WESTON, W.Va. — A symbolic protest over the proposal of two natural gas pipelines that would run through Lewis County brought the “Seeds of Resistance” to a rural tree farm in Lewis County Wednesday.
The seeds are Ponca corn–sacred to the Ponca Tribe in Oklahoma–and planted on a proposed pipeline route in protest. The protest was the sixth of it’s kind in just three days in two West Virginia towns (Weston and Union) and four Virginia towns (Stuarts Draft, Wingina, Boones Mill, and Lafayette).
About two dozen people–a combination of concerned residents and environmental activists–joined with the “Cowboy and Indian Alliance” of Nebraska and Oklahoma to protest the potential long-term damage and impact the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline.
“We came here to stand in solidarity with the land owners and community members–the farmers–that are here in this area that are fighting the frack gas pipeline coming through,” Mekasi Horinek, a member of the Ponca Tribe and anti-pipeline advocate, said Wednesday. “The pipelines are known to devastate the land that they come through.”
The Cowboy and Indian Alliance, as described by Horinek and his colleagues, was a combination of midwestern farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans who saw a common goal: stopping the Keystone XL pipeline from being built.
“We have those same common goals,” Art Tandrup, a Nebraska farmer who’s land was on the Keystone XL route, said before the ceremony. “We’ve got to preserve water. Water is our greatest natural resource at this time in history.”
Another key member of this collaboration is Lorne Stockman, the Research Director for Oil Change International, a research and advocacy group based in Washington D.C. that focuses on the oil and gas industry. He cites concerns over climate change as a key reason for opposition–noting that natural gas isn’t all that much cleaner than coal.
“This infrastructure is designed to be here for another 20 years, 30 years, 40 years,” he said. “We’re really at a point with the climate change issue where we need to transition to clean energy, and that’s already happening at a really remarkable pace over the last few years.”
According to the publication Bloomberg, solar jobs are outpacing jobs in traditional energy fields as the clean energy industry continues to take a larger piece of the energy pie. Tandrup agrees with Stockman–saying that dealing with climate change doesn’t mean continuing to make long-term investment in fossil fuels.
“We need to deal with climate change,” Tandrup said. “And this type of gas emits a lot of methane, which is one of the worst.”
Another issue that drove this alliance together and eventually into the Mountain State: personal property rights.
“Really the issue we’re focused on here is these major interstate pipeline routes where people are being forced through eminent domain to have these things on their land whether they want to or not,” Stockman said. “We’re seeing a tremendous uprising of people on the ground who refuse to have this stuff on their property.”
“The thing that I want to bring here with me to this beautiful, pristine country is that it is a life and death situation,” Horinek said. “Where I live in Oklahoma, we have the highest cancer rate in Oklahoma because of the oil industry. We have springs that are contaminated. All the springs that I could drink when I was a young man, they’re all contaminated. We can’t drink out of any of them now.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is set to begin construction next summer, would run through five West Virginia counties. It’s a $5.1 billion project that is expected to hand out around $1 billion in money to short-term and long-term workers. It has drawn support from labor groups and business groups, but Stockman said the long-term ramifications won’t be worth short-term gains.
“At least eight or nine new build projects designed to get this gas out,” he said. “People are concerned about the construction impacts of these major pipelines. They are concerned about the risks of these gas pipelines blowing up, which they seem to do with incredibly regularity.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline faced criticism from an economic study by Key Log Economics in Virginia last month. That pipeline would run through parts of eastern West Virginia–including Greenbrier County and Monroe County. The economic study suggested it would cost millions–potentially billions of dollars–in property values.
Horinek said he’s watched rural Oklahoma’s ecosystem–now his home–suffer from high cancer rates, water concerns, fish kills, and more.
“The land where I’m from has been fracked and de-watered,” he said. “The pollution that’s left over, the devastation that’s left over, is terrible.”
The hope for this group is that they can make a similar impact in West Virginia that they did along the proposed Keystone Pipeline XL route. They intend to use every legal recourse at their means to help dissenting West Virginia residents.
“I think the common thread is just humanity,” Horinek said. “People want to protect their land. They want to protect their way of life. The water is probably the main commonality because we all need water to live.”
The collaborators were invited to the farm by land-owners Tom Berlin, a retired forester and environmental science professor at Alderson Broaddus University and his wife Becky, a retired health professional.