In 2014, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)/EQT confidently predicted they could build a 300+ mile pipeline through mountains and karst by late 2018 at a cost of less than $3.5 billion. Today they say they can finish by late 2019 at a cost of $4.6 billion.

This update focuses on the situation in Jefferson National Forest (JNF), where construction is still halted due to a federal court decision in July.

Experts in both government and the private sector have repeatedly filed reports showing that MVP’s plans for control of erosion and sedimentation would result in widespread damage and destruction, and these predictions were sadly correct, both inside and outside JNF.

UPDATES (with more details below)

  • Recently released reports from the US Forest Service (FS) show dozens of serious failures in MVP’s erosion and sedimentation controls in JNF. These reports support original FS critiques that led to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals stay on construction. MVP used extremely questionable methods based in part on work done in Florida to design their erosion and control strategies. Details are below under #3 and #4.
  • The FS recently approved an MVP plan for Winter 2018-19 that does not allow any construction or burying of pipe and instead requires MVP to stabilize existing construction and plant seed on denuded areas by October 15. MVP had proposed burying pipe in the ground to prevent erosion! Details are below under #5.

Read more »

Past RATC president Diana Christopulos accepts Landsaver Award from Blue Ridge Land Conservancy President Bill Hackworth.

On Sunday, September 9, 2018, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club was honored to receive the 2018 Landsaver award from the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy in recognition of the club’s work in building, maintaining and protecting over 120 miles of the AT between Va 611 in Bland County and Black Horse Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. BRLC detailed the reasons for the award in its recent newsletter [with minor edits]:

In the backyard of the Blue Ridge runs the nation’s premier, continuous, long-distance footpath: the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, commonly referred to as the “AT.” With a length of 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine that takes thru hikers from 4 to 7 months to complete, who takes care of this mammoth recreational gem?

That’s where groups like the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club step in. The recipient of this year’s Landsaver Award from the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy. the club was founded in 1932. It’s one of 31 similar clubs along the length of the AT, the purpose of which is to maintain, and address threat to the trail. This hard-working club oversees more than 120 miles of the trail between Bland County and Black Horse Gap in Virginia. Some volunteers walk a section assigned to them 4 times a year to monitor vegetation and pain the iconic white blazes. They do a great job, according to many thru-hikers. Jim Beeson, the current presidents of the club, completed the AT in 2016. For him, this area had some of the best parts of the trail in terms of maintenance and views. In fact, it encouraged him to join the club.

Read more »

The rules about vehicles on the Appalachian Trail are very clear. You can’t ride a bicycle on it. Nor

can you use a motorized vehicle.

36 CFR 7.100 – Appalachian National Scenic Trail. (a)What activities are prohibited? (1) The use of bicycles, motorcycles or other motor vehicles is prohibited.

The US Forest Service knows this and says so on the website for the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest:

The A.T. is marked with white vertical paint blazes, two-inch by six-inch.  It is a foot trail – travel by horse, bicycle, or motorized vehicles is not allowed.

And according to a more specific order for this national forest, “Vehicles, horses, pack animals’ and bicycles” are prohibited on the A.T. unless there is “a permit specifically authorizing the otherwise prohibited act or omission.” We have seen no such permit, nor does any closure order we have seen state that Forest Service personnel are authorized to use motorized vehicles on the A.T.

“Violations of these prohibitions are punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both. (16 U.S.C. 551, 18 U.S.C 3559 and 3571).”

Read more »

AT on Peters Mountain, looking into Peters Mountain Wilderness and West Virginia. Close to proposed MVP crossing.

There are many moving parts to this story. Here is what we can tell about the current status:

No trees have been cut to date in Virginia, though cutting has started in West Virginia. MVP would need to cease cutting by March 31 due to the presence of endangered bats in trees along the routes, and they will be unable to resume until October.

MVP still needs permits from the US Forest Service, historic preservation office in in Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Numerous court cases are pending, including one brought by landowners that is being in heard in Roanoke. EQT, the Pittsburgh fracking company that is the primary owner, operator and customer of the pipeline, is splitting into two companies at the behest of hedge fund managers who are keeping the company afloat; fracking loses money, while owning a federally-subsidized pipeline makes money.

Same location as above – AT in ORANGE, dangerous parts of pipeline route (identified as dangerous by USFS) in RED – steep and landslide-prone slopes in middle of active Giles County Seismic Zone.

Details:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is giving authority to go ahead for much of the route, and timber cutting has occurred in West Virginia but not Virginia.  Even with FERC approvals, all conditions have not been met. FOR EXAMPLE:

MVP needs a timber permit from the US Forest Service for the 3.5 miles in Jefferson National Forest and a notice to proceed in the National Forest from FERC. We believe this will happen soon. The National Forest may be the first place in Virginia where trees are cut – very disappointing, since many counted on the FS to help protect the Appalachian Trail and water quality to downstream communities. Erosion and sedimentation from streams originating in these uplands will affect areas as far away as Smith Mountain Lake, according to a study completed for the Forest Service by MVP’s own consulting firm.
Read more »

Duncan Adams (checked shirt in center) says farewell to Roanoke and heads to Montana

Those who have been following the Mountain Valley Pipeline story know that Duncan Adams has provided extraordinary coverage for over 3 years in the Roanoke Times. He has asked hard questions, shining light on a story that many outlets ignored or glossed over. Recently, Duncan accepted a long-sought offer to edit a newspaper in Butte, Montana, and his last day at the Roanoke Times was November 11, 2107 (two experienced reporters – Laurence Hammock and Jeff Sturgeon – will now cover the story).

Like me, Duncan has the West in his bones, and the call is strong. We wish him all the best and hope Montanans know what a great gift they are receiving.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club honored Duncan for his in-depth reporting at the ATC office in Roanoke on November 13. He responded by reading the hand-written note below, which he has allowed us to share:

A true writer, Duncan composed his note on paper without a single error. How is this possible?

The rain started after my brother dropped me at the Dragon’s Tooth trailhead. On that April morning in 1978, I was 23 years old and a backpacking novice.

I walked into the woods woefully unprepared. I had not been a Boy Scout. My parents weren’t campers. I had stuffed the flimsy, exterior frame backpack, bought on the cheap from a discount retailer, with way too much stuff, including – incredibly – an array of books.

I toted a thin sleeping bag and a tube tent, a plastic shelter open on both ends.

As it turned out, my trail maps were outdated. That first night, as the rain intensified, I searched in vain for the shelter in which I’d planned to sleep. The rain gleefully sluiced in through both ends of the tube tent.

It was a long night. The next day it snowed. A few days later, I hitchhiked into Blacksburg, where I bought a decent jacket and mailed home the books.

By the time I reached Damascus I felt like a seasoned outdoorsman. I felt stronger, leaner, less fearful.

Like many people who hit the trail, I sought healing and solace on that first outing. I found just enough of both to initiate a love of hiking.

I am grateful to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for your stewardship of this remarkable resource. And I am also grateful, and deeply honored, by this award. Thank you.

Red line = proposed route of Mountain Valley Pipeline

On September 13, 2017, Monroe County, West Virginia experienced the largest earthquake in decades, with the epicenter 1.5 mile from the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route.

The Roanoke Times  reported that more than 200 calls came into the Giles County Sheriff’s Office dispatch in the half hour after the quake. Within a day, over 500 citizens notified the USGS that they had felt the earthquake.

The Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory rated it a magnitude 3.7 earthquake, while the US Geological Survey pegged it at 3.2 (they use slightly different measurement strategies).

Wednesday’s earthquake is the second one that was felt within 4 months in the GCSZ, with another on May 12, 2017 near Narrows, Virginia (magnitude 2.8).

 

WHY PIPELINES AND EARTHQUAKES DON’T MIX

Well, these weren’t huge earthquakes, so what’s the problem? Very simply, Mountain Valley Pipeline has chosen to place a very large (42”), explosive pipeline under enormous pressure (1,440 pounds of pressure per square inch) on a very dangerous route. Threats to communities near and downstream from the pipeline include:

  • Increased leakage of hazardous materials such as methane, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and radon from the pipeline into drinking water wells and public water supplies.
  • Increased risk of pipeline failure, producing catastrophic damage within as much as 7,700 feet on each side of the pipeline. WANT TO SEE WHAT A MUCH SMALLER 20″ PIPELINE LOOKED LIKE WHEN IT EXPLODED AND MELTED PART OF INTERSTATE 77? THIS IS THE SISSONVILLE, WV PIPELINE IN DECEMBER 2012.
  • Increased risk of major wildfires due to potential explosions on a route that is very heavily forested.

 

WORST POSSIBLE LOCATION: PROPOSED CROSSING OF APPALACHIAN TRAIL

If you were going to combine all possible risk factors for the Mountain Valley Pipeline in one location, the proposed crossing of the Appalachian Trail could be that spot. The September 13, 2017 earthquake was only 5-6 miles from the proposed crossing of the AT on top of Peters Mountain, immediately next to the Peters Mountain Wilderness on the Virginia/West Virginia border.

The US Forest Service identified numerous High Hazard Areas in Jefferson National Forest associated with construction of Mountain Valley Pipeline. Two of the High Hazard areas are immediately adjacent to the Appalachian Trail (300 feet away on each side) on both sides of Peters Mountain (see visual above).

Risk factors include:

  • Location in the middle of the very active Giles County Seismic Zone.
  • Location between what the US Forest Service has identified as two High Hazard zones that combine very steep slopes, with landslide prone soils, and high exposure to seismic action.
  • All of the dangers are increased if the soil is wet.
  • The bottom of the slope on the West Virginia side is full of karst, as noted by Dr. Kastning, so that a failure would impact a wide area.

At a live meeting in Salem, Virginia on June 15, 2017, I asked an MVP construction supervisor to cite one example of a pipeline this size that was successfully constructed in an environment of steep slopes, landslide prone soils, karst and an active earthquake zone. His answer was: “FLORIDA.” Obviously, Florida has karst. But none of the other hazards are present.

Mountain Valley Pipeline seems largely unaware of or unconcerned about the risks. They seem to believe that stating there is no problem in fact means there is no problem. Since the company itself is not being required to post any bond nor pay the cost of any damage that is done to the surrounding area, it is not surprising. All of the costs would be borne by those who are most directly impacted and who have the least resources to spare.

Read more »