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.
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.