This article is an expanded version of the op-ed "Christopulos: Mountain Valley Pipeline: dangerous, unnecessary, and unwanted", which was originally published by The Roanoke Times on June 12, 2017.
Promoters say the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be a safe, environmentally friendly economic asset developed after thoughtful dialogue.
If only this were true.
The huge, 42-inch pipeline — more than twice the size of existing transmission pipelines — would carry explosive natural gas under enormous pressure. Pipeline failure would leave a blast zone of total incineration about 1,000 feet wide on each side. Yet the company proposes to build it within 65 feet of an occupied home in the Newport community of Giles County. And the evacuation zone would be at least 3,600 feet wide on each side. The company would use the power of federal eminent domain to cross private property of families that have held it for generations.
Perhaps due to hasty construction, pipelines since 2010 are failing at dramatically high rates not seen since before World War II.
If safety is the highest priority, why did the company choose a route composed of steep landslide-prone slopes and karst — land full of caves and underground waterways that could form new sinkholes and cause complete failure of the pipeline? The two major transmission pipelines that currently supply our region with plenty of natural gas follow existing roadways, railways and utility lines, generally paralleling Interstate 81 and Interstate 77.
If safety is the highest priority, why do they want to cross the Appalachian Trail on Peters Mountain, where their own consulting firm says the slopes are High Hazard areas subject to failure? Why did they select a location in the epicenter of an active seismic area where there was an earthquake as recently as May 2017? Failure at this location could be truly catastrophic, especially if there were a drought, as there was last year in Tennessee when a wildfire swept through Gatlinburg, killing 14 people, damaging or destroying 1,684 structures and forcing about 14,000 residents to evacuate.
A 10-inch pipeline built three years ago on the same mountain contaminated the public water supply on the West Virginia side and continues to have erosion problems in both Virginia and West Virginia. Why would a 42-inch pipeline be less damaging?
The pipeline’s own consulting company concluded that the project would send tons of new sediment down the Roanoke River “until [it] is arrested behind the first dam (i.e., Niagara Dam) or is deposited into Smith Mountain Lake." Much of the Roanoke River is officially impaired already due to high sediment loads, so new sediment would increase stormwater fees for everyone on its path, paid by local landowners, not by the pipeline company.
The “ongoing dialogues” promised by the company have not included the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) or the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), despite direction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In fact, the company has not contacted RATC at all in over a year despite our numerous and detailed comments and questions. The planning was so careless that the company used an outdated map of the AT and actually proposes to run one of its permanent access roads right on the Trail.
Separate studies by the ATC and RATC show that the pipeline’s 125-foot swath would be visible off and on for almost 75 miles of the AT. Instead of working with volunteers and staff familiar with the AT, the pipeline company hired an out of town firm that ignored locations where the project would be visible. A good example is at Kelly Knob in Giles County. Working with a highly reputable local firm, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) created simulations showing that the pipeline’s route would be highly visible from Kelly Knob, first as it ascends Sinking Creek Mountain and again as it climbs through the Brush Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. Yet MVP has never found this location. Their first attempt, published in February 2017, was taken in foggy conditions. It is hard to believe that the company is making a good faith effort when they produce such slipshod results.
All of this destruction would create just 34 permanent jobs in all of Virginia. A study by Key-Log Economics showed that it would cost eight counties in Virginia and West Virginia over $200 million per year in lost property values, tax revenues, tourism revenues and damage to clean air and clean water.
The conservative, mostly Republican county boards of supervisors in Giles, Craig, Montgomery and Roanoke counties all oppose this pipeline. So do the staid Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, groups that rarely take positions on such issues. As do dozens of landowner groups and all environmental organizations.
So who wants the pipeline? Mostly its owners, whose “customers” are actually its own subsidiaries.
The lead company is EQT of Pittsburgh, a fracking company that lost almost $500 million dollars last year and generally operates with negative cash flows. The company’s long-term credit rating is Baa3, the lowest investment-grade credit rating. A pipeline would be a federal bailout for EQT, which could realize a profit of up to 14% as a pipeline operator, using federal eminent domain to take the use of hundreds of parcels of private property. When asked by a member of the Roanoke County board of supervisors whether the gas was intended for export, the company’s representative replied that, “Gas molecules flow all over the place.”
Another partner, WGL Midstream, has contracts to export natural gas to India, according to the June 25, 2015 issue of The Roanoke Times.
Consolidated Edison is a New York utility whose own state has banned fracking for natural gas and whose state government has stopped two FERC-approved gas pipelines due to concerns about threats to public drinking water and the environment. In essence, Virginia would become a pipeline colony for New York.
Roanoke Gas, tacked on as a 0.5% owner after the project’s original announcement, has repeatedly told FERC that this pipeline could be “a third source of natural gas” for the region, hardly a necessity. In fact, studies by Synapse Energy Economics and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, have shown that Virginia and the Carolinas do not need new natural gas transmission lines. If Roanoke Gas builds a tap in Roanoke, many observers believe that the pipeline would restore its original proposal to build a loud, highly polluting compressor station near the Roanoke River. It would be named after Lynn Swann, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, reflecting the origins of the project.
Mountain Valley Pipeline: dangerous, unnecessary, unwanted.
For more information about this misguided project and how you can help protect the Appalachian Trail and its surrounding communities, visit AppalachianTrail.org/MVP.
About Diana Christopulos
Diana Christopulos and her partner Mark McClain retired to Salem, Virginia, in 2003. Diana joined the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) even before their furniture had arrived and went on her first club hike few days after they closed on their house. Diana now serves as president of both the RATC and the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition. She holds degrees from Cornell University and Binghamton University.
During her paid working life, she owned a management consulting business, waited tables, washed dishes, taught college history, ran a corporate human resources department and worked for tips as a whitewater rafting guide on the Green River in Utah and the Rio Grande in Texas. Since her retirement in 2003, she has completed a hike of the Appalachian Trail and drafted a novel about the experience. She serves on the boards of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and the Council of Community Services and is past president of the Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition. A native of Wyoming, Diana has always enjoyed playing outside. She and Mark have canoed thousands of miles of American rivers. They still live in Salem, Virginia.