By David Butterworth
Butterworth is a business agent for Pipeliners Local 798, which is comprised of 8,200 pipeline welders, helpers and journeymen who live and work across the U.S.
As a union official working with Mountain Valley Pipeline, I’ve watched with growing dismay over the past few years as the project’s opponents resorted to more and more extreme tactics that violate the law and harm the livelihoods of working Americans.
In recent months, someone set fire to a $500,000 piece of construction equipment. Others have chained themselves to equipment, tying up resources and law enforcement officers who otherwise would be patrolling neighborhoods. This month, a protester physically assaulted a pipeline worker.
Protesters last year went to the home of a State Water Control Board member just before a key vote and hung a large anti-pipeline banner on the board member’s front porch. Threats were made against other board members. Opponents at regulatory meetings regularly yell at board members and disrupt the meetings. At one recent State Water Control Board Meeting in Richmond, my fellow workers and I were surrounded by protesters who chanted slogans and sang. To be subjected to this type of behavior when all you are doing is trying to earn a living is wrong.
All of these actions are part of a campaign to intimidate the public and slow the project down. These activists want to create a false impression of widespread public opposition. The reality is most people across the region support the project or don’t care to get engaged because they don’t want to deal with the outrageous behavior of these activists.
Enough is enough.
More than 2,500 hardworking men and women were earning a living building this critical infrastructure at the height of construction last summer, before court cases and delays slowed down the project. These workers earned, on average, $56,000. These delay tactics have taken thousands of dollars out of the pockets of these workers and their families. That’s unacceptable.
I understand some landowners along the route didn’t want the pipeline, and that they still don’t. But the federal government has concluded this project is needed, and we need to get it built quickly, safely and responsibly. We’ve already completed more than 80 percent of the project.
When I started in this business more than 20 years ago, I felt it was an honest way to make a good wage and support my family. I still do. Yet now I’m being told that I’m a bad person by folks who don’t understand the realities of our nation’s energy needs and have never stepped foot on a pipeline right-of-way.
There are no environmental freebies when it comes to energy. Solar panels take up many acres of land when installed. As for wind, we’ve all seen what windmills look like after they are installed. Neither of these sources can fully replace natural gas, which is affordable, abundant and helping us to meet emission goals put in place by the Obama administration. These are facts that fossil fuel opponents don’t want to discuss because they are inconvenient.
Roanoke area residents and businesses need additional supplies of natural gas to meet increasing demand. Roanoke Gas has stated the pipeline will prevent shortages in high-use times of the year and will provide new service in parts of Franklin County.
Out-of-state activist organizations and their members, however, continue to try to stir up trouble by coming here and protesting this project and interfering with construction. This past March, Roanoke-area opposition groups invited members of the radical German environmental group Ende Gelande to conduct seminars in protest tactics. An instructional camp on tree-sitting and other tactics has been held in the Blacksburg area. Groups are also circulating dangerous instructional guides used by extremists to impede and sabotage construction.
The union members working on the project are professionals who take pride in building the infrastructure that keeps this country moving forward. Our welder members are held to the strictest guidelines in the construction industry.
The environmental controls associated with this project are tougher than anything we have ever experienced. In many instances, the installation of erosion control and stormwater management equipment takes nearly as much time as the actual right of way construction. Inspectors are literally everywhere.
Large infrastructure projects of this complexity will encounter issues, but the important thing is to work with regulators to fix problems and constantly improve procedures. Last year was not different, despite the Roanoke Valley’s highest amount of rain in recorded history, with 62.4 inches.
The overwhelming majority of stormwater and erosion-related complaints against the project involved minor things like failing to repair a silt fence within 24 hours, and there was no long-term impact to waterways or wildlife. Our folks saw how the company stopped construction last summer to strengthen procedures and protections. Those efforts have worked.
People have the right to express different points of view but not in a way that hurts other people. Regarding the need for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, there is no argument. It has received its certificate, and it is being built.
The quicker that workers can finish it, the quicker the right-of-way will be restored and everyone can turn their attention to other matters.