Little wins big award
On her way to somewhere else, Beth Little passed through Pocahontas County for the first time nearly 40 years ago. She'd already determined she wanted to live where the air and water were clean and she wanted to be able to grow her own food.
Wherever else she searched for that kind of place, Pocahontas County's mountains and rivers were always on her mind. A few years later, she found a home.
That home might have been in an out-of-the-way place, even by local standards, but Little stayed at the forefront of efforts to maintain the environment where she would raise her two children. The Sierra Club is just one of her many volunteer efforts, and the national organization has awarded her work with one of its highest honors-the Special Service Award.
In nominating Little for the honor, Jim Sconyers outlined her efforts for stronger protections from unregulated natural gas development in the state.
"She recognized early on that technologies associated with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) created substantially greater impacts and that existing regulatory structures were completely inadequate to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of shale gas development," Sconyers wrote.
He went on to write that Little became the expert in gas leasing and property rights issues, and led discussions with groups around the state.
"She helped raise awareness to the lack of adequate regulation of the industry, the Halliburton loopholes and the problems with the lack of inspectors and the inadequate enforcement," he continued.
Little traveled all over the state with her Power Point presentation and talked about the size and area of the drilling pads, the chemicals used in fracking and other potential problems that could occur in horizontal drilling.
Three people from Chesapeake showed up in Morgantown during a presentation to the League of Women Voters, Little said.
And how did that go?
"I was pretty gratified they didn't find anything in my presentation to take issue with," she said. They did say that one area she talked about in Wetzel County had been reclaimed and a roadway taken out of a stream.
As for potential drilling in Pocahontas County, in spite of the rush of gas companies to buy leases in 2008, there's been no activity here yet, although some gas wells have been drilled in neighboring Greenbrier County, and some permits have been issued in the proclamation boundary of the national forest.
"That was pretty alarming because that's not very far away," she said.
However, the companies that did drill near Richwood, didn't have a way to get the gas out of the area since no pipelines had been built. Little said that's why one well "flared" for several months.
Gas quality, quantity and depth in this area differ from where the drilling boom is now occurring, Little said, which might be another reason no drill rigs have shown up.
"It's not a poorer quality," Little said. "Just different."
Little first became active in the area's environmental concerns when she noticed roadways being built in the Cranberry Backcounty. Roads are pretty destructive to wilderness features, Little said.
That's a big thing.
But Little said the small efforts people make everyday can have a good impact on the environment. "Conspicuous consumption of energy," for one, just turning off lights instead of leaving them on can save on power bills and, ultimately help the environment.
Little's own power bill is now less than $30 a month because of energy-efficient appliances she's bought over time, and her own conservation efforts.
"It all boils down to the health of the planet," Little said. "We all depend on that.
"I just don't want human being to be stupid enough to do themselves in. That's why I'm really concerned about the things we're doing. In the long-term, it means we're going to be sick, we won't be able to provide enough food."
The Sierra Club will present the award in August, but Little won't be there to pick it up. A trip to California just wasn't in the cards.
And not only Little, but the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club will get an award.
The chapter's work on a "Water is Life. Keep it Clean" campaign won the club's communication award.
The Sierra Club was founded by John Muir (1838-1914), America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, according to the club's website.
"His words and deeds helped inspire President Theodore Roosevelt's innovative conservation programs, including establishing the first National Monuments by Presidential Proclamation, and Yosemite National Park by congressional action. In 1892, John Muir and other supporters formed the Sierra Club ﾑto make the mountains glad.' John Muir was the Club's first president, an office he held until his death in 1914. Muir's Sierra Club has gone on to help establish a series of new National Parks and a National Wilderness Preservation System," the website says.