throughout its production, to its role in delaying the shift to affordable clean energy solutions, natural gas is simply not the answer.
As we retire the nation’s old coal-burning power plants, we should look at how to meet our power demands and stimulate our economy by rapidly scaling up our use of clean, renewable energy sources. The technology exists, and is improving and becoming more affordable every day.
Leaking Greenhouse Gases
For years, natural gas has been endorsed — misguidedly — as a clean alternative to coal. In fact, the total life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for gas and coal are nearly equivalent.
This is because even though natural gas burns cleaner than coal, getting the gas to the power plant releases significant quantities of methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.
Methane leaks from the drill pad during fracking operations. It leaks as gas leaves the fracking site through local transmission pipes. It leaks as the gas is transported long distances through massive, multi-state pipelines. It leaks at each compressor station along the route. It leaks at the end of the pipeline, as gas moves through local distribution systems to power plants or consumers. And methane is produced when gas is burned to generate power.
When all of this methane is released in the air, it absorbs the sun’s heat, warming the atmosphere for decades. Though it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, methane is more devastating because of how effectively it traps heat. In the first two decades after it is released, methane is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at destabilizing the climate. And after 100 years, methane is still more than 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Even if we dramatically improve the technology and shrink the methane leaks, a switch to natural gas is only a marginal improvement on coal. But natural gas poses a grave climate risk because investing in natural gas delays investments in affordable clean energy.
The massive, and expensive, slate of proposed new natural gas infrastructure would lock us into continued reliance on dirty, climate-altering fossil fuels for decades.
Several interstate pipeline projects have been proposed to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These projects would cost more than $16.4 billion, and result in more than 1,900 miles of 24- to 42-inch diameter pipeline cutting through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Utility companies also plan to invest billions of dollars in several new gas-burning power plants throughout our region.
Every dollar invested in this outdated and destructive infrastructure could be invested in clean, renewable energy instead.
And such investment may be financially unwise as well. Appalachian Mountain Advocates is working with expert economists to quantify the impacts of committing ratepayers to paying for the proposed natural gas infrastructure. We’re also working with experts to evaluate the economics of investing in solar and wind infrastructure instead, rather than continuing to pour money into fossil fuels.
A Critical Moment
We are at a crucial, critical moment in human history. A global climate disaster is imminent unless we take dramatic steps — right now — to drastically reduce the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere. A swift transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy is the only way to avert climate catastrophe. This is the single most important issue facing humanity today.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is working to block billions of dollars in counterproductive and unnecessary spending on fossil fuel infrastructure. The continued investment in fossil fuels is not just unwise, it presents a clear and present danger to humanity.
Fighting Proposed Pipelines
Because of discovery of huge natural gas supplies in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, the build-out of natural gas infrastructure in Appalachia is unprecedented. We are working hard to fight the series of pipelines proposed for the mid-Atlantic Region. Nearly 2000-miles of large-diameter pipelines are proposed to move take fracked gas from West Virginia and Pennsylvania to markets primarily in the South. That infrastructure will cost nearly $20 billion. We must stop that infrastructure to make room for renewable energy.
We are working to challenge several specific pipelines threatening out region. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run nearly 600 miles from West Virginia through Virginia to end in southern North Carolina. The pipeline would also include a new compressor station and an almost 70-mile-long spur to feed growth in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. We are also concerned about the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would be over 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia to connect to the Transco Pipeline, a mega-pipeline that ships gas to burn in the Southeast. Both pipelines would be 42 inches in diameter (by comparison, Keystone XL would have been 36 inches). We’re also working hard to challenge other major fracked-gas pipeline projects like the Mountaineer XPress and the WP XPress in West Virginia as well as the Atlantic Sunrise and Susquehanna West in Pennsylvania.
The direct impacts of each pipeline are considerable. Each would cut through mountains and fragment prime forest habitat. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal, for example, would route several miles of pipeline through the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests. Much of the planned pathway for both projects would slice a large and permanent clearcut through high-quality habitat located on public and private land. Forest fragmentation will be dramatic; it will disrupt wildlife, including endangered salamanders, endangered bats, and threatened bird populations.
The long term effects are even more potent. These pipelines would also provide economic incentive to increase destructive fracking throughout Appalachia. The added capacity would decrease the cost of getting gas to market, making fracking more profitable. And at a combined cost of at several billion dollars, these project represent a major investment in an outdated fossil fuel. Ratepayers would be saddled with paying for the pipelines (and the natural gas they transport) for decades, rather than investing those same funds in developing affordable clean energy. And many climate scientists believe that from cradle to grave (drilling, transport, and burning), natural gas produces more greenhouse gases than coal. Read more about how natural gas is a stumbling block in addressing the threat of climate change.
We are working to combat the pipeline proposals on several fronts. We’re deeply engaged in the federal environmental review process, working with economic experts and environmental scientists to understand the projects’ real impacts. We have submitted substantial comments on each of the proposals, asking that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider the direct and indirect impacts these proposed pipelines would have on the economy and the environment. We are advocating that FERC prepare a single, regionally-focused EIS — a programmatic EIS — that addresses the impacts of and need for the entire scheme of proposed infrastructure for this region. We are also incorporating economic analyses that will compare the cost of renewables to natural gas, showing that these pipelines are unnecessary and that ratepayers will in fact be paying more for their energy if these pipelines are constructed. We are also closely monitoring and commenting on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process for these projects.
We’re also protecting the private property rights of scores of landowners living in the proposed pipeline footprints. Many landowners have refused to allow the pipeline companies to survey on their private land. These landowners have encountered serious push-back from the pipeline companies. Many have been sued. In and out of the courtroom, we’re helping these landowners assert their fundamental property rights against the deep pockets of the pipeline companies. Read more about these efforts.
Appalmad is committed to helping landowners living in the footprint of the proposed pipelines. We represent, pro bono, scores of landowners who the pipeline corporations have sued or threatened to sue for access to private property.
If you are a property owner potentially affected by one of these pipelines, it’s necessary that you understand your rights. First and foremost, if you are approached by someone from a pipeline company, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING without first getting legal advice.
Eminent Domain to Survey
Dominion and Mountain Valley Pipeline are in the process of surveying for various routing options. When landowners have refused the gas companies permission to enter private property, the companies have tried to use the power of eminent domain to force entry.
Whether a landowner can prevent surveyors from entering his or her property depends on where the property is located.
West Virginia: Appalachian Mountain Advocates secured a win for landowners in August 2015, when a West Virginia judge ruled that Mountain Valley Pipeline could not force West Virginia landowners to grant access for surveying. As a result of this ruling, a West Virginia landowner has a good claim to exclude pipeline surveyors from private property.
Virginia: In Virginia, however, several courts have found that the pipeline companies may, with proper notification, force access despite property owners’ objections. Appalmad appealed this ruling, but the Virginia Supreme Court declined to hear the case. This leaves those rulings to stand, meaning a Virginia landowner does not have strong legal grounds to exclude pipeline surveyors meeting all other requirements.
Once on private property, gas company employees cannot use vehicles or power equipment on a landowner’s property without permission. The gas company also must reimburse the owner for any actual damages resulting from entry.
A pipeline company cannot use the power of eminent domain force a landowner to sell until it receive a federal stamp of approval, known as the certificate of public convenience and necessity, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is deeply involved in FERC’s federal review process. Read more about how we are pushing FERC to grapple with the economic and environmental impacts of the proposed pipelines.
This federal review process and any subsequent litigation is likely to take years. In the meantime, we recommend that landowners get legal representation before signing any agreement with the gas companies.