Front Porch Blog

Pipe blowout heightens Mountain Valley Pipeline concerns

When Congress placed a thumb on the scale to mandate approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s permits in June 2023, construction resumed and communities along the route expressed deep concerns about the use of degraded materials and rushed construction practices. From pipe sitting in standing water or uncovered and subject to years of degradation from the elements, to a lack of notification to landowners about testing schedules, MVP’s materials and operations have caused ire.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the government agency that reviews pipeline safety across the U.S., shared these same concerns. The agency issued a safety order in August of last year, then reached a consent agreement with MVP in October 2023 that requires extensive testing and reporting. The consent agreement is ongoing and conditions of this agreement have not been fulfilled. And yet on April 22, 2024, MVP asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant permission to place the pipeline “in-service” by May 23. This request is premature and unacceptable.

From the April 22, 2024 in-service request from MVP showing areas, or “spreads” of the MVP route in Virginia

The project is not mechanically complete, construction is occurring in some places and final restoration — where soil is replaced on top of the trench and seeded — has not occurred for most of the Virginia route. Highlighting the danger of this project, MVP’s pipe just failed hydrostatic testing on May 1. A burst section of pipe resulted in nearby streams running brown with mud in Virginia and it is now undergoing a metallurgical study. There is concern that this portion of the pipe, buried since 2018, may have actually suffered a manufacturing failure and that other pipe built at that same time may also be susceptible to failure.

Photo by Grace Terry

The pipe involved in the catastrophic failure was extracted for off-site study, but was photographed during its exit. Through all of this, the public has been kept in the dark. The only responses from MVP and PHMSA have come through media outlets, and communities remain without the items they’ve spent the past year requesting from PHMSA: testing schedules, certification agreement between PHMSA and the Virginia State Corporation Commission, reports confirming that welds were x-rayed, new impact radius and evacuation zones for the Mountain Valley Pipeline route, quarterly reports on the project’s status and inspection records for Virginia.

Sedimentation after the pipe rupture in Bent Mountain, Va. Photo by Robin Austin

Alarmingly, the quarterly report that included testing in West Virginia, included 70 instances of concern, which included having to dig up portions of the pipe.

Pipeline safety watchdog group Pipeline Safety Trust weighed in after the pipe rupture.

“A failure during a hydrotest generally indicates that a component of the installed pipe was weak or corrupted in some way,” Erin Sutherland, policy and program director for Pipeline Safety Trust, wrote in a letter to FERC. “While it is positive that the inadequacy was identified before the pipeline is filled with product, it is nevertheless concerning given the explosive risk of such a large diameter, high-pressure gas pipeline.”

At this time, communities are advocating to FERC, PHMSA and elected officials to deny this request. Some have weighed in, with 23 Virginia legislators, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith asking for denial.

Griffith recently told E&E News, “Mountain Valley has given the impression that all is well with the project. Despite this, the sudden failure of one pipe is an alarming development. I believe the full pipeline should be tested before there is any discussion of placing it into service.”

The arbitrary timeline suggested by MVP’s developers is just that — there is no need to circumvent the operational requirements of the consent agreement and place the public at even greater risk.

Communities have been left without answers about their safety, the possibility of additional failures and the pipeline’s overall integrity. MVP has not met the requirements of their safety agreement with PHMSA, and now is not the time for FERC to grant permission to operate.

Born and raised in Central Virginia, Jessica holds a lifelong passion for protecting Virginia’s waterways. She works as AV's Virginia Field Coordinator fighting against fracked-gas pipelines.


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