A Pipeline of Promises

By Matthew Poteat, News Leader

A couple of friends and I recently took a country drive along local roads. From Swoope we followed a general route of Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline. It’s a beautiful piece of country. Farms, streams, homes, churches and cows make up a lot of views along the way, as do mountains. Beautiful mountains.

As we climbed over Shenandoah Mountain, we couldn’t help but wonder what it all might look like should the pipeline come through the area. My friend had some idea. He used to work for a gas company and said it would be disruptive, but after a few years the public would see a cleared green path devoid of trees, just like those that now carry power lines.

I told him I’d recently been to the fracking fields of West Virginia and I saw those green paths, along with the blasted mountaintops, heavy trucks, endless metal piping and the general chaos and noise of industrial fossil fuel production. We agreed it wasn’t pretty.

After awhile, we arrived in Monterey and turned right toward Bluegrass. It had snowed that week and everything was white. It was a beautiful winter day. Stopping to admire the views, we noticed a stream with a couple of deer drinking from the bank. We were looking at the headwaters of the mighty Potomac River, which provides water for millions of people.

We drove on and in a few miles my friend pointed to a low spot where the Jackson River began its journey to the James. Indeed, all around us were creeks, pristine mountains, country churches, rail fences, hay bales, barns, sheep, cows and homes.

Rather than follow existing corridors, Dominions wants to cut through these areas, areas that are increasingly under more human pressures and disappearing in the eastern United States.

IMG_0246 We sped on toward Covington and Falling Spring Falls. There we stopped to take in the view of what was once one of the grandest waterfalls in the American south. Thomas Jefferson described the Falls in 1781 as a “remarkable cascade … falling over a rock about 200 feet to the valley below.”

Today the falls are only 80 feet high. Fertilizer and mining industries took what they wanted from it, cutting the waterfall in half.

Making our way home, I thought about the promises extractive industries have made to people over the years. I recalled my visit to those West Virginia gas fields. I wonder what sorts of promises were made to those people who now live with the noise and pollution associated with pipelines and fracking.

IMG_0247Dominion and its partners are making a lot of promises as well. They’ve got rich and powerful friends who assure us that everything’s going to be fine, but I wonder how many of them live near those blasted mountain sides and have pipelines running in front of their homes? Have their property values declined or been infringed upon?

They say pipelines are safe but the Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration reports 10,844 significant gas pipeline accidents from 1995 to 2014, resulting in 1,398 injuries, 371 deaths, and $6.34 billion in damages.

Many of us use gas, it’s true; but what choices are we given? With more incentives and selection, it’s likely folks would choose something else, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Moreover, Dominion and their buddies have endless bags of money, an army of attorneys, scads of slick PR managers, and state lawmakers in their pockets to help maintain the status quo. Regular folks hardly have recourse in the matter.

There’s little reason to trust these people, and once they get that pipeline in, it’s in for good. There’s no going back. Our environment here will be deeply and fundamentally altered. Rather than use existing corridors or invest in alternative energy sources, Dominion seems hellbent on investing in old technology and old promises, leaving us all with its consequences.

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