— The same people who brought the pipeline to the Eastern Panhandle also brought Rockwool. The Rockwool factory would be a goldmine for Mountaineer Gas. Rockwool does in fact need the pipeline. Awareness of the climate crisis will ultimately stop them both—hopefully sooner rather than later.
To me, the fight against the Mountaineer Gas pipeline and the Rockwool factory are not just related battles, they are both part of the same long struggle I’ve been part of for the past three years.
Most folks in Jefferson County—who are fighting to keep Rockwool out—think of the company as one that would cause pain and suffering for them if it ever goes into production. I think of Rockwool as a company that has already caused pain and suffering for Panhandle residents.
The families in Morgan County who had their land taken by eminent domain have already suffered because of Rockwool and Mountaineer Gas. The families who had to deal with a pipeline being built 30 feet from their house have already suffered from the industrialization of our area. Mountaineer benefited from the sacrifice of families that only received a $500 one-time payment to have the pipeline on their land forever.
The pipeline has, from the start, been meant to serve industry in Jefferson County. Officials from the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) have been in the local media for the past three-four years arguing for the need for the pipeline to serve a potential industrial park. They told of large corporations that had declined to locate in Jefferson County due to the lack of natural gas service.
The document Mountaineer Gas wrote to request a permit from the Public Service Commission in March of 2016, the so-called Infrastructure Repair and Expansion Plan, stated that the purpose of the pipeline would be to expand the potential for industry in the county.
One way that I knew resisting Rockwool was just a continuation of resisting the pipeline was that it was the same players on the other side. The JCDA was instrumental in bringing the pipeline project to our area, just like they were instrumental in bringing Rockwool.
They were vocal supporters of the pipeline from the start. Back in February of 2017, our group protested the pipeline in the town of Hancock, Maryland. From all the way over in Jefferson County, the then-director of the JCDA, John Reisenweber made a point of slandering us protestors by saying in The Journal that we were, “paid protestors, bused in from D.C. and the Dakotas.”
Also, in July of 2017, Eric Lewis of the JCDA, spoke at a public forum in support of the pipeline. Brent Walls of Potomac Riverkeepers and I spoke in opposition to the project. During the Q&A period, many members of the community asked Lewis what companies had declined to come to Jefferson County, or even just what kind of industries they were. He refused to answer this question repeatedly, citing “confidentiality agreements” with the JCDA. What company other than Rockwool did they have a confidentiality agreement with?
Not an Ideal Scenario
We found out that Rockwool was the company that was meant to be served by the Mountaineer Gas pipeline in July of 2018, when the company made its filing to the PSC (Public Service Commission) for the expansion of the pipeline into Jefferson County. The only destination for the pipeline was the Rockwool site.
It went nowhere else. Not to Middleway or Charles Town or Shepherdstown, as originally planned.
Just to Rockwool.
But it all fit. Rockwool was a company that came in “under the radar,” just like the pipeline—both brought in by the JCDA and the WV Development Office. And Rockwool, as it turned out, would be a huge consumer of Mountaineer’s gas, as well as West Virginia coal. The factory would use 1.6 million cubic feet of fracked gas per day. That’s enough to fuel around 9,500 homes, or a city with around 24,000 residents.
Mountaineer currently has around 220,000 customers. Rockwool by itself would increase their sales by about five percent. And if Rockwool comes in, there would be possible expansion of the industrial park now that the gas pipeline is there. Mountaineer is probably counting on more factories near Rockwool and in the Burr Industrial Park nearby.
Mountaineer needs Rockwool to grow its sales, and has planned this pipeline all along for Rockwool, or a company like it. And Rockwool in turn needs the gas pipeline.
Rockwool, and any other heavy industry, had never tried to locate in Jefferson County until the pipeline was in progress. (The only heavy industry in Jefferson County for the longest time was the old Eastman Kodak plant, which had its own small gas line coming from Berkeley County.)
When I first spoke to Rockwool executive Trent Ogilvie in August of 2018, the pipeline extension to Rockwool had not even been approved by the PSC, but he was convinced a pipeline already existed at the Rockwool site. I had to disabuse him of that notion.
The next time I spoke to a Rockwool executive about the pipeline, it was Bjorn Andersen. He acknowledged that a pipeline to the site did not actually exist yet. He must have gone back to the JCDA to clear up that question. I asked what the company would do if no pipeline were ever built. Andersen said that they would have to truck in liquefied natural gas, but that “would not be an ideal scenario.”
I would say that given how much gas Rockwool would use, it might be entirely impractical to truck it in. It would also be more expensive.
Back in March (2019), approval of the pipeline to Rockwool was rushed through the DEP (WV Department of Environmental Protection) from, what I understand, by the governor himself—against citizen outcry and without the hearing the DEP had promised Jefferson County citizens.
It’s no coincidence, of course, that Rockwool would also burn tons of coal. Charleston is in the hands of both coal and fracking concerns. And Charleston could not care less about the air and the water here in the Panhandle. Rockwool and the pipeline are both part of a plan to create a big market for fracked gas and coal, so the rich buddies of our leaders in Charleston can cash in on the last fossil fuel gold rush.
It’s also no coincidence that Eastern Panhandle Senator Charles Trump got a law passed to help the Mountaineer Gas Company in 2015, right before the project got started. That law, SB390, essentially states that fracking is awesome and West Virginia should encourage it. It also states that the gas company can recoup the cost of the pipeline from their ratepayers before they even build the pipeline. The law reads:
“West Virginia is rich in energy resources, which provide many advantages to the state, its economy and its citizens;
(2) West Virginia is experiencing significant growth in the natural gas industry with the development of the Marcellus and Utica shale; (that is to say, fracked gas)
(3) West Virginia’s abundant natural gas reserves have created, and will continue to create, many benefits to the state and its citizens;
(4) Growth in the natural gas industry and its accompanying benefits require West Virginia to be proactive and increase the focus on the natural gas infrastructure in this state in order for those benefits to flow to the state and its citizens, including those citizens in areas unserved or underserved by natural gas utilities” (by which they certainly meant Jefferson County).
West Virginia’s law may say the state has to support fracking. The governor may still be 100 percent behind the coal industry. But the rest of the world is moving on.
The climate crisis is becoming undeniable. In 20 or 30 years, factories like Rockwool won’t be allowed to operate. In the next few years, pipelines like this won’t get built anymore.
If Rockwool were to end up being built, there would one day be a big abandoned brownfield where it used to be. The pipeline would lie there in disuse—once renewables replace old fuel sources. Our well water could be undrinkable. And there would, tragically, be an increase in cancer deaths in our valley.
That’s why we have to stop Rockwool, whatever it takes. Why should the Eastern Panhandle be West Virginia’s last industry-sacrifice zone? Why should people here get cancer and other diseases like people in other industrial areas? Why should we let Charleston make us the last sacrifice zone created before the world gets serious about the climate crisis?
We need to fight off this foreign invader, Rockwool, and their collaborators. Let’s not be the last victims of West Virginia’s fossil-fuel gold rush.
Russell Mokhiber, founding member of our group, Eastern Panhandle Protectors, wrote this in July of 2017:
“In fifty years, when our country and the rest of the world is being fueled by renewable energy, citizens of West Virginia will look back at the glut of natural gas pipelines and ask, why?
“Why did we give out-of-state fossil-fuel corporations the power of eminent domain to take the land of farmers so that the corporations could make a cheap dollar on transporting fossil fuels that will be phased out over the next fifty years? And the answer will be: corporate money and power.”
— Article submitted by Tracy Cannon