Update: Fracking Infrastructure Now Major Regional Challenge

By Megan Gallagher & Cecily Kihn

There has been much to celebrate in the region since our Earth Day blog post four years ago. The governor of Maryland signed a ban on fracking throughout the state. The U.S. Forest Service prohibited any new leases for oil or gas drilling in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia has a new forest management plan.

But, as predicted, transportation of shale gas to facilitate export is now a significant threat to the Greater Washington region. Our grantees in Virginia now battle proposals for two major interstate transmission pipelines, while groups in Maryland challenge approval of a liquid natural gas (LNG) conversion plant at Cove Point, near Baltimore. Dozens of similar projects bedevil communities through the Eastern states.

The massive, 40-inch pipelines proposed in western Virginia – the Atlantic Coast and the Mountain Valley – would cut a 200-foot swath through the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests and thousands of acres of private land, amid very steep terrain and fragile karst geology. The Atlantic Coast pipeline alone would cross more than 600 streams, including critical headwaters of the rivers that provide drinking water for the Greater Washington region.

Just as renewable energy is making steady gains in supplying our long term needs, the shale gas pipelines would lock ratepayers into costly fossil fuel infrastructure for the next 80 years, with major impacts on local communities from pipeline construction, compressor stations and potential failures. Last year, a coalition of our grantees released an economic study that clearly showed excess capacity in existing pipelines, making the case that the proposed projects just aren’t needed.

Unfortunately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews applications for pipelines or LNG terminals on a case-by-case basis, with a heavy history of approval. Our grantees and their coalitions must manage local permitting campaigns, as well as efforts to reform national energy policy, which is much harder under the current administration.

We continue to encourage our colleagues in the Greater Washington region to support grantmaking that increases understanding of the impact of shale gas drilling and transportation infrastructure and enhance federal, state and local policies and oversight.

One tool we found useful in addressing these issues, as a grantmaker, includes contributing to a pooled fund that supports grassroots action. Members of the HEFN Fracking Affinity Group created a national Fracking Funders Pooled Resources Fund able to turn around grants in less than two months, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Grantee referrals and due diligence are provided by local funders, who need not be those contributing to the pooled fund.

At the Agua Fund, we find the pooled fund offers essential leverage to our direct grantmaking on shale gas issues. A half-dozen pooled fund grants in the Shenandoah Valley, where Agua Fund philanthropy is focused, greatly expanded citizen understanding and engagement in the federal pipeline permit process in the past three years . Other pooled fund contributors include the New World Foundation and the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Cecily Kihn is executive director and Megan Gallagher serves on the Board of Directors of the Agua Fund, a WRAG member. Megan is also a trustee of the Hillsdale Fund.

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