White Paper: Why the Eastern Shore Pipelines are a Bad Investment for Maryland

The Eastern Shore of Maryland–ground zero for sea-level rise caused by global warming–is facing two proposed gas pipelines. We are  concerned that expanding gas infrastructure to the area is an expensive, short-sighted option for the region. While studies have shown that there are cheaper, viable alternatives to gas, including electrification and geothermal energy, the State of Maryland didn’t consider any of these options. Instead, it only requested applications for a gas pipeline to supply gas to two state-run facilities.

The economics of gas are faltering, with hundreds of gas companies expected to declare bankruptcy by the end of next year. These bankruptcies, combined with Maryland’s commitment to tackling climate change through electrification of buildings, raises concerns that investing in new gas infrastructure will lock ratepayers into paying for decades for a product that will not be viable for that long. 

This new white paper, prepared by CCAN with help from our partners at the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, outlines our concerns about the economics of these pipeline projects, details how Maryland has cheaper, cleaner options, and also debunks the promise of “renewable” natural gas.

Through a Newcomer’s Eyes: Grounding Myself in People and Place Along the Mountain Valley Pipeline Route

By Elle de la Cancela

Maury called me throughout the whole drive over.

It was welcomed, as I trekked my way through the mountains and into Monroe County, West Virginia. He told me where to stop for cheap gas, which snacks I should grab, and the turns I would take down gravel roads to get to Sweet Springs. I knew nothing of the area. I had only just moved from New York to Richmond three weeks earlier — my car was still heavy from the last of my things. 

I was there to tour the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Told that my new position with CCAN would include fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I knew I had to get a handle on the project and get in touch with the local resistance fighters. I had spent the week prior preparing myself, planning the logistics and buying supplies. But I was overwhelmed with what I actually witnessed. The contrast between the kind, caring folks I met and the sheer negligence of a company hell-bent on delivering unneeded fracked gas through farms, backyards, and public land was dizzying.

 

Maury Johnson in front of the right-of-way by his property

I arrived at Sweet Springs Resort, currently non-functioning but with a deep history. Maury Johnson acted as my tour guide these first few days. An expert in the area, he has filed over 180 violations (of sediment and erosion control, incorrect storage, among others) caused by the pipeline he has personally identified along the route. He explained that Sweet Springs Resort, named for the hot springs nearby, was a hotel for a period of time and the current property owner planned to restore it. When I inquired further into the past, he said that this spring originally belonged to native peoples (mostly likely historical Eastern Sioux lands of the Yesa Confederacy, but he never specified), and that there had been a massacre to acquire the land. This was an orienting way to start my trip: the aggressive reminder that we are all on stolen land. As I interacted with those whose properties were taken through eminent domain to build the pipeline, I remembered the long history of abuse and land theft. 

Before we began our destruction tour, Maury pointed out three different water bottling plants and a few other springs resorts, touting that Peters Mountain has some of the best water in the world. Water is not just an attraction, but a source of manufacturing and a major economic driver. The pipeline’s presence threatens that. We first must consider the runoff, erosion and sediment deposited in this karst zone (meaning that there are underwater rivers and caves throughout the region) from construction alone. And keep in mind that with every project there is a possibility of leakage, which would poison the water in the whole region. This is not just folks’ drinking water and health we’re talking about (which should be reason enough to halt the project), but their livelihoods. 

We drove in our separate SUVs, communicating by walkie talkie because of COVID concerns and its rising rates in the county. Maury stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture of a box turtle (they’re doing a study, he informed me) and safely delivered it to the other side. I can think of no better way to describe the folks in this fight — attentive and driven to preserve life. As we pulled up to the right-of-way at Pence Springs, my heart sunk. Lush green hills were stripped down to a 125-foot clearing. Along the edges of the stream were splitweed and ironweed, yellows and purples dotting the water before it opened up to a massive treeless zone. Here the pipe had already been put in the ground. It hasn’t held any gas and never will, if we have anything to do with it.

Other areas I came across were not nearly as “finished.” While MVP claims that they are 92% done, I cannot say I saw even half of that during my time. At only a few locations did I see the yellow topped markers indicating that the pipe was in the ground. Most of the route was vast dead zones. In the most “completed” areas, pipe was welded and staged with no trench to be seen. In other areas, the pipe wasn’t even staged — segmented and piled, left out to bake in the sun for years since they were placed there. These pipes and their coating aren’t supposed to sit out for more than one year, but I saw some dated 2017. 

Pipe dated 2017

In other areas, it seemed utterly uncleared. Because of the stop work orders in place (status uncertain due to the recent biological opinion), several sections in Giles County had time to regrow for the past two years. Nature is resilient; the ecosystem in these areas will restore itself. As long as we stop gas from ever entering these pipes, there is a chance to bring these areas back.

During my time on the route, I was able to visit the Yellow Finch Tree Sit as they marked their two-year anniversary. The right-of-way here looked particularly rotten —  horrible, steep, brown, with big white tarps over it — a band-aid to control MVP’s numerous erosion violations. It looked like a black diamond ski slope with its steep drop-offs, but far wider than any expert run would be. I hiked up a logging road, imagining what a terrible sight it must have been for those at camp as thousands of trees like the ones they were sitting in were trucked out. With a wave of death snaking through the hills in one direction, the other view held a hand-felled cut, leading right up to a remaining stand of trees on the route. From this height, I could see a little bit of white amidst the canopy — a poster draped over one of the sits. As gut-wrenching as it was to see all of that barren land, this little section imbued some much-needed hope in me. I hiked down to get a look at the sits from below. 

There were three platforms about fifty feet up in the trees. They had buckets and pulley systems, banners and tarps. Beneath them were big umbrella-like barriers to prevent anyone from climbing up. MVP had only sent one surveyor who had climbed once – to spike a tree, killing it, where a sitter’s platform was staged. These folks are willing to put their bodies on the line and break the law for what they know is right. It reminded me of other fights against injustice, and the presumed “illegality” of human bodies when they are in certain spaces. Social justice and environmental justice are joined in so many ways — like how climate refugees will only increase with extreme weather

Anniversary day was a weird one – celebratory for the staying power of the Yellow Finch tree-sitters — but deeply tired. Yellow Finch hasn’t had many visitors other than stalwart suppliers due to COVID-19, but last weekend about ten of us visitors sat apart from each other in the dirt, trying to make the most of it. Folks walked around drinking beer and eating cakes with antifascist slogans. While morale was high that day, there was the explicit hope that we all wouldn’t be there next year. These tree-sitters want to go home, to not have to face another winter out here in the cold. In full organizer mode, I asked what I could do to help – did they need material resources, what sorts of media should I send their way, etc. At one point, I received a blank stare: “Just stop the pipeline.” It was a sobering moment. The tree sits are a stalling method for the tedious legal, policy, and media work – for those of us who are down here safely on land to do our jobs and stop this pipeline from ever being completed. We all have our place in this fight; we too have a vital part to play.

My trip was coming to a close around Labor Day, which I spent with Russell Chisholm, the leader of a coalition of local “preserve” groups called POWHR. I drove into the Newport Village Green to meet him, welcomed by a sign stating “You are now entering the blast zone.” Unlike my experiences with Maury, we didn’t visit the private landowners affected, but instead travelled along the Forest Service land that had been permitted for construction. The thought of this alone is unsettling — a forest that is supposed to serve the public good and is highly frequented by campers is now zoned to have a massive 42-in pipeline running through it. Forty-two inches is a huge diameter: I stood next to these wide tunnels, and realized I could easily crawl inside.

We approached the right-of-way through the Jefferson National Forest, a steep path that included several hard right angles. As we pulled in, we saw that posted up on a tree were notices that this area — of public land — was off-limits due to construction. To circumvent our inability to walk the site, Russell brought out a drone — a very helpful tool in catching when and where construction begins again. That day it showed me a longer stretch than I could imagine — a trail of brown bobbing over ridges through the otherwise verdant forest. The aerial view from the drone showed me the magnitude of this project — of how much has gone to waste when the MVP is cancelled like the long-fought Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

There are countless other horror stories I could share: of retirement dream homes built from scratch t on old family property that was completely bisected by the pipeline; of flower beds outside kitchen windows torn up for an easement less than 100 feet away; of a sinkhole caused by boring into CARST zones near a couple’s chicken coops; of an organic farm that will disappear if the pipe is filled with gas. I have the happier stories, as well: of posters, walls and cars painted in anti-pipeline slogans; the jokes and onion rings among the trees; the fresh country eggs that were gifted to me for breakfast; the folks that opened their homes and their hearts to me as I slept in their backyards. 

I drove the three hours back to Richmond meditating on what I had seen. Resolved and directed, I am acutely aware of my place in the fight. You too have a place. 

The fight’s not over. September 11 is the FINAL DAY to submit comments to FERC to oppose the extension to the MVP. The deadline to file a comment is 5pm this evening. You can sign the CCAN public comment here or file a personal comment of your own through FERC with this toolkit

Please also donate to Appalachians Against Pipelines in support of the Yellow Finch Tree Sit, POWHR or CCAN. We will always be outspent by MVP — only we can fund our collective liberation.  

45,000+ Tell Dominion Energy: Fire Tom Farrell Immediately

Environmental advocates deliver massive nationwide petition to Dominion leadership, shareholders

RICHMOND, VA — In the wake of the high-profile cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, environmental organizations announced that more than 45,000 people signed a petition calling on Dominion Energy to fire Tom Farrell from the company. 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PETITION IN FULL

“Typically, when a CEO wastes billions of dollars of customers’ money, leads the company in an entirely wrong direction for years upon years, lets down Wall Street and shareholders, that person is let go,” Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated. “It’s long past time for Dominion’s board to give Tom Farrell a pink slip. It’s time to start a new era of truly responsible leadership in one of the country’s largest utilities.” 

Tom Farrell has served as CEO of this utility giant for more than a decade. He was the main cheerleader for the ACP when it was first proposed. He continued pushing for it even as a massive grassroots movement grew in opposition to it, drawing nationwide attention from the likes of former Vice President Al Gore, who called it a “reckless, racist ripoff.” The pipeline was held up for years through delays as permit after permit were thrown out for not holding up. Yet for years, under the leadership of Farrell, Dominion Energy claimed that the ACP was on track, that it would be a great boon for shareholders — which was its primary goal. Eventually, legal complications led to ballooning expenses which made clear that the financial argument didn’t hold up either. 

Dominion Energy recently announced that Farrell would step down as CEO and become Executive Chair of the Dominion Board of Directors. But the company’s new CEO will report to him, and Farrell will still have a heavy hand in planning Dominion’s future. Farrell himself said in response, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The petition states in part: “Farrell has proven himself to be an ill-equipped leader — a business model built on extraction, environmental injustice, and political corruption will not be tolerated.” It is supported by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 198 methods, Climate Hawks Vote, Corporate Accountability, Daily Kos, and Friends of the Earth Action. 

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PETITION IN FULL

Contact: Denise Robbins, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-1889

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.