ELKINS – Using a hula hoop as a visual aide, several people spoke in opposition to Dominion Resources’ planned 42-inch natural gas transmission pipeline during Thursday’s Randolph County Commission meeting.
Dominion Resources plans to send supplies of natural gas produced mostly from the Marcellus Shale formation in the Upper Ohio Valley to North Carolina via its Southeast Reliability Project pipeline system. Dominion claims the final route has not been selected; however, Lauren Ragland – who spoke before the County Commission Thursday – said all of the surveys have been completed and the route will take the pipeline through Randolph and Pocahontas counties.
Ragland, spokesperson for the West Virginia Wilderness Lovers group, told the County Commission Thursday the increased jobs many supporters tout as a benefit of the pipeline project will not materialize. She said welders for the project will be required to have three to five years experience and be in a union. She also cited statistics from Wetzel County, which in 2011 had an 11.9 percent unemployment rate during the height of pipeline construction.
“The situation here is there’s no laws for private industry,” Ragland said. “The commissioners can beg and ask and the mayors can beg and ask them to hire locals, but the truth is they already have these contracts with out-of-staters. That is something we all need to accept,” she said.
Ragland said officials believe the local terrain will require compressor stations every 10 to 20 miles along the pipeline. She said the project would create health hazards, including high-pitched noise produced 24 hours a day by the compressor stations.
Ragland also cited potential air and water pollution and congestion from increased truck traffic as problems inherent in the gas pipeline project. She urged the County Commission to consider passing a resolution urging Dominion representatives to come to Randolph to explain the project and its route through the area.
Wetzel County resident Ed Wade Jr. told commissioners local EMS and law enforcement agencies will be under a tremendous strain if the project goes through. Departments will need to increase their staffing significantly, he said.
“When you take this kind of development and bring it into small rural areas … you put everybody’s life in jeopardy with these large trucks,” Wade said. He described some of the trucks as being 14-16 feet wide and 150,000 pounds per load.
Wade explained he had spent many years working in the oil industry in various jobs.
“There are a lot of hazards that come with these pipelines, especially explosions and ruptures,” Wade said, showing photos of pipeline installations and pointed out places where flanges are located. “Every one of these has gaskets.
“Gaskets will deteriorate and they leak and the stuff goes into the air,” Wade said. He explained that because natural gas is methane and heavier than air, it will not rise and dissipate. Because most local people live in the valleys between hills, Wade said they would be right in the path of the leaking gas, which he described as causing cancer. He said the flow of natural gas through the pipeline would be 1.5 billion cubic feet per day.
Wade said three gas companies want to build pipelines to take gas over the mountains – Dominion, Spectrum and EQT.
“Somebody wants to be first. Things get speeded up, corners get cut and stuff happens,” Wade said.
One local resident spoke in favor of the proposed pipeline.
Doug Cooper, of the Mingo area, pointed out our country has tremendous energy needs.
“We’ve got a great chance to be energy independent with all this natural gas that’s been discovered but we’ve got to get it to where it’s supposed to be used,” Cooper said.
Cooper said a pipeline is the safest way to transport any gas or liquid. He pointed to the tanker truck that wrecked in Bartow in July as an example. He said it’s load went straight into the Greenbrier River.
“There are legitimate environmental concerns that need to be addressed but most of these are during construction,” Cooper said. He explained there will be various state and federal agencies monitoring the project.
Cooper pointed out that many of the environmental problems cited by earlier speakers could also be applied to Corridor H construction, such as massive road cuts and runoff. “But they can all be managed,” he said.
Cooper said he believed a lot of fear tactics are being used about the pipeline.
“There was far more environmental damage with Corridor H construction than with this pipeline. So I recommend the Randolph County Commission endorse this pipeline plan,” Cooper said.
The County Commission thanked the speakers for their presentations, but made no comment on the pipeline project.
– In other action, the Commission approved and signed agreements for a Victims of Crime Act Grant and a grant for the North Central Community Corrections program.
Commissioners approved reappointing Dave Wilmoth, James Davis and Thomas Pritt to the Randolph County Ambulance Authority. They also approved the hiring of Sheldon Vance as a full-time maintenance person for the Courthouse Complex.
Sheriff Mark Brady was given the go-ahead to hire two new deputies. Jonathan Harman and David Pennington will begin work on Aug. 18 and will attend the West Virginia State Police Academy on Sept. 2.
Brady explained this would bring his department to 12 full-time deputies and one part-timer, still leaving one vacancy.