Sunday, March 24, 2013

Washington, D.C. | Day 8


We arrived in Washington, D.C. late Thursday evening and split up in pairs to stay with Dartmouth alumni living in the metro area. The alumni we stayed with were extremely welcoming and hospitable.

Our day on Friday started early because we had a full scheduled lined up. After getting coffee to combat the early wake up, we headed to our first meeting at the Solar Electric Power Association. The Solar Electric Power Association works with utilities to incorporate renewable energy into their portfolios. Many states have passed renewable energy mandates in recent years so there are many utilities that have been looking to expand their use of renewable energy.

Next we headed to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). LCV is very involved at the intersection of environmental policy and politics. It was exciting to hear about LCV's success in getting environmentally progressive politicians elected in 2012, especially in Senate races.

Our next stop was at the White House Council on Environmental Quality(CEQ). The CEQ is within the executive branch so it is located across the street from the White House. We were able to squeeze in a quick photo in front of the White House right before our meeting. The CEQ advises the President on environmental issues and helps coordinates environmental policy across various government agencies that have overlapping jurisdiction. It was really interesting to gain insight into an office that closely advises the President.

We continued our trek across DC to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There we met with two alumni working in the Office of Sustainable Communities. This branch of the EPA is very different than other branches in that it is not focused on environmental regulations. The Office of Sustainable Communities works with local governments and communities to design their communities in a way that makes walking, biking,  and public transportation infrastructure accesible. They also promote economic development by making downtowns walkable and encouraging mixed used development in city centers.  It was cool to see how environmental policy could be coordinated and implemented at such a local level.

After a quick lunch stop, we took the metro over to Arlington, VA to visit Opower, a private sector company that works with utilities to help individual households reduce their energy consumption. The average person only spends 9 minutes per year thinking about their home energy usage and energy bills can be difficult to understand so Opower seeks to change that. They make people's utility bills really easy to understand and compare people's usage to similar sized homes in the area in order to give them perspective of their use. It was exciting to see ways in which the private sector could promote better environmental practices.  Opower looked like a really fun place to work- there were no cubicles, people rode razor scooters to get around the office, there were ping pong tables to encourage office interaction, they had a  fully stocked food pantry and dining area, and there were lounge areas where people could work. Additionally, every Wednesday they have free massages!

Our final meeting of the day was at the Office of U.S. Representative Anne Kuster  who is the representative for New Hampshire's 2nd district. We met with her energy/environmental legislative assistant. We told the legislative assistant about our trip, discussed some of the current legislative challenges to better energy/environmental policy and learned more about how their office determines what issues constituents are concerned about. They record every letter and phone call they receive so keep contacting your representatives!

Our day in Washington, D.C. was very refreshing after wrestling with the issues we saw in West Virginia. The issues we saw in West Virginia were overwhelming at times, but it was exciting to learn more in DC about career fields that are focused on improving our nation's energy and environmental policies. It was frustrating at times in West Virginia that we only saw the problems associated with the coal industry, but didn't get to consider solutions. Our day in DC was very helpful in getting us to start thinking about solutions.

- Mark '15

Photos and captions: Fredrik Eriksson (with some help from Mark )


Office of League of Conservation Voters.

" 'Murica! " -Mark

I think the tradition of awkward group photos minus Jenna is fairly well-established by now.

I was going to roll with the usual dry humor routine for this not-so-serious picture here, but rather than being cynical, I'll stick to simply acknowledging that it was a really nice evening (and day, and week). Thanks for a great trip, everyone. -Fredrik

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hydroelectric Power Plant | Day 7

After touring a variety of operations extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels over the past week, it was finally time to see some examples of renewable energy production in West Virginia! Sadly, due to the overnight blizzard, the wind farm we were supposed to visit had iced up overnight and so was too dangerous to get close to. Instead, our hosts quickly arranged a more extensive tour of the hydroelectric power plant we were already scheduled to see. Visiting first the dam and later the plant itself, we got a good idea of how the place worked. While the hydroelectric power plant supplies enough energy to power 100,000 homes, it is all used by a single factory, a smelting plant, nearby (and was, in fact, built in the 1930's to supply this exact plant with power).

When the New River was dammed up in the middle of the Depression, no permits were applied for, and no environmental laws were really in place or paid attention to. Today, the situation looks very different. The plant works just fine after 80 years and is conceptually really quite simple, although the engineering behind it is impressive. More relevant today is the discussion of how to manage this dam that is already in place. Whitewater rafters, climbers, fishermen, residents, companies, and many others have different interests and visions for the river. Mostly, they have different opinions of when and how much water should be released into the "dries" below the dam. We got to meet with a spokesperson for the whitewater rafting industry, as well as with the people managing the dam.

After lunch, we headed to D.C., where we will meet with people who work in various environmentally related fields.

--Fredrik '16

Photos: Fredrik Eriksson (with the help of Jenna Musco)


The dam of the hydroelectric power plant. The plant is actually located 5 miles downstream; the water is diverted through a tunnel – the intake is visible on the right hand side of the dam – and led underground to the plant. 

A more successful group photo. At the overlook; the dam from the picture above is to the right. The resulting lake is visible on the left, stretching into the distance.

Hydroelectric power plant turbine. The plant was built in the 1930's, and has required virtually no major maintenance since.

A more successful group photo, take 2. 

New River Gorge. It is easily understood why West Virginia is somewhat of a whitewater rafting paradise.

New River Gorge. This time, Paige is impressed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fracking and Natural Gas Wells | Day 6


Each day, we have been focusing on various aspects of energy. Today, we spent the entire day on fracking. We knew we had to drive far away to get to the site, 3 hours, so we woke up really early to get there. The first sight was at the company Triana. To be honest, from my previous learning experience of fracking, I had a bad impression of fracking. Pulling up to a gravel covered area, we walked outside and were told that this will be made into a fracking site. When we were parking the car, it seemed that we were on a parking lot. Walking around and hearing more about this company's procedures, fracking did not seem too bad. I'm not condoning this energy extraction method, but they seemed to be doing their best to prevent leakages. They made sure that they have the correct lining to prevent infiltration. They also used pipes that could be reassembled and reused to transport water, instead of using trucks that would damage the roads. Unlike other companies which don't disclose the additives they use, Triana publicly posts them on http://fracfocus.org. It was interesting to see a company that was different from what my impression of fracking was. 

The next sight, however, did not seem so friendly. There, we were not hosted by the fracking company. Instead, community members took us up a hill to see a fracking site as we stood behind "No Trespassing" signs. It seemed so hard to believe that there was literally a fracking site in the backyard of the house we were just welcomed into. The air no longer was as fresh as I could see fumes being puffed out from the many parked trucks. There were 2 large pools with water and the lining only extended around them, which made me wonder about any problems with infiltration. There was a large drilling rig, which we had seen earlier when we were at the base of the hill. Around us was all hills and trees but right in front of that house was that rig in the distance. This sight seemed so much more destructive than the Triana one. 

Standing there, Mike's son, John, told us that companies tend to leave out the community members. However, if you anger them, the community members will fight back. They will educate themselves and learn what is happening to their home. Working in the DEP, John said that before people would give vague complaints. But now, he has received complaints that were much more descriptive and even included photos. The fracking that happens now seems to be misconstrued as the vertical drilling of the past, but now, it has become horizontal drilling which is much different. When we were in the house with the community members, Diane from Host Farms (http://www.wvhostfarms.org) told us about all the information she had gathered. She is not totally against fracking, instead, she is worried about the regulations that companies may be skimping out on. It was really impressive that she had learned so much. We usually ask for companies to change for the environment, but change also needs to come from the communities. Listening to them, I realized that a lot of action can come from grassroots. We don't need to sit around waiting for change. This makes me think of a quote that Leehi Yona '16 shared with us:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

- Victoria Li '16



Photos and captions: Fredrik Eriksson


Storage pond for water to be used in fracking. ~4 million gallons of water is needed per well. (Triana Energy)

This very small facility is all processing needed between gas well and pipeline distribution. (Triana Energy)

"THIS is an active site? Laaaaame" -Jenna
(Triana Energy)

Waste ponds in the foreground (in which large amounts of water were being pumped). Drilling tower in the background. (Antero Resource) 

Going to see the active fracking site. Mark and Victoria in great shape. 

Active well drilling at the Antero Resource site. 

At the fracking site (Antero Resource) 

Active fracking site. The diesel fumes lay heavy on the hill. The two green "towers" in the middle of the picture are supposedly wells that are currently fracked. A third well is visible just on the left. (Antero Resource)

Mark with our guide.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Presentations and Glasgow Coal Power Plant | Day 5

Today was action-packed day. First, we visited Bridgemont Community and Technical College, where we met President Dr. Beverly Jo Harris and listened to presentations on both alternative energy as well as sustainable financing.

As a Canadian from Quebec, I found some information on hydroelectricity really interesting. It seems that when you’re comparing hydraulic fracking and coal, as well as mountaintop removal, hydroelectric dams seem to be a no-brainer when it comes to what’s better for our environment. On the other hand, however, I’ve heard much about the contention surrounding the industry back home. For example, constructing a dam involves relocating many local communities (usually First Nations communities in particular), not to mention the damage caused to ecosystems. The flooding caused by the dams also releases significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is around 21-23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The presentation was definitely informing because it also taught me about some different hydroelectricity methods that I had not previously known about, such as run-of-river dams, and pump storage (different mechanisms of controlling water flow and pressure so as to optimize electricity production). Needless to say, the presentation made me think a lot about the trade-offs that always take place with every energy source we utilize.

Next, we listened to a presentation on a potential Permanent Mineral Trust Fund by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The fund would “turn a non-renewable resource into a renewable source of wealth for state programs and future generations”, with the goal of gathering a percentage of profits from the coal industry into a fund that would in turn be able to provide for communities when coal is no longer a part of the local economy. We learned about how West Virginia has communities that lack much economic diversification, and that this reliance can lead to problems such as “low social capital, weaker governance, poor health outcomes, environmental degradation, lower human capital investment, and lower federal oversight due to the abundance of privately owned land”. One statement that I found to be very powerful was “companies don’t create jobs. Demand creates jobs.” We often hear about the necessary role the coal industry plays here in providing jobs, so those facts were refreshing and shed some light on the possibility of diversifying the economy.

We also visited a coal-fired plant that is slated to close within the next few months due to more stringent EPA regulations making it no longer cost-beneficial to continue burning coal. I was surprised at the sheer size of the plant itself: it had very many levels and countless machinery. Yet, it didn’t have many workers (there are around 58 employees in total). While more stringent environmental regulations are certainly welcomed, it shed light on the fact that these workers’ jobs would have to be relocated.

After these visits, we went home for dinner. By far the best part of our day (and arguably our trip) was after dinner, when Mike and Wanda invited all of their neighbours and friends to play music with us. We had folks on the fiddle, on the drums, on the guitar, and even Fredrik play harmonica and Alison play the banjo! Singing “Country Roads” together was by far the highlight of my experience this week – we have been very fortunate to really connect with members of the community here, an opportunity we do not take for granted. Yes, these energy tours have been eye-opening and informing, but some of my best moments were those spent talking to individuals, forming relationships and learning about local communities, both culturally as well as socially. Needless to say, Appalachia is beautiful and rooted in a proud history.

--Leehi Yona '16


Photos and captions: Fredrik Eriksson


One of the turbines in the coal power plant.

Just outside the coal power plant. On the right is some of the coal being transported in on the river. The water on the left is catchment ponds for rainwater runoff. 

Yet another group picture against a dubious background (the massive heap of coal outside the plant, in this case).

Inside the power plant.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Labor History and MTR | Day 4

Today was filled with a multitude of eye opening experiences. I had a rollercoaster sensation of emotions throughout the day—ambition, sadness, confusion, anger, forgiveness, concern, and hope. Our day started at Pratt Elementary School. Here, we met fourth and fifth grade students who were a part of the schools “Fish Club” that dealt with a program called Trout in the Classroom. This program provides the students with the hands on opportunity to raise trout eggs and monitor the water quality of the tank in which these trout are raised. The program ultimately intends to spark an interest in students to adopt a conservational point of view. Meeting these kids was great because they seemed very engaged in not only their program, but in meeting college students. Being in West Virginia, I have come to the realization that students are not always expected to go to college or pursue higher levels of education. It is a sad realization, but one that I hope our group had a small impact on changing today. We asked the students questions about their favorite subjects in school, and in return, the students asked us what we were studying and how we decided to study those subject fields. I was really moved when Geo revealed to the students that he was a first generation college student. The face on some of the kid’s faces was priceless because I could sense that they might be in similar circumstance that Geo once was in. Geo helped those students realize that college in not an unreachable goal.

Next, the group did a tour led by Wes Harris dealing with the coal mining labor history. I have conflicting opinions about the tour. I really enjoyed it at parts, especially seeing an active mountaintop removal site. Having the mountaintop removal site along side the mountains that were not extirpated made the comparative experience real for me. Although I would have loved to see the mining in action, seeing the mountaintop removal site put how degrading this practice is for the local communities in perspective for me, especially because the locals don’t receive many, or any, benefits in return. On the other hand, there was a part of the tour that left me very angry and confused. As a group, we had mixed emotions about our experience at this point in the tour. I feel as though Wes used a controversial teaching technique. Some members of our group approved of the technique, but personally I did not. I did, however, learn a lot of valuable information on the historical monopolization of the coal industry in West Virginia.

Overall, I am learning an extensive amount on this trip and look forward to continuing to assess my position on mountaintop removal by gaining more perspectives of those involved in the process.

-Paige Caridi ‘16

Photos and captions: Fredrik Eriksson


Near the mountaintop removal mining site. 

Mountaintop removal mining site.


Our guide Julian showing us the mountaintop removal mining site. 

 Mountaintop removal mining site.

Mountaintop removal mining site. 

Our guide Wes Harris showing us the mountaintop removal site. 

 The village of Dorothy, below the mining site, which has been facing floods and other problems due to the mountaintop removal mining operation above their village.

 Mountaintop removal mining site. Notice the stretch of trees on the left; the hill used to continue at that angle for a few hundred feet more, but now breaks off into a flat mining site.

 Touring the mountaintop removal site.

Always time for break time. Once again, Patrick is impressed.

One of many failed group pictures – this one outside a former "company store" where miners back in the days could exchange their coal company "money" (in which they were exclusively paid) for food and other goods.

The company store is now a museum.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Maple Coal and the First Mining Site | Day 3

Today we had the opportunity to meet with Ed, manager of Maple Coal, and Nathan, responsible for the environmental work at the company. They kindly gave us a tour of the mining operations they are conducting at the site they are currently mining. Meeting first at their office, we all headed up the mountain on a very slippery dirt road, which made for a pretty exciting adventure. It was very interesting to see the deep mine and hear about the different mining techniques. The fog was so thick at the top, though, that we couldn't see more than a hundred feet in front of us, and so did not really get to look at the mountaintop removal mining site. Nevertheless, it was an enriching experience for all of us.

In the afternoon, we were given a tour by Mike King – our host here in Montgomery, W.V. – of the watershed restoration project the Morris Creek Watershed Association is conducting. Pollution from new and old mining sites has killed all life in the stream (which is right in our backyard), but thanks to the hard work of Mike and the Watershed Association, the critters and fish are now returning to the stream.

--Fredrik ('16 from Sweden)

Photos: Fredrik Eriksson

Ed, manager of Maple Coal, giving us an overview of the mining operation at the site. 

"Valley fill," consisting of excess material ("overburden") removed from the mountaintop that has been dumped in the nearby valley.

Entrance to the underground mine or "deep mine." 

Group photo at the mining site. Valley fill in the background, deep mine on the right.

The smallest size bulldozer used at the mining site. The largest transports three times as much material. 

Catchment ponds for runoff water from the mining site.

Coal processing plant.


  Aluminum residue on a rock in a stream more or less in the backyard of where we are staying.

More aluminum (white residue) that has precipitated out of the water in the stream by the house we are staying in.

Entrance to a large water-filled tank that is part of the stream restoration system close to the house we are staying in. The red "mud" on the bottom of the hatch is partly iron that has precipitated from the water.

Part of the water treatment system Mike and the Watershed Association has designed and implemented.

Getting to the site of the stream restoration project, only a few hundred feet from where we are staying.

Part of the water treatment system Mike and the Watershed Association has designed and implemented. Water seeping out of the now porous mountain is mixed with limestone in the tank to raise the pH to a normal level.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Travel Days | Day 1, Day 2


After two days on the road, we are finally in West Virginia! Alternating between chatting, laughing, and snoring, we have all gotten to know each other better over the course of the 15-hour drive.

Mike King – our host here in Montgomery, WV – is incredibly hospitable. We are looking forward to a full program in the coming days with many learning opportunities, and have already had the chance to see some of the spectacular landscape here. Mike gave us a tour of a stream restoration project that is right in our backyard, and also had an evening discussion – really just a continuation of the conversations we have had during our preparations for the trip over the last 10 weeks.

--Fredrik ('16 from Sweden)

Photos: Fredrik Eriksson

Departing from Dartmouth.

 Documenting the trip.

On the roadside. 

On the road. 

Evening discussion. 

West Virginian landscape. Patrick is impressed.