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New Pipeline Construction is Non-Essential & Endangers Us Now More Than Ever; Protect All Rural Regions from Virus

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By Trish McLawhorn, an immunocompromised mother and essential worker living in a rural area along the Mountain Valley Pipeline route (photo credits: Alan Moore)

Twenty organizations representing thousands of Virginians sent a letter to Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine and Secretary Moran with the following plea:

“It is imperative during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the health of all Virginians by preventing gas construction projects to continue until after the crisis passes. Please issue instructions that gas construction workers are non-essential and are not allowed to work or to set up camps in Virginia.”

It is terrifying to see the caravans of pipeline workers returning to our area with license plates from other territories where strict guidelines have not been implemented to protect those regions. I also worry about folks in our communities as well as other communities through which they are traveling.  Sheltering-in-place protocol should be observed voluntarily by all pipeline companies. They have chosen not to do this, so our communities must demand protection.  Please sign this petition locally to the governors of Virginia and West Virginia: https://tinyurl.com/SaveRuralLives.

These workers have been observed ignoring social distancing requirements. In the past week, more than 20 pipeline workers were congregating at a work yard in Montgomery County. From an article on the front page of the Sunday April 4 Roanoke Times newspaper:

The numbers in the Roanoke and New River valleys remained largely unchanged in Saturday morning’s report except for in Montgomery County, which jumped from one to six.

There are lives at stake in rural SWVA and many other rural communities!

Rural areas across the country aren’t exempt from the spread of the Covid-19 virus. From Pandemic Spreads into Rural America at Rate Similar to Urban Areas,Rates of infection are growing in all parts of the rural economy…, {initially}  rural farming counties reported 22.4 cases of COVID-19 per million people. As of March 31, these same farming counties reported 95.3 cases per million.” 

Unfortunately, as has always been the case, rural areas are more vulnerable because of less accessibility to health care providers and the virus is making it even worse. From Healthcare System Simultaneously Has Too Many and Not Enough Healthcare Workers

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing layoffs at rural hospitals at a time when clinics need more help caring for coronavirus patients. Will the system respond in time?:

“It’s fairly consistent across the country that rural health clinics are facing dire economic conditions,” said Brock Slabach, senior vice president for member services with the National Rural Health Association. “People are canceling appointments. That puts huge economic distress on clinics, forcing them to lay-off providers and reduce their budgets even further.”

As an essential worker recently laid off by a small-town clinic, I can attest to this alarming trend.

Rural areas aren’t the only ones being put in jeopardy by a callous fossil fuel industry. According to this article Oil and Gas Pipelines Are Still Being Built as the Rest of the Economy Shuts Down:

“Despite the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Grid pushed workers to complete the North Brooklyn “MRI” Pipeline construction in New York until March 27….

And yet, although you cannot eat, drink or be ventilated by the fossil fuel industry’s products, oil and gas companies are carrying on with plans to dig and lay down pipelines in multiple Canadian provinces, and states including Minnesota, Montana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. At a time when crude oil prices stand to go negative and natural gas prices are at record lows, the decision to barrel ahead with infrastructure projects that do not already actively produce or deliver capacity for electricity or transportation is “morally damning of the entire sector,” says Thea Riofrancos, a political science professor at Providence College…

In Virginia, residents in a suburb of Washington, D.C., have yet to get a straight answer from Washington Gas about when they’ll begin construction on a natural gas pipeline originally scheduled for April 2020, for which the Virginia Department of Transportation has already issued a permit.”

There are numerous financial articles about the oversupply of gas, including this one from Reuters – “America is awash with natural gas, and it’s about to get worse.”

I encourage everyone to sign this petition and contact the Governor, Secretary Valentine, Secretary Carey, Secretary Moran as well as your state representatives.  Don’t let them forget about us here in SWVA, across Appalachia or in other at-risk communities.  Send pipeline construction workers home just like everyone else. It’s safer for them and for all communities trying to survive and save lives.  Those of us who live and work here permanently are essential in the provision of services and needs in these communities.  We need safer conditions as we continue to provide aid to our neighbors.

Bottom line:  These companies should act now to demonstrate good faith in valuing people over profits.  If they will not, our government must do so.