Mar 262012
Lovely West Virginia Mountains in early autumn

West Virginia's peaks: Raleigh County, USA. Photo by OVEC's Vivian Stockman.

As you probably know, the OVEC staff is opinionated and passionate about the environment and social justice. And now we are happy to share those opinions with you – as part of updating the OVEC website, we’re introducing OVEC’s blog, which we hope you will help us name. Suggestions so far include:

  •  Hoots and Hollers
  •  Creeks and Peaks (which is already a blog name)
  •  Voices of Change

Please send your suggestions for OVEC blog’s name to

Beyond sharing personal opinions, perspectives, ideas and information, we will also be posting photos, sharing links, notifying you about special events and sending out calls to action.

We hope that you will join in the “conversation.” Tell us what you are thinking. And, if you feel that you might want to blog on OVEC’s behalf, please send your submission to

Mar 202012

We environmental advocates often come to our work through a great love for the natural world. That only makes sense. But it is easy for us to get so caught up in our intense efforts to help the planet that we can forget the beauty that’s immediately around us. Walking by one of our beautiful rivers is a calming and healing experience. The sunlight gleaming and the gentle shushing of the water can quickly put me in a more attentive and mindful state. It helps me gain clarity.

Beautiful to the eye and soothing to the ear

I’ve been doing a great deal of work lately on water protection issues, especially as they relate to Marcellus shale gas drilling. Each gas well requires up to five million gallons of water – water that is extracted from our West Virginia streams. During the fracking process, hundreds of pounds of chemicals, some of them highly toxic, are added to the water, which is then injected into the well under tremendous pressure. The pressure breaks apart the shale, releasing the gas to rise to the surface.

Once the fracking operation is complete, the water returns to the surface, laden with the chemicals and other salts. In West Virginia, this “produced water” is re-used by some companies in a closed loop process to frack other nearby wells under construction. But for its final disposal, it is most often injected deep into the ground, removing those millions of gallons of water from the planet’s water cycle forever. Our state is systematically being robbed of its water – some of the cleanest and best in the eastern United States.

Is cheap natural gas worth the price? And what would gas really cost if we factored in the loss of fresh water forever?

So get outside and enjoy a beautiful river! Then contact your West Virginia legislators and request additional regulations to protect our water from every stage of gas drilling – fracking to disposal. Tell them specific permits and evaluation should be required for all water withdrawals associated with Marcellus shale drilling operations.

Mar 192012

This Mingo County, W.Va. family’s well water was clean before the coal slurry injections began. Photo by Vivian Stockman,

Coal Rush has its world premier March 29, 2012 at The Atlanta Film Festival. The documentary examines what happened when a few hundred people living in small communities in Mingo County, W. Va. took on the fourth-largest coal company in the United States.

If you have contacts in the Atlanta area, please encourage them to come out for the world premier:

Thursday, Mar 29, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
931 Monroe Dr NE # C212 Atlanta, GA 30308

The more audience members the screening garners, the more attention other festivals will pay to Coal Rush, and the that means more public education about what coal prep plant waste is doing to our southern mountain communities and how folks are standing up for their health and their future.

In Mingo County, folks came to believe that illnesses that were killing and sickening their family members and neighbors might not be acts of God, but instead, acts of corporate environmental wrongdoing. They accused Massey Energy of contaminating the well water of more than 700 people, after the coal company injected billions of gallons of toxic coal slurry into to old underground mines near their homes.

OVEC had been organizing with the Mingo County communities, and OVEC networked community leaders with the attorneys who met with residents and took up the case. Coal Rush follows the families involved in the case. As the organizing continued and the lawsuit unfolded, the residents celebrated a major victory along the way, the installation of city water lines to their communities — after a 13-year struggle.

About that victory, Rawl residents BI and Debbie Sammons said, “OVEC helped in every aspect of getting us water lines here. They helped in the planning, scheduling, making appointments at the capitol to make our needs known to the powers that be. They were instrumental in helping us to get the word out to the public, including the national outcry to make our needs known. We tried for 13 years on our own, but once we partnered with OVEC, people started paying attention. OVEC gave us expertise, help, and contacts to get us clean water here.”

OVEC looks forward to the success of Coal Rush. Please spread the word about the world premier.

Mar 22012

After more than 25 years in my home, this February marked the first time that my daffodils bloomed in February–along with profuse flowers of the Lenten Rose. Oddly, enough, I’ve not seen a single forsythia bush in bloom in Huntington–a shrub whose yellow flowers portend winter’s end. Winter’s end.

Daffodils in FebruaryHmmm. What winter? A first-year song sparrow in the yard has gone from repetitive, smile-inducing novice sounds to a full blown, “ready-to-nest with you babe” song in a few short weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I love all form of birdsong and color returning to my world, but in February it feels a little creepy and surreal.

I pay closer attention to the weather now. Years of birding and loving to be outside has attuned me to natural rhythms. Weather patterns have clearly shifted in my lifetime–bigger temperature swings, monsoon-like down pours, scarier storms, hotter summers, colder winters here and elsewhere. Last year, I cowered at least twice in the windowless room in my basement. Howling winds and a devastating ice storm last winter, sent me running for shelter in the middle of the night, lest my neighbors tenuous pine came crashing down on my bedroom and me, asleep in my bed.  Kaboom! One wind storm downed mature trees all along my ridge-top, including one in my yard as well as several of my neighbor’s.

Only in the last few years, have tornadoes become a persistent  threat in West Virginia–perhaps both global climate disruption and grand scale landscape changes from mountaintop removal are contributing factors.  I worry.

Are these changes a harbinger of worse times ahead for humans, other life forms and our precious planet?  As a favorite bumper sticker warns:  Mother Nature Bats Last.