In 2014, news broke of plans to build a huge, 300-mile pipeline to carry fracked gas from northern West Virginia to southside Virginia. The $3.7 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, proposed by EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and others, was just one of several massive gas pipelines announced that year that combined, would rip through more than a thousand miles in the region.
If built, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would harm countless family farms, national forest land and historic sites and impair streams and drinking water supplies. It would threaten the health and safety of nearby residents, worsen the impacts of climate change, and impede investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Beginning in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of West Virginia, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would carry fracked gas through eleven counties there, and six counties in Virginia before connecting with an existing gas line in Pittsylvania County.
At 42 inches, or 3-½ feet in diameter, it would be larger than the infamous Keystone XL pipeline, and plow a 125-foot wide construction zone of clear-cutting and excavation, scouring roughly 4,500 acres of land. It would cross hundreds of parcels of private land, many of which have been in families for generations.
In the mountains, it would scale numerous steep mountain ridges in the 2,000 to 4,000 foot range. It would also cut through about five miles of the Jefferson National Forest and bisect the iconic Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway. Afterwards, it would leave a 50-foot wide strip of permanently cleared land along the entire route. [ See even more impacts. ]
Appalachian Voices is partnering with a diverse and growing coalition of community groups, landowners, forest protectors, faith groups, students, grassroots organizations, conservation groups and others to stop the project.
Profits Over People
“The pipeline business will overbuild until the end of time. I mean, that’s what competitive people do.” – Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, 2015.
Despite what analysts warn is a major overbuild of gas infrastructure, EQT Corp., NexTera Energy and others that make up the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, are recklessly sticking to their plans and working to build the pipeline as fast as possible. EQT holds the largest share of the project, and will ship the greatest amount of gas through the pipeline. But the company has been on shaky ground financially, due in large part to continued low gas prices.
At the time of a 2016 study, its long-term credit ratings were just one notch above junk bonds. Not only are investors and ratepayers at risk, the study authors conclude, communities along the pipeline route face tremendous risk: “…how a company perceives the [pipeline] safety risk, monitors for it, seeks to prevent it, and communicates about it to affected communities is paramount. Closely related are the company’s land management and reclamation activities.”
Another study on the pipeline’s economic impact estimates the total cost to an 8-county region in West Virginia and Virginia between $8 billion and $8.9 billion. That includes short-term and ongoing loss of property values and tax revenue, depressed economic growth in key sectors, and loss of eco-system services when forest and agricultural land is stripped bare.
Citizens Say: “No Pipeline!”
Citizens all across the region are raising concerns about the project — especially those who live in the proposed pipeline corridor. They worry the pipeline would depress land values, and they’re especially angry that the companies argue that, under Va. and W.Va. law, surveyors for the project are allowed to come on their property without their explicit consent. Dozens have taken it upon themselves to fight back legally, and in West Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
They also worry the pipelines would threaten drinking water supplies — the proposed route crosses at least 50 miles of karst terrain, characterized by underground drainage systems and sinkholes that could allow pollution to travel far from its source. On a larger scale, they see the pipeline and the increased fracking that goes with it as compounding climate disruption and its wide-ranging impacts.
Local groups have sprung up all along the proposed route of the pipeline to raise their voices and defend their family farms, their homes, and their children’s future. Many are part of the Preserve Our Water, Heritage, Rights coalition of community groups. The boards of supervisors in Montgomery, Giles, Craig and Roanoke counties have also come out against the pipeline.
Appalachian Voices is banding together with citizens, community groups and partner organizations to ensure our collective concerns are heard and given full consideration throughout the decision-making process.
FERC has the authority to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which is required to build an interstate gas pipeline. On September 16, 2016, FERC issued its draft of the federally required Environmental Impact Statement. The report, though lengthy, is utterly lacking in meaningful analysis of the public need and benefits of the project, and its impacts on the environment and climate change.
Several federal and state agencies also found the same deficiencies. Among other things, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said FERC did not fully account for climate pollution from the “development and production of natural gas being transported through the proposed pipeline as well as from product end use.” Further, the EPA recommended a cumulative analysis of the “inter-related network of existing and proposed pipelines and associated impacts.”
“EPA recommends … a more thorough discussion of the purpose and need or public benefits of the project. Including this information in the EIS goes toward transparency and disclosure to the public, to afford the public the opportunity to provide comment; and to assess and compare alternatives’ ability to meet project need.”
The Department of Interior — which oversees the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway — similarly found fault with FERC’s review, and the Bureau of Land Management called for either a revised or supplemental environmental impact statement. And the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality expressed serious concerns with the project’s plans to control erosion and sediment pollution, especially given the steep terrain through the mountains.
The pipeline must also gain approval from multiple state and federal entities for various issues like national forest land use plan amendments, water crossings, air permits, water quality permits and zoning variances. Each point in the process will provide a critical opportunity for public input.