Guest Blog: West Virginia is under threat of Rockwool, thanks to a pipeline.
Thank you to guest blog writer Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors, who has been fighting a pipeline in West Virginia for almost two years. The pipeline paved the way for heavy industry to move into Jefferson County WV, very close to Charles Town and Historic Harpers Ferry. There is no reason to believe the Eastern Shore Pipeline isn't the first step in a plan to bring the same sort of heavy industry to Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read more from Tracy below.
To you all who are fighting against the pipeline proposed for Maryland’s Eastern Shore-
Those of us who have been fighting the pipeline here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia have a message for you: Pipelines are not the only intrusive or hazardous thing that will come your way if you accept the pipeline being built in your area.
The pipeline being built in my area is officially known as the “Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project”. But it has been known by other names, namely “the Potomac Pipeline”, after the river it would cross, and the “Mountaineer Gas Pipeline”, after one of the companies building it. The pipeline route begins at the connection to a fracked gas pipeline in Pennsylvania, then heads south through Maryland and under the Potomac River. The gas companies have not yet bored under the Potomac, but they plan to this fall.
Once in West Virginia it goes from Berkeley Springs, in Morgan County, to Martinsburg, in Berkeley County. This part of the pipeline is currently under construction. Landowners have been sued for eminent domain; others have relented under the threat. Woodland and farmland have been stripped of vegetation. Trees have been felled and ground into sawdust. Sixty-foot long sections of pipeline are being trucked around the area on our narrow, winding roads. Tensions exist among property owners over who got more money for signing the right-of-way agreements with the pipeline company.
The original destination for the pipeline route had originally been Charles Town, WV, which lies in Jefferson County. This part of the pipeline beyond Martinsburg is still in the planning stages. It has not been permitted yet. However, the proposed end point has changed recently. Mountaineer Gas declared in their Public Service Commission filing last month that the pipeline would stop, for now, at a place called Ranson to the north of Charles Town. (More later on why Ranson ….)
Our group, Eastern Panhandle Protectors, has fought against this pipeline being built since September of 2016. We have asked local officials on many occasions what need the pipeline served. They gave the same answer time and again: Jobs. “What jobs?”, we asked. The officials would often reference large corporations, which they refused to name, that had decided not to locate in Jefferson County due to the lack of natural gas service. When pressed to name these corporations, they would say there were non-disclosure agreements in effect. When asked what sort of corporations they were, they could not even tell us that.
But they required gas, whoever they were.
We have found out recently which corporation and which kind of industry was planned for Jefferson County: an insulation company known by the name “Roxul” or “Rockwool”. The Danish-based company planned to build a 400,000-foot facility on an old apple orchard.
NDA’s had been signed between the company and the city of Ranson, the school board, the Jefferson County Commission, and the Assessor’s Office. Rockwool got $15 million in tax breaks for being so kind to come here.
This company melts down basalt rock and steel slag into a liquid, then spins it like cotton candy into fluffy insulating material. Imagine how hot the furnace must have to be to melt down rocks! Rock don’t melt under normal circumstances. After a forest fire, the rocks are just charred. The process that turns rocks into a liquid must require astronomical amounts of gas. (Editors Note: The furnace melts the materials to 1600 degrees Celsius, as hot as volcanic lava).
The pipeline has its sole destination at the site where this insulation factory is now being built. The pipeline would go from Pennsylvania to Ranson for the purpose of providing gas for those furnaces. No wonder the Transcanada and Mountaineer Gas companies wanted to build it so badly. This company would be a huge consumer of gas. And they would consume gas to make their product year-round, 24 hours per day. This is important for the gas business, because in the summer gas sales lag since consumers are not heating their homes. Rockwool would mean consistent, high demand for gas- a goldmine for Mountaineer Gas. (Editors note: Similar to how the poultry industry will use ample gas in VA).
The proposed fracked gas pipeline was a big draw for the Rockwool company. In addition, the highway going through the area, West Virginia Route 9, has just recently been made into a 2-lane divided highway. On July 7, 2017, the local newspaper wrote, “Mayor Pierson of Ranson said Roxul officials were attracted to the final city site in large measure for its access to major highways, water and sewer lines, and future abundant gas and electricity resources. With more than 400 acres, the site also offers considerable room for the company to grow its operations in the future.” Rockwool needs “abundant gas”. Mountaineer needs a year-round, gas-thirsty customer. One hand washes the other.
The Rockwool facility, however, is being fought vigorously. Area residents have found out how much pollution would come from the plant if it were built. The plant would put out volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, benzene, and naphthalene. It would emit fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, that can cause cancer and breathing issues. It would increase the ozone in the area, which is a primary cause of asthma in children. Heavy metals could also be released into the air.
Light and noise pollution would also be features of the plant. Some of the chemicals are known to have a bad odor. A much greater amount of truck traffic would be another “blessing” of the Rockwool facility. The raw materials like steel slag and basalt rocks would be brought in via Interstate 81 and Route 9. Those are heavy materials that are certain to tear up the roadway. (Editors Note: Have any roadways along the Eastern Shore recently been improved or expanded? If so, please let us know by emailing info@NoEasternShorePipeline.org)
Heavy industry is typically fossil-fuel hungry. Other heavy industrial plants in Martinsburg, right along the pipeline route - Quad Graphics printing, the Essroc concert plant, the other insulation factory, Knauf, the new Proctor and Gamble plant- all plan to hook up to the pipeline. It goes right through Quad’s property. The sole industry in Berkeley Springs is the US Silica plant, a manufacturer of sand and glass, with really hot furnaces, has the pipeline, not coincidentally, going right through its backyard as well.
Pipelines are built for heavy industry. If you don’t want heavy industry where your farmland used to be, and near your waterways, don’t let them build the pipeline in the first place.