Communication, and not Criticism, is Needed During Pipeline Debate

Opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline thrives and grows, thanks in part to scare tactics related to local issues. Now it has come to the point where an informational open house by Dominion, appropriately scheduled for the Augusta County Government Center, had to be moved elsewhere because the Augusta County Alliance said it would “rally” outside the event, and because of concern about the safety of Dominion officials attending the open house.

As local issues are driving most of the opposition to this pipeline, we need to be mindful of much larger issues, national and in fact historic, that favor the pipeline.

As American energy production dwindled in the mid-20th century, we depended more and more on sources in the Middle East. By the 1970s, those nations had sufficient power to restrict the flow of oil to us, creating long lines of autos at the gas pumps and raising the price of oil dramatically. As we responded by shipping more and more of our wealth to them, we eventually learned that part of our own wealth was supporting terrorist organizations.

American energy independence has long been seen as an obvious solution to this problem. But it seemed far beyond our reach until new technologies, including fracking, recently laid open vast new resources of oil and gas in this country. Energy independence now seems attainable within a few years.

Lack of pipelines to get the energy out, particularly from fields in North Dakota and West Virginia-Pennsylvania-Ohio, is a major deterrent to progress. Oil is being shipped by railroads, which have been found far less safe than pipelines. More gas is being “burned off” into the atmosphere than is being put to productive use.

All this suggests to me that the pipeline will be built, whether we want it or not. If so, we would be better off engaging Dominion with our questions, values, and expectations, rather than by attempting any blanket rejection of the pipeline.

Jim Burns

(This was published as a Letter to the Editor on September 14, 2014 by the Waynesboro, VA News-Virginian.)

Logic should Drive Pipeline Debate

Even as we complain of obstructionism in Washington, we teach similar practices locally. That’s the only way I can interpret “Fighting Back” in the Sunday, September 7, issue. The meeting, aimed at fighting and prevailing against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was rich in advice about where to write and lobby and how to take legal steps. It was remarkably devoid, however, of useful tips on what to say.

There was an abundance of emotionally charged statements, such as, “…and how the pipeline will harm you and your property and all the things that are special about Augusta…” and “…will fragment our forests forever.”   And also, “…no upside for us and potentially a lot of downside” and “…would affect property values and could affect mortgages” and “Dominion could not have made a worse decision.”

Added were some smart tips on actions designed to obstruct: “…obtain conservation easements for their property,” and “…information about a Norfolk law firm that fights eminent domain cases, and …doesn’t bill for services unless a suit is won.”

All this is a classic presentation of the “Not in My Back Yard” approach, which is aimed expressly at transferring the nuisance to someone else’s back yard – presumably someone poorer and less influential. A society gluttonous for energy should not be so quick to push the consequences onto less fortunate neighbors.

In the spirit of “Let us reason together,” there are fundamental questions that could and should be raised constructively – meaning not that we have the answers, but that we want answers. Such matters might include the actual need in our tri-state area for gas from the Utica and Marcellus shales; alternative means of transport; and site-selection policies such as the use of existing rights of way (Interstate Highways, etc.) versus new trailblazing in undeveloped areas.

This is a time to express our values clearly regarding environmental protection, safety, local benefits, and all such matters. Presenting them as absolute project-killers may well lead quickly to a dead end. Demanding that they be considered may profoundly improve the planning process.

(This was published as a Letter to the Editor on September 11, 2014 by the Waynesboro, VA News Virginian.)