Many may think it has to do with blasting during construction, but there is another type of blast zone. For this situation, the “blast zone,” also named the “incineration zone,” describes the distance that would burn if a leak of methane caught fire in the area.
During cold weather, natural gas can be heavier than air. If the pipeline happened to spring a leak in cold temperatures, the gas would hug the ground and travel until it reached a source of ignition. This could be a small spark from any source, such as an automobile, heating system, or even a cell phone.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run about 1,200 feet from the state police barracks, across Rte. 20 and just beyond the water tower that was installed atop that ridge to serve the high school’s need for water in case of a fire. Unfortunately, if there was an explosion at exactly this spot, it would probably take out that water tower.
Since the blast (incineration) zone is 1,800 feet on either side of the pipeline’s center, an explosion there could incinerate the state police barracks and beyond, right into the high school parking lot. Fire and resulting heat radiating from it could start car fires, and would burn any trees or wood products located anywhere near.
Beyond the incineration zone, extensive heat damage would radiate another 1,800 feet out, affecting the high school itself. In such an event, the school would likely be locked down, no one able to come or go, until the fires were brought under control. Route 20 might be blocked to travel while emergency crews worked to restore order.
But emergency crews would likely not come very close to the area as long as the fire is burning. Since the shutoff valves are located about 20 miles apart (the first one for our area being located in Lewis County and the second in Queens), it could take hours or days for a gas fire to burn off. There is no telling how long it would be before emergency crews could get close enough to help out.
According to Homeland Security, no critical infrastructure is to be placed within an evacuation zone, which, for a pipeline of this magnitude, is 2 miles. Our state police barracks and the air ambulance station up by our airport are both well within this distance. Our high school should be able to be used as a shelter for any emergency, but if Homeland rules are applied, we cannot use it in this way.
A visit to the state police and air ambulance stations revealed that they were not aware of their proximity to the potential pipeline, or that they were in the blast zone. Attempts to talk with the high school principal about it were met with no response. Recently, we learned that the school board has signed a lease to allow pipeline construction on land they own adjacent the school.
One wonders if the teachers have been informed of the danger they could be in. Do parents know their students might be in danger from a possible explosion? How have these details slipped past those who have charge of our community? Is it ethical to build this project when so little has been considered, when so much is at stake?
At this crucial time, with a budget deficit of $500 million, jobs and economic development are on everyone’s mind. Will this project (and the seven other very large pipelines planned for our state) bring jobs to the area? Certainly, a few. But they are temporary, lasting only a few weeks or months. The number of permanent jobs on this pipeline is listed by the company as 22. Is this enough to risk the safety of our children and the long-term economic viability of our community?
When looking at the future economic development of our community, we must consider the risks, dangers and downsides right alongside the benefits, perks and upsides. It seems we can’t see past the way things have always been. But fossil fuel extraction in West Virginia has been a human rights disaster, bringing contaminated water, soil and air, lowered property values and degraded public health in its wake for over a century.
Beyond this, fossil fuels choke out other ways of developing our economy — safer, cleaner ways — renewable energy, agriculture, tourism, tech, small business, broadband, and much, much more.
Companies’ use of eminent domain as a threat, or money as a carrot, has perpetuated the abuse of Appalachia, while other projects that would be part of a healthy diversity get cast aside and criticized as un-doable. It is time we stop believing these stories. These are the stories that have kept us captive.
For this project, thousands of people in the blast zone underscore one reality: West Virginia has been used as a sacrifice zone so that large companies could externalize the real cost of doing business onto us. This will be so as long as we allow it. It is time for us to take back our power and stop the sacrifice.
Part 2 of this article will appear next Wednesday.