In Response to “Weigh the Costs with the Benefits”

Lynchburg’s newspaper, the News & Advance came out in support of a $2 billion natural gas pipeline that will run from West Virginia, through Virginia and eventually to North Carolina.

 

This is why we shouldn’t support it:

In Response to “Weigh the Costs With the Benefits”

Sean Davis

Seeing my hometown newspaper come out in favor of Dominion’s proposed pipeline to bring natural gas through Nelson County to Hampton Roads and beyond was heartbreaking.

Especially just months after seeing a derailed crude oil train send flames 80 feet into the air along the James River¬.

 

That that event didn’t kill a single person, I believe, is a complete miracle and other communities have not been so fortunate.

As someone that’s been following the environmental movement and covering actions against the expansion of fossil fuels, I really thought that the train derailment would be a wake up call for many in the area.

It presented such an extreme image. People would have to ask questions– why was crude oil from North Dakota being shipped through Lynchburg of all places? Why weren’t the safety regulations in place to prevent this? Had this happened anywhere else?

It’s seemed that wasn’t the case, unfortunately. As soon as the fires burned out and the images were uploaded to social media, we just accepted that it was a freak accident- both random and unpreventable.

Almost a month to the day before the derailment, Sierra Club Virginia released a statement citing recent oil train incidents in the US and Canada. Sierra Club Virginia director, Glen Besa, said in a statement, “These trains are travelling through Lynchburg along the James River through Richmond and on to the York County facility on the York River. We’re concerned that a train derailment could result in an explosion and the loss of life or an oil spill that could jeopardize our drinking water supplies and the environment.”

Turns out they were dead right. Maybe we shouldn’t dismiss their concerns about this pipeline so quickly.

“We share some of their concerns for environmental impact of the construction phase,” the News & Advance Editorial Board claims, as if the only environmental risks are from the construction. “We must look at the bigger picture… the $17 trillion, energy-driven U.S. economy,” it continues.

First of all, the “bigger picture” is the planet and the future of its inhabitants.

There is no debate that climate change is happening; only a failure of the media to accurately portray facts and science to the American people, and the incredible success of fossil fuel lobbyists and propagandists to paint a scientific consensus as a massive hoax perpetrated by hundreds of thousands of scientists from around the world in order to… get increased funding(?).

The real debate is how we are going to deal with rising seas, catastrophic flooding and increased drought while cutting emissions, not whether or not we can pretend we don’t have to.

Second, the article fails to acknowledge the “bigger picture” that is the pivotal fight in this country, and beyond, over energy policy. There really isn’t middle ground. As much as “all-of-the-above” sounds nice, it’s not progressive enough.

We have a choice– either full ahead over the cliff of environmental negligence and intergenerational tyranny, or a full stop, and a change of course to a more just, sustainable future.

That fight encompasses people from across the continent- from indigenous communities in Canada, to ranchers in Texas; from the low-income urban communities that tend to get hit most directly by environmental pollution to community-owned wind farm co-ops in the Midwest; from West Virginia residents fighting mountaintop-removal coal mining to Washington residents fighting against proposed coal export terminals.

And it includes the fight in Nelson County.

Much of that fight to date has been over the controversial natural gas extraction process known as “fracking.” At best, it’s extremely water and energy intensive and it’s effects simply haven’t been studied enough, and the adequate regulations haven’t been put into place(or have been removed such as the “Halliburton Loophole” which exempts fracking companies from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act).

At worst, it destroys the health of people nearby wells and pipelines, contaminates drinking water and aquifers, turns idyllic wilderness to moonscape and causes earthquakes.

We know now too, that natural gas is not the clean “bridge fuel” the industry touted it as.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that “the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” Accounting for that, “total greenhouse gas emissions… are nearly identical to coal,” according to the Sierra Club.

The natural gas plant in New Brunswick, which would be connected to the pipeline, “would emit as much carbon pollution annually as half a million cars,” according to a report by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (Full disclosure, the author is a CCAN fellow). The report also notes that in the company’s most recent 15-year plan, proportionally, there will be no increase in clean energy.

Some, I’m sure, will argue that moving towards clean energy is not feasible, or that the economy wouldn’t be able to support it. Indeed the original article asks, “Would opponents of the pipeline want those homes and businesses in Virginia using electricity from coal-burning power plants… [or the] plant in New Brunswick to be burning coal or carbon-emitting biomass fuel instead?” as if there just isn’t any other option.

Instead of investing $2 billion into this pipeline, Dominion should instead spend that money on renewable energy sources including developing its offshore wind program. Last year the company won the lease to over 112,000 acres off the Virginia coast, but has only slated to build two 6-megawatt turbines.

The entire area has the potential to create 2,000 megawatts and power over 700,000 homes!

The cost of solar energy has plummeted recently- by as much as 60% in two years– making it a viable option as well. Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, is now behind just California in solar growth, while we rank 26th, with no utility-scale solar production.

A move to clean energy would create tens of thousands of jobs as well, and we’re already seeing that across the country where there are now more jobs in clean energy than in coal. Studies show that just developing offshore wind would create 10,000 jobs while the pipeline will create a negligible amount of permanent jobs.

The idea that we can face the defining issue of this generation head on is not just a pipedream. Our shift away from fossil fuels is inevitable, and the sooner we embrace it, the better- for jobs, for those already experiencing the effects of climate change, for the planet as a whole, and for our posterity.

The same people that will make unspeakable amounts of money from this pipeline and the extraction of natural gas, are the same people that knew DOT-111 tanker cars were unsafe for Bakken crude oil transportation, and still decided to use them to ship unfathomable amounts of oil through large population centers every day.

They are the same people that are destroying West Virginia by literally leveling mountains and valleys, leaving the communities there perpetually impoverished and dependent on an industry that has actively exploited their cheap labor for decades.

They are the same people that convinced us to go along with their oil and gas “boom” without the proper regulations in place, without even the infrastructure to handle it, in the name of energy independence only to ship these same extracted fuels to the coast for export to other countries.

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