Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is set to begin on October 26, 2023 in the vicinity of Symms Gap on the crest of Peters Mountain (NOBO mile 649.1) along the Appalachian Trail. For public safety, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has implemented a closure order that includes the area immediately surrounding the footpath through the construction zone. The AT footpath will remain open, but hikers are prohibited from stopping or loitering in the area covered by the closure order and temporary construction fencing will be installed along either side of the Trail.
Hikers may see lights or hear construction sounds in the vicinity of the construction zone.
Before approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had to show that it would do no substantial environmental harm, supposedly demonstrated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) they issued on June 23, 2017 (Accession No. 20170623-4000). In granting the FEIS, the FERC relied on MVP’s stream scour and erosion analyses and plan containing specific information about pipeline construction at stream crossings along the entire pipeline route.
Yet within months of starting the project, MVP submitted a variance request asking permission to change its plan. In doing so, MVP admitted to the FERC that:
“The [MVP plan] was a theoretical desktop analysis and did not take site specific constructability issues (elevations, terrain, and workspace) into account. During its subsequent field reviews, [MVP] determined that execution of the mitigation measures, as written, would pose increased environmental or landslide risks or be unsafe or impractical due to terrain or geology.”
In response, FERC’s own expert consultant stated that MVP should be required to “provide a site-specific scenario… for each location [where MVP proposed to change its original plan].”
So it is clear that the FERC-approved FEIS does not protect the environment. Despite MVP’s confession, Paul Friedman (FERC Project Manager) or someone at a higher level overruled the FERC’s own expert consultant by
Rejecting the expert’s directive that MVP do a site-specific analysis of every water body crossing on the route where MVP proposed to change its original plan.
Allowing MVP to produce revised plans with lower environmental standards (June 2018).
Failing to provide state environmental agencies or the public an opportunity to comment on revised plans.
Approving, without opportunity for public comment, a project-wide variance (MVP-006) on September 26, 2018 that allows MVP to violate Best Management Practices without oversight.
Producing this hasty variance approval at EXACTLY the same time that MVP announced a lengthy delay and major cost increase. MVP and its investors – not clean water, landowner rights and protection of public lands – seemed to be the core FERC audience for this action.
Hiding the relevant correspondence from the public, the courts and both federal and state regulators.
Trying to hide the name of the FERC Project Manager in documents that ICWA acquired through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA).
BY KEEPING CORRESPONDENCE SECRET, FERC DENIED INFORMATION THAT WOULD HAVE INFORMED DECISIONS BY FERC COMMISSIONERS, THE FEDERAL 4TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS AND THE VIRGINIA STATE WATER CONTROL BOARD, among others. Surely it would have mattered if decision makers had Read more »
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).”
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.
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 »
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.
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.
State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and Delegate Joseph Yost (R-Pearisburg) will speak, showing the bipartisan opposition that Mountain Valley has earned due to its disregard for landowners and the environment. Edwards and Yost simultaneously introduced legislation in the 2016 session of the General Assembly to rescind the state’s current survey law.
Diana Christopulos, President of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, will recall why we love the Trail and Trail towns like Pearisburg
Songwriter Leslie Brooks will provide entertainment, including her new anti-pipeline ballad.
Strange Coffee will offer coffee and donuts, with all proceeds donated to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club!
See you there! WANT TO DO MORE? SEND A COMMENT TO THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY BY AUGUST 22. A SAMPLE LETTER AND ALL THE OTHER INFORMATION YOU NEED ARE HERE.
Many small pipelines currently cross the Appalachian Trail, but they are nothing like the proposed new Mountain Valley Pipeline that would be built by a consortium led by EQT, a fracking company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The latest edition of AT Journeys, the magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, has a major article on the threat of this pipeline to all national trails. “Cutting to the Core:Setting a Precedent for Pipeline Proposals” by Jack Igelman. (if you have trouble getting this link to open properly, please right click, copy the link, and paste into a new tab)
Unlike existing pipelines, this one would be visible off and on for almost 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. In Giles County, the pipeline would cut an ugly swath that would be visible from Kelly Knob on the AT, only about 2 miles away. Even worse, the project would create a 500-foot utility corridor through the national forest that would invite co-location of two or three equally large projects immediately adjacent to this monster.
Gary Werner, executive director of the Partnership for the National Trails System based in Madison, Wisconsin, says the project would set a precedent Read more »
On September 17, 2016, people from all over the region will join hands to protect our land, our local communities and the Appalachian Trail from the unnecessary and unwanted onslaught of natural gas pipelines. Both the AT and the Newport community in Giles County are in the cross hairs of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project that is already opposed by many regional organizations, including the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.
Established in 1932 by AT co-founder Myron Avery, the RATC is responsible for over 120 miles of the AT between Route 611 in Giles County and Black Horse Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Club bylaws require the group to support monitoring and managing lands that were purchased for trail protection, to participate in and encourage the development of laws and regulations that protect the AT and its related interests, and to use all legal mans to protect and defend the AT and its related interests.
The board’s resolution cites RATC’s detailed comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June 2015 and November 2015, specifically noting the following issues:
Necessity of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to examine cumulative impact of all proposed major natural gas pipeline crossings of the Appalachian Trail.
Avoidance of threats to regional air quality and human health
Satisfaction of criteria in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s 2015 Policy on Pipeline Crossings of the Appalachian Trail.
Avoidance of threats to regional water supplies and to drinking water for Appalachian Trail hikers
Avoidance of karst topography and active seismic zones in the proposed AT crossing locations
Avoidance of specific impacts, including scenic impacts, likely with currently proposed AT crossing alternatives
Careful and realistic study of visual impacts of the proposed Alternate 200 route, with specific viewpoints and criteria noted in the club’s November 2015 comments.
RATC strongly believes that the pipeline is likely to be visible from numerous locations on the Appalachian Trail and poses potential safety hazards to AT users.
[summary of US Forest Service’s March 9, 2016 comments on developer’s final Resource Reports in October 2015]
The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would be over 300 miles long, including about 5 miles in the Jefferson National Forest (JNF), where it would cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) on Peters Mountain (photo at left) and come close to the AT on Sinking Creek Mountain, Craig Creek Valley, and Brush Mountain. In March 2016 the US Forest Service delivered 32 pages of comments on the developer’s lengthy final Resource Reports. A Pittsburgh-based partnership led by the EQT Corporation proposes to cross mountain ridges, steep slopes, streams, rivers and valleys with a huge 42-inch pipeline full of fracked natural gas under high pressure. The gas is destined for overseas markets and other places east of Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
The Forest Service comments are pretty easy to summarize. If a student received these comments on a class project, the grade would be “Incomplete” or perhaps a generous D minus. A job applicant who received the comments on a work sample would not get an interview.
The developer’s latest report was clearly crafted to mislead reviewers by callously downplaying the project’s visual impacts, glossing over potentially catastrophic geologic issues, denying water quality and other environmental impacts, and simply ignoring clear requirements for crossing public lands with a private scheme. As Forest Service staff noted:
The entire section on Environmental Consequences on Jefferson National Forest Lands is “woefully inadequate” since it does not describe direct, indirect or cumulative effects of the pipeline.
“Significant materials, including viewshed analysis and maps, have been left out of this comprehensive package of ‘final’ Resource Reports. The proponent should re-review this entire package to ensure completeness.”
The product is so vague and inconsistent that it “leads reviewers to question the level of critical analysis which was dedicated to developing these ‘final’ products.”