By David Lee Seriff
Seriff is a training manager with a technology company and lives in Blacksburg.
On Feb. 4, 2015, The Roanoke Times published my commentary titled “Virginia’s Gold Rush.” My words decried the rush to build two massive 42” high-pressure gas pipelines across our state. I wrote:
“Like the 49ers who rushed into California to stake their claims and strike it rich, energy companies are staking claims to lay fracked gas pipelines across both states. The mining claims of 160 years ago stole land from Native Americans, often through violence, and without compensation. These current land claims will commandeer private citizens’ property via the law of eminent domain. Big corporations will dictate what they pay, and landowners’ rights will be quashed in the name of progress.”
Despite citizen and environmental groups best efforts to halt these plans, the Mountain Valley Pipeline became a reality. In a blitzkrieg attack MVP mowed down hundreds of miles of forest, forever scared farms and fields, and destroyed many landowners lives in the process. However, during this ill-conceived quest for quick profits, reality suddenly hit. Gold rushes historically result in a small group of people getting rich at the expense of numerous others. They also cause long lasting environmental degradation. In this case dozens of experts had warned about the treacherous mountain slopes and karst terrain in the pipeline’s path. They were ignored. The dire predictions came true in the form of erosion, mudslides, and water contamination.
The State of Virginia responded by suing MVP for more than 300 environmental violations. Meanwhile a lawsuit halted construction across the national forest after a judge ruled that the government ignored its own policies when it allowed pipeline construction. Another suit stopped MVP from crossing waterways because of their lack of site-specific planning and disregard for normal environmental standards. Numerous court cases over land, seized from owners via eminent domain for private gain, remain unresolved. Because of these challenges, MVP’s rush has been slowed to a crawl… but not stopped.
Why has this boondoggle been allowed to continue? Moneyed corporations and corrupt politicians thick with lies have overruled the good of local communities and protection of the environment. Where are the hundreds of jobs promised? Where are the new businesses attracted to Virginia due to this coming abundance of gas? Where are the cost savings to consumers? Roanoke Gas actually raised prices after agreeing to tap the pipeline.
Why won’t Virginia’s leaders lead? Are they totally unaware that pipeline projects actually impede our ability to compete with other states? As of 2016 North Carolina ranked #2 in solar energy production which led to new economic development. (North Carolina just halted a proposed extension of MVP by denying a water quality permit.). Georgia recently became a leader in solar with a new factory assembling 10,000 solar panels per day. Hundreds of jobs have been created. Thereafter they landed a owers data center which demanded 100% renewable energy. Many states are surpassing Virginia economically because more businesses demand renewable energy before they relocate or build new facilities.
But here is the real irony: As the companies behind this pipeline destroy our environment, the fracking gold rush is simultaneously destroying their own businesses. Steve Schlotterbeck, the former president of EQT, MVP’s parent company, lamented at a recent petrochemical conference: “The shale gas revolution has frankly been an unmitigated disaster for any buy-and-hold investor in the shale gas industry with very few limited exceptions.” He went on to say, “In a little more than a decade, most of these companies just destroyed a very large percentage of their companies’ value that they had at the beginning of the shale revolution. It’s frankly hard to imagine the scope of the value destruction that has occurred. And it continues.”
Overproduction drove gas prices to all-time lows. Relentless drilling of thousands of wells continued despite falling demand. Companies were forced to consolidate or went bankrupt because of the gold rush mentality that undermined the market. Schlotterbeck noted, “Since 2015, there’s been 172 E&P company bankruptcies involving nearly a hundred billion dollars of debt.”
Meanwhile renewable energy has become a cheaper cleaner smarter alternative to fossil fuels. Our leaders fail to comprehend this reality. Gov. Northam lacked awareness in the 1980’s of the negative impact that blackface might have in the future. Northam will eventually experience far more embarrassment and regret over his role in allowing this pipeline’s sting impact on our environment.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is the last gasp of a dying industry. Continued construction stands as an ongoing crime against our environment and the citizens of Virginia. MVP is unneeded. It will add little value to Virginia’s economy. It is highly destructive to our planet. Sadly, government leaders are ignorant to this truth. They refuse to put a stop to this insanity. Therefore, we can only pray that EQT and other backers go bankrupt before they further destroy Virginia’s reputation and our hope for an environmentally sound future.