Posts Tagged ‘mountain valley pipeline’

In the Pipelines’ Paths: Environmental damages to special places

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Dan Radmacher

Peters Mountain

This photo was taken on Peters Mountain, close to where the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail. A hiker standing here would see the pipeline right-of-way traversing a ridge to the left. Photo courtesy of Roanoake Appalachian Trail Club

It’s not an easy hike up to the top of Peters Mountain, which straddles West Virginia and Virginia. Unlike some Appalachian mountains, there aren’t roads that can get you part of the way up. But the hike is worth it, say those who spend a lot of time on the mountain.

“It is a special, beautiful transitional zone between Virginia and West Virginia,” says Kim Kirkbride, a self-employed bookkeeper who lives in Giles County, Va. “By the time you get there, it feels like you’re in another place, in a different realm. It makes me realize all the things that aren’t important. It’s so magnificently beautiful.”

Dana Olson, a physician who lives at the base of the mountain on the West Virginia side with his wife and mother-in-law, agrees. “It’s incredible, a wonderful, magical place,” he says. Getting to the top is a steep hike that takes maybe an hour. “It’s an ‘Almost Heaven’ kind of place, for sure.”

It’s a huge mountain for this region, 52 miles long with elevations above 4,000 feet. The Appalachian Trail follows its ridgeline for several miles between the Celanese Corporation’s industrial plant in Narrows, Va., and the Peters Mountain Wilderness Area.

That stretch of mountain is also where the Mountain Valley Pipeline company wants to cross with its 42-inch natural gas pipeline — a possibility that has many outraged.

“This pipeline will transform ‘Almost Heaven’ into ‘Almost Hell,’” says Olson. “Now, hikers along the AT stop and ponder life. They can camp in a meadow up there where you can see five or six counties in Virginia and West Virginia. Instead of that, this will be a place to just get through. It will turn into something that’s a threat and a danger.”

The pipeline crossing will harm both views and water quality, opponents say. “The mountain is just alive with water,” says Olson, who recently found a spring by the Appalachian Trail near the top of the mountain. The draft environmental impact statement tends to gloss over such concerns, saying Mountain Valley has planned mitigation measures such as set-backs and vegetation screens to resolve such issues.

“Like all of our mountains the pipeline is proposing to cut through, Peters Mountain is full of water and layers of rock that filter that water,” Kirkbride says. Multiple springs bubble up out of the mountain, and one even serves as the municipal water source for Lindside, W.Va.

“Even if that spring isn’t right next to the pipeline, we don’t know how everything flows in the mountain,” says Kirkbride. “It’s hard to say who’s going to suffer damage when the pipeline leaks.”

Even without a leak, the pipeline construction and maintenance will impact water quality. The pipeline will traverse the mountain’s steep slopes, and the permanent 50-foot right-of-way will be stripped of most vegetation. This will lead to sedimentation issues, according to geologist Pamela Dodds. She wrote a report on the problem submitted to FERC by Roanoke County. Opponents also worry about what the pipeline will do to viewsheds.

“Views of Peters Mountain will be affected, and views from Peters Mountain will be affected,” says Kirkbride. “The Columbia Gas pipeline is only 8 inches in diameter and cuts over and down Peters Mountain near Narrows. It’s a huge scar. It’s hard imagining something that’s almost six times that size.”

Crossing Landscapes and Waterways

These two major pipelines proposed to pump natural gas from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to the East Coast would be huge construction projects, stretching for hundreds of miles and carving a swath through national forests, wetlands, over and down steep ridges, through private property and public attractions, and across both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

Poor Mountain

The Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right-of-way on Poor Mountain would be visible from this Blue Ridge Parkway overlook. Photo courtesy of Roberta Bondurant

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would start in Wetzel County, W.Va., and snake down through the Mountain State before crossing Peters Mountain into Virginia, where it would join the Transcontinental Pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would start in Harrison County, W.Va., and wind through the state, cutting through the Monongahela National Forest before crossing into Virginia. From there, it would slice southeast through Virginia before dividing, with one arm headed to Norfolk, Va., and the other headed southwest across the North Carolina Coastal Plain.

Both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline will cross West Virginia’s Greenbrier River and several of its tributaries. That concerns many people, including Lew Freeman, chairman and executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of organizations that came together to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Several of the Greenbrier River tributaries the Atlantic Coast would cross are native brook trout streams,” he says. “Native trout are a little bit like a canary in the coal mine for the mountains. If they cannot breed successfully in a location, that tells you there’s something wrong with the water quality and that maybe you have sediment issues.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will also impact the James River in Virginia, crossing under the river near James River State Park. Many of its tributaries are also in the pipeline’s path. “Virtually all of the major rivers that form the James are affected,” says Freeman. “We’re talking the potential for serious water quality problems.”

This is exacerbated by the karst topography in Bath, Highland, Augusta and Pocahontas counties, according to Freeman. Karst topography is landscape made up by limestone and other soluble rocks, which creates a network of underground drainage systems and caves. “The water recharge areas for wells and springs, including the springs that form the headwaters of the James and Cow Pasture rivers, are susceptible to disturbance underground,” he says. “Groundwater and the water sources for hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who depend on well and spring water will be put at risk.”

Freeman is also concerned about the miles of ridgeline the pipeline will run along. In order to achieve the necessary 125-foot construction right-of-way on these narrow ridgelines, Freeman says that for half a mile, the pipeline company will have to cut 25 to 50 feet of elevation from the top of the mountain.

“It would become a very visible scar, and then there’s the challenge of what to do with all the rubble. This would destroy the vistas that are so significant for this area, harming the tourist attraction and inviting serious erosion and sediment into nearby waters.”

Bent Mountain At Risk

Unlike Peters Mountain, Bent Mountain, Va., is not remote or isolated. It’s a small community of about 800, scattered across an upland plateau bisected by U.S. Route 221. When the Mountain Valley Pipeline shifted its route away from Floyd, Va., Bent Mountain came into its crosshairs.

The pipeline would come up over the steep Poor Mountain and cut through Bent Mountain’s forests, springs, wetlands and headwaters before crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading south into Franklin County.

Life on Bent Mountain

Family photos of life on Bent Mountain include images of harvests and orchards. Courtesy Marie Henry

There are a lot of “No Pipeline” signs in yards around Bent Mountain, but Kathy Chandler may be one of the most fired-up opponents. The pipeline would cut right across the property where she and her husband make their home, and a narrow private road she and others use to get to their homes would become an access road to the pipeline during and after construction.

She has even found the survey process upsetting. “It is an invasion of privacy,” she says. “These surveyors don’t seem to realize they’re in someone’s home, in someone’s yard. We just have bigger yards around here.”

Her big yard includes three springs that flow together to join Mill Creek, which flows into Bottom Creek and then into the Spring Hollow Reservoir, one of the main sources of drinking water for Roanoke County. Chandler worries about the impact to the springs from the pipeline and the access road. “Our water is your water,” Chandler says.

She and local activist Roberta “Bert” Bondurant worry about the pipeline’s impact on Bent Mountain’s many wetlands, including forested wetlands, in its path. They also worry about the people.

Bondurant — a board member of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), a grassroots coalition fighting the pipeline — has gotten to know many of the elderly residents of Bent Mountain, many of whom grew up in the community when thriving orchards provided its economic lifeblood. Several of these residents have property in the pipeline’s path, Bondurant said. “Somehow, they managed to go around the expensive subdivision, though,” she says.

Bondurant and Chandler studied the area’s history, and Chandler became friends with Jack Hale, an 85-year-old retired pilot whose grandfather owned 200 acres along Mill Creek and Green Hollow. They used what they’ve learned to submit arguments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has permitting approval authority for the pipelines and conducted a public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late 2016.

Olson, the Monroe County physician, doesn’t hold out much hope for FERC denying the project, though. “The public is spending thousands and thousands of hours reading through these applications and asking questions and trying to get clarifications,” he says. “But FERC is funded by the people it regulates, and as far as I’m concerned, the gas industry is a ventriloquist and FERC is Charlie McCarthy [the ventriloquist dummy]. It’s like we the people who live nearby are just in the way. We’re nothing but noise to them.”

The Problems with Pipelines

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by molly

This map shows a sampling of the types of sites that would be affected by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline. View the print centerspread here while we transfer it to a web-friendly version.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Pipeline Construction Would Scar Appalachian Trail Vistas

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Kevin Ridder

View from Angels Rest

This visual simulation of the view from Angels Rest, an overlook along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, shows the view without (above) and with (below) the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Simulation prepared by Hill Studio for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy


For generations, thru-hikers have come from far and wide to view the Appalachian Trail’s grand vistas. Many of those views, however, could be marred for future hikers.

The 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, two proposed natural gas pipelines that are scheduled to begin construction later this year if approved, would bore underneath the Appalachian Trail and require temporarily clearing as much as a 200-foot-wide right-of-way in some areas.

The proposed routes for both 42-inch pipelines would also cut through national forests. For the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve these routes, the U.S. Forest Service would need to make fundamental changes to each forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan.

Andrew Downs, regional director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, worries this would start a nationwide trend of tweaking forest protection plans for every new development.

“Changing or undermining that level of protection unnecessarily affects the entire national trail system,” Downs says. “That would allow for all sorts of future projects to come in and have a negative impact. It’s a slippery slope.”

“There is also a suite of a dozen or more prominent vistas along the trail where [the Mountain Valley Pipeline] would negatively affect the landscape,” Downs continues. “It would affect the experience of a hike along the Appalachian Trail for a long time.”

Affected vistas include Angel’s Rest, Dragon’s Tooth, Wilburn Valley Overlook, Kelly’s Knob and the Audie Murphy Monument.

Maury Johnson, a member of several Mountain Valley Pipeline opposition groups in Monroe County, W.Va., whose land would be crossed by the pipeline, is particularly worried about how the construction will affect Peters Mountain (read more here).

“When they were building the Appalachian Trail in the ‘20s, they literally took a 22-mile detour to the top of Peter’s Mountain so they could see the vista to the west,” Johnson says. “If this project gets approved, you’d be able to see the pipeline for about 30 miles snaking toward you, coming across this wonderful view.”

Visual and environmental impacts like these only get worse when combined with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Downs says. If approved, the project would cross the Appalachian Trail near the border of Virginia’s Augusta and Nelson counties.

“No effective cumulative impact analysis has taken into account both of these projects in terms of the Appalachian Trail,” Downs says. “Both pipelines in their draft environmental impact statement said that the other pipeline was going to contribute to cumulative impacts, but they refuse to analyze those impacts.”

According to Downs, the planning process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed route through Virginia and West Virginia hardly followed best practices, which he said was unusual behavior compared to other large-scale energy projects he’s worked with.

“At no time in their analysis have they utilized a correct centerline for the trail,” Downs says, referring to the path of the Appalachian Trail, which regularly shifts to more sustainable and scenic locations. “As a result they’ve got a pretty terrible route that includes significantly avoidable impacts to the Appalachian Trail. Not only is that ridiculous, it was also completely preventable. They could’ve just sat down with us in September like [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] told them to and gotten that information.”

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, has not responded to a request for comment.

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

Delay in Mountain Valley Pipeline

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and over 16,000 citizens found fault with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, according to The Roanoke Times. The public comment period for the draft environmental review closed in December.

In a letter to Mountain Valley dated Jan. 13, FERC notes the company made changes to their pipeline route in accordance with recommendations in FERC’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. A public comment period on the changes is open until Feb. 21.

On Jan. 26, FERC submitted a 28-page request seeking additional information from Mountain Valley. The agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement was originally slated for March 10 but is now delayed indefinitely.

Other Pipeline News

On Dec. 28, 2016, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against energy company Kinder Morgan in response to the company’s 2014 spill of at least 370,000 gallons of gasoline in South Carolina, according to a statement from the nonprofit law firm.

Citizen and environmental groups are challenging Dominion’s proposed 55-mile pipeline from Moore to Chappells, S.C. The pipeline would impact 255 acres along the route and would require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

On Jan 24., President Trump signed executive orders to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects. The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, stretching from Canada to Nebraska, was previously rejected by the Obama administration’s Department of State. And the nearly complete Dakota Access Pipeline — spanning from North Dakota to Illinois — was halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late 2016 pending further environmental review. Both pipelines face strong opposition. — Carl Blankenship

Public Pushback Against Appalachian Natural Gas Pipelines

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

Critics cite flaws in Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental review process

By Molly Moore

pipeline easement illustration

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is seeking an amendment to the Jefferson National Forest Plan that would reclassify 186 acres of old growth forest as a 500-foot-wide “utility corridor.” This image simulates a such a corridor from the perspective of Giles High School in Giles County, Va. Illustration courtesy Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, nine individuals gathered in the small town of Elliston, Va., for a meeting of the eastern chapter of Preserve Montgomery County VA, a grassroots group formed in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline. Some attendees had known each other for years, while others shook hands for the first time. But these individuals shared at least two things in common: all lived along the steep slopes and rolling ridgelines that distinguish Central Appalachia, and all were opposed to a new natural gas pipeline slicing through their home county.

Dozens of major new gas transmission pipelines are proposed for construction across the eastern United States. Two of these, each 42 inches in diameter, are slated to cross the steep slopes and abundant streams of the Appalachian Mountains while carrying high-pressure natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to companies in Virginia and North Carolina. Since applications for the projects were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — in September 2015 by the public utilities backing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and in October 2015 by the private companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline — communities along the route have raised the alarm.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would stretch from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County along Virginia’s southern border, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from Harrison and Lewis Counties, also in northern West Virginia, across Virginia to Robeson County on the southeastern edge of North Carolina.

Both would tie in to the Transco Pipeline, which extends between Texas and New York. Transco also connects to a recently approved natural gas export facility in Maryland, opening the possibility that this gas could go to overseas markets.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would also each require the construction of between three and four compressor stations — industrial facilities that maintain pressure throughout the system but pose concentrated health and environmental risks to nearby communities.

Common Cause

In places like Montgomery County, Va., some residents who might have different perspectives on other issues are united in their opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Community member Ellen Darden serves as the volunteer co-chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights — a coalition of local groups along the proposed route of the MVP. “[It’s] totally nonpartisan,” she says of the group’s name. “It’s really all about water, heritage and rights because those were the elements that were important to different groups and we wanted that represented.”

The coalition is working alongside environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

Many of the residents are outraged at the prospect of losing the use of their land to gas companies or utilities while facing the likelihood of diminishing property values.

“The thing about going through properties, in addition to environmental destruction, is we’re in hollers. The only flat land you have is down by the creek,” says Anita Puckett, a member of Preserve Montgomery County VA. “They want to run it down by the creek because it’s easier to build, so they’re leasing prime farmland, garden land, house-building land.”

In eastern Montgomery County, the MVP would claim a right-of-way through a flat portion of resident Jim Law’s land that he intends to use as a future homesite for his granddaughters. Roughly 100 miles further east, the ACP would bisect a pasture on Carlos Arostegui’s dairy farm.

Other nearby citizens cite worries about the risks that high-pressure gas poses to their homes, farms and lives. Natural gas transmission pipelines can be constructed with thinner walls and with shutoff valves spaced further apart in more sparsely populated areas, increasing the safety risk to nearby landowners.

Environmental impacts are also of concern to many. The construction process involves heavy truck traffic, clear-cutting, and crossing and tunneling beneath waterways, which leads to sedimentation and stream disturbances. Both the MVP and ACP would also traverse fragile karst topography, a porous limestone bedrock that amplifies the risk that groundwater would be affected.

New pipelines also have implications for global climate change. Methane is released during natural gas drilling and transmission and has a climate-altering potential 86 times greater than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after emission.

Locally, the projects would negatively affect viewsheds and tourism, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. After months of attempting to collaborate with pipeline officials and other stakeholders to minimize risks, in November 2016 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy concluded that it is “strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.”

In contrast, pipeline backers emphasize potential for construction jobs and tax revenue — a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by MVP anticipated that a four-year construction phase would contribute to roughly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

According to the ACP’s website, that pipeline would generate $8.3 million in property tax revenue in 2018, a figure that would rise and top $30 million each year by 2025, when considering all three states. But different projections were reached in a 2016 study by Key-Log Economics, LLC, which predicted the pipeline would result in a net loss of property taxes.

The ACP has the explicit support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and President-Elect Donald Trump’s First 100 Days platform calls for removing barriers to new energy infrastructure projects. But even with such high-profile support, the pipelines still face regulatory and potential legal hurdles.

Federal Procedure

Before breaking ground, interstate pipeline projects must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, so instead of relying on financial support from taxpayers, it is funded by fees from the companies it regulates. Pipeline opponents nationwide have alleged that this is a conflict of interest that favors industry.

Since 2009, FERC has approved 170 major natural gas pipelines, though the commission isn’t obligated to review whether or not these pipelines are needed.

Yet even if FERC approves a pipeline, it’s not a done deal. Privately financed projects like the MVP still need to find and retain financial backing. Pipelines can also be denied at a state level even if they have federal approval — in April 2016, the state of New York halted construction on the Constitution Pipeline by denying a water-quality permit.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FERC is required to prepare an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of significant projects like these and to assess alternatives, as well as consider public input before making a decision and issuing a final environmental review. At FERC, these documents are often prepared by contractors and subcontractors who are paid directly by the gas companies or utilities.

FERC has been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for repeatedly accepting environmental assessments for new pipelines that the EPA deems insufficient. In October, the EPA issued a letter charging that FERC’s review of the LeachXPress pipeline — which would carry natural gas through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — omitted significant information.

The environmental review process is intended to give the public a chance to be heard by submitting public comments or attending formal in-person FERC listening sessions. The draft environmental review for the MVP was released on Sept. 16 and the deadline for public comment set for Dec. 22. Release of the ACP’s draft environmental assessment is expected in December 2016. [Editor’s note: The ACP environmental review was released Dec. 30. Read the full draft here and environmental groups’ press statement here.]

Residents across the country can submit comments for interstate pipelines like MVP and ACP. But the effectiveness of public comments also depends on how thorough the initial assessment is — for instance, if the draft doesn’t describe how pipeline builders plan to mitigate landslides, it’s harder for local residents to weigh in on whether that plan is sufficient. Attendees at FERC’s seven public listening sessions held along the MVP route in November stated that the draft environmental statement was “woefully inadequate.”

Incomplete Review

In October, the nonprofit law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates submitted a letter to FERC outlining shortcomings in the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement. The 15-page letter, sent on behalf of 27 conservation and community groups, called on the agency to revise or supplement the draft and questioned whether the MVP was even necessary.

According to Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, FERC published an incomplete review. “FERC even acknowledges it still needs information about impacts on drinking water sources, as well as important streams and wetlands,” he stated in a press release. “The public must have access to this crucial information if its review of FERC’s analysis is to have any meaning.”

In its application, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, stated that it has secured contracts for the two billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas it would transport each day. Yet separate studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commissioned by Appalachian Voices, and by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., both concluded that pipelines carrying gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are being overbuilt and that there is enough pipeline capacity to meet demand until 2030.

The Appalachian Mountain Advocates letter also points out that some information — such as surveys for a proposed route change — can be omitted until the end of the comment period, and even more information can be withheld until after FERC grants a certificate of approval. These components include plans for avoiding active mines, mitigating landslides, installing permanent culverts and permanently filling waterbodies and wetlands along the route.

There are many organizations resisting the pipelines, and those listed below can also help identify local groups in your area. Learn more or submit a comment asking FERC to reject the MVP at appvoices.org/no-mvp-pipeline

  • Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Coalition of local groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: abralliance.org
  • Appalachian Voices: Advocacy organization fighting against the ACP and MVP
    Visit: Appvoices.org Call: (434) 293-6373
  • NC WARN: N.C. organization working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: ncwarn.org Call: (919) 416-5077
  • Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: Coalition of local groups resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline
    Visit: powhr.org
  • Speaking Out

    FERC’s seven listening sessions on the MVP were held in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania during the first part of November. Some were sparsely attended, while others had high turnout, including more than 150 attendees in Roanoke, Va.

    Instead of speaking publicly before attendees and the commission as is the custom for public forums, individuals were led into a room with just a FERC official and a stenographer, an atmosphere that Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer with Appalachian Voices, calls “sterile and disempowering.”

    Yet as attendees met with FERC individually, community groups and the Sierra Club Virginia hosted alternative meeting spaces in the same building for people to share their comments with one another and learn more about the pipeline. In Weston, W. Va., local organizations also held their own forum with a stenographer taking comments in a public space so that residents could hear each other’s concerns.

    In the face of proposals like the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, building connections — whether between organizations or between neighbors — is key.

    “This is not just a local fight,” says Darden, noting that if one proposal fails, companies will likely try another route. “The [pipelines] are coming. This is just the start. And the companies just all want their own profit, there’s no collaboration, no coordination.”

    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental assessment was expected December 2017. The draft was expected in December 2016, and was released Dec. 30. Read the response to the draft from Appalachian Voices and other citizens groups.

    Why stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline?

    Tuesday, November 1st, 2016 - posted by Peter Anderson
    A sign in eastern Montgomery County, Va., announces local opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

    A sign in eastern Montgomery County, Va., announces local opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently taking public comments regarding the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would ship fracked gas via a 42-inch underground pipe 301 miles from northwest West Virginia into southern Virginia, with a short connector into Pennsylvania.

    The public comment period gives citizens a chance to share their concerns with FERC on the record. Here are some of my concerns with the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) proposal:

    Existing pipelines are sufficient – Studies (here and here) show that there’s more than enough capacity on existing pipelines to carry the gas needed to meet customer demand in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. As many states shift their electric generation from coal and gas to wind, solar, and other renewables, it’s likely that demand for gas will decrease in the long run. But right now, bad policies are creating incentives for companies to overbuild the pipeline network.

    Public safety – There is no way to justify the risk of an explosion or leak to the people who live within the quarter-mile blast radius of the proposed pipeline. The National Transportation Safety Board tracks data on pipeline incidents, and its website is riddled with reports of gas pipeline explosions and fires that have resulted in deaths and the destruction of property. Figures from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration show that onshore gas pipelines installed in the 2010s have incident rates more than five times greater than pipelines installed in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Water quality – The MVP’s proposed route would cross three major aquifers and come within one tenth of a mile of two public water supplies, not to mention an untold number of private drinking wells not yet identified by the project partners. The project would also cross 377 perennial waterbodies across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. Are we willing to risk the failure of an underground pipeline that carries 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day when headwater streams, wells, and municipal drinking water supplies are so close?

    Climate change – The MVP would enable significantly more gas to be shipped, which means significantly more gas can be extracted using fracking techniques in the Marcellus shale region. Natural gas is predominantly methane. While methane does have a lower global warming impact than coal during electricity generation, it still accelerates climate change. Methane leaks directly into the atmosphere during fracking and distribution, and its global warming effect is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide’s over a 20-year period, and 36 times greater than carbon dioxide’s over a 100-year period.

    Traditional air pollutants – Three large compressor stations have been proposed to move gas along the route in West Virginia, and there may yet be a fourth sited in Virginia. FERC expects one of the West Virginia compressors to violate local air quality standards and require a permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

    Forests & the Appalachian Trail – FERC concedes that there will be permanent adverse impacts to forests. The MVP would cross thousands of acres of prime forest land and habitat for species listed as threatened and endangered. It would cross national treasures like the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The U.S. Forest Service has raised several of these forest impact issues, yet they have not been addressed by FERC or the project partners.

    What can you do to help protect Appalachia? You can make your voice heard. You can send a comment online today; the deadline is December 22.

    I’ve outlined several of my concerns above, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Whether you or a loved one would be impacted by the construction of this pipeline, or you are concerned about global climate change, this is your fight. The federal government must listen to citizen comments and address them before allowing the proposal to go forward.

    Environmental justice in Buckingham County

    Thursday, October 13th, 2016 - posted by Lara Mack

    NO Compressor Station = NO Atlantic Coast Pipeline

    Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

    Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

    Stand with community members in Buckingham County on Monday, October 17 at the next Planning Commission meeting.

    On Monday, September 26, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held a public hearing about the special use permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s 57,000-horsepower compressor station. Dominion Resources and Duke Energy’s joint project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), is proposed to carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia, into North Carolina. The ACP’s three proposed compressor stations would run engines 24/7 to provide the pressure to push the gas through the pipeline. This permit would allow for huge industrial construction in an otherwise very rural and agricultural community and county. If approval for the construction of these compressor stations is denied, it would severely impact the viability of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project overall.

    Dominion, the project’s lead developer, has already purchased the land for the Buckingham County compressor station from plantation-owner descendants in a largely black historic community called Union Hill. Over the last two years, Buckingham County has received much less media attention than other counties fighting the ACP. When we held a press conference before the public hearing, only one reporter attended from a local newspaper in a neighboring county.

    This is an environmental racism and justice issue at the core. If built, this compressor station would be one of the largest in the country. Surrounding communities would be severely impacted by noise pollution, air pollution, and disruption of the community’s culture. Dominion is doing its best to take advantage of a historically marginalized, low-income, rural and isolated community by locating the compressor station in an area where people are less likely to have the resources to resist. Despite Dominion’s efforts, word is getting out about Buckingham’s fight. Friends and neighbors are rallying to support the effort against the compressor station and pipeline there.

    Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

    Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

    The September public hearing served as an opportunity for those of us working against the pipeline to support Buckingham County residents on the ground. Local folks, neighboring activists and friends flooded the County Administration Building, with almost all attendees wearing “No Compressor Station” stickers to give the planning commission a clear sign of where we stood on the issue.

    Fifty-four people signed up to give public comment, nearly all of them local residents concerned about the potential compressor station. The public comments lasted so long that the planning commission took the rare step of setting up another meeting to hear the rest of the community input. This means that we also delayed the progress of the compressor station a couple more months. The planning commission will hear the rest of the public comments on October 17 and will eventually give a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision on whether or not to allow Dominion the special use permit to build the compressor station.

    Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

    Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

    Though a lot of work needs to continue to support and amplify the most marginalized voices in Buckingham County and along the ACP, local residents appreciated the show of support and were invigorated by the strong presence against the compressor station.

    “It was amazingly heartening and inspiring to see all the people that showed up,” said Chad Oba, a local resident and member of Friends of Buckingham. “Every time we come together it gives us all energy to keep the momentum going and it sends a message that we are here and we care about what happens to our air, our water, our homeplaces and all that we hold dear.”

    Consequences and Need for Natural Gas Pipelines Disputed

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Brian Sewell

    A decision by federal regulators to forgo a comprehensive review of large natural gas pipelines proposed in Appalachia has not diminished opponents’ doubts about the projects, including whether they are needed at all.

    In August, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made clear it would not conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement to consider the cumulative impacts of the region’s proposed pipelines, particularly the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite months of requests from landowners and citizen groups.

    Yet a new study published by Synapse Energy Economics does examine the need for the projects — and concluded that there is none. Based on existing capacity and projected electricity demand, minor pipeline upgrades would be sufficient to meet demand through at least 2030, the study found. In April, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis similarly concluded that the industry tends toward overbuilding, benefitting gas companies and electric utilities but putting ratepayers at risk.

    A draft impact statement for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will arrive in December, with a final statement expected next June. The final statement for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline will come in March. Citizen groups argue that the draft review released in September fails to fully assess the public need, and likely impacts to water quality and the climate. The release of the draft on Sept. 16 initiated a 90-day public comment period.

    “FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” says Anne Havemann of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, referring to widespread use of fracking to extract natural gas in Northern Appalachia, where the pipelines would begin. Havemann faults the review for acting as if the gas that would be transported by the pipeline “comes from nowhere.”

    Opponents argue that both projects pose risks to the mountainous terrain, watersheds and ecosystems they would cross, including in the national forests that span Virginia’s border with West Virginia. The U.S. Forest Service detailed its concerns about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route through the George Washington National Forest in a September letter to regulators, warning of threats to wild trout streams.

    In order to protect the silt-free gravel stream beds where trout spawn, the forest plan for the George Washington National Forest restricts activities that could disrupt the streams between Oct. 1 and April 1. But the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition reports that the utility intends to request waivers for time-of-year restrictions and other important environmental requirements.

    Dominion CEO Tom Farrell says the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s scheduled environmental review means that “FERC believes that the route is essentially complete.” But opposition has significantly delayed construction and the project’s expected in-service date.
    Read about Appalachian Voices’ involvement here.

    Standing Against the Mountain Valley Pipeline

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns
    Hundreds  of concerned  Virginians attended  a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

    Hundreds of concerned Virginians attended a series of meetings about the proposed pipeline.

    Throughout September, we met with hundreds of concerned residents along the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline in places such as Summers and Monroe Counties in West Virginia and Roanoke and Montgomery Counties in Virginia. The pipeline would carry natural gas from fracking operations in West Virginia for 301 miles, crossing through public lands, private properties and more than 1,000 waterways.

    At the meetings, which were held along with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and the Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights coalition and their local member organizations, we discussed the pipeline’s timeline and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s permitting process, as well as current and upcoming opportunities for public comment. We also reviewed county-specific threats including water quality, vulnerable karst geology, property rights and community safety.

    In mid-September, federal regulators released the draft environmental impact statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The draft fails to adequately assess the public need for the project — a recent report shows that existing infrastructure could meet demand until 2030. The federal review also discounts the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate. Read more about the pipelines here.

    “Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” says Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. “FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

    Public comments on the MVP draft environmental impact statement are due Dec. 22. To submit a comment, visit appvoices.org/fight-mvp