Mountain Valley Pipeline: Approve, but be Vigilant

Mountain Valley Pipeline: Approve, but be Vigilant

By John Bardo, Staff Contributor 

The national debate around pipelines has focused mainly on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which have drawn strong support from business and labor groups and fierce opposition from environmentalists.[1] However, Southern Appalachia is undergoing its own pipeline wars. Midstream Partners, LLC and several other companies formed Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC and proposed to build a 303-mile natural gas pipeline spanning from Wetzel County, West Virginia, southeast to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, where the pipeline will connect to the TRANSCO pipeline network.[2] The pipeline will transport natural gas from Marcellus and Utica Shale to markets in the Mid and South Atlantic.[3] Construction is currently on hold pending the release of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Final Environmental Impact Statement,[4] but this particular pipeline will benefit Southern Appalachia, and should be approved with some stipulations. While American energy would ideally come entirely from wind, solar and geothermal, this arrangement is still decades away. Meanwhile, natural gas is a bridge fuel. Natural gas burning power plants can release up to 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal burning power plants.[5] Whenever a utility switches from coal to natural gas, the United States makes progress toward a carbon-neutral energy sector.

According to FERC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the MVP would result in limited adverse environmental impacts, except on forests.[6] Mountain Valley has agreed to adopt erosion control techniques,[7] and frequently inspect the pipeline to “observe right-of-way conditions and identify soil erosion that may expose the pipe, dead vegetation that may indicate a leak in the pipeline.”[8] While it is natural to be skeptical about promises energy companies make to protect the environment, the company has an incentive to live up to this promise because gas that leaks out of the pipe is gas that the company cannot sell. The project will result in no net loss of wetlands.[9] The Draft EIS states that the pipe will cross water 986 times, but Mountain Valley has yet to identify drinking water sources that will be impacted.[10] The company has agreed to assume liability for compromised drinking water sources,[11] but before green lighting the project, state and federal regulators should ensure Mountain Valley has identified all of the sources beginning construction because preventing contaminated drinking water will be easier than restoring it.

As of Jan. 27, 2017, Mountain Valley had negotiated 1,250 easements with affected property owners, which includes 70 percent of the land needed to build the pipeline.[12] Some of the agreements are fairer to the property owners than others. Some easements allow Mountain Valley to build a second pipeline at a later date that could include “other liquids or gasses.”[13] Such stipulations could allow Mountain Valley to construct an oil pipeline at a later date without the landowner’s consent. Southern Appalachia is one of the poorest parts of the United States and many of its residents cannot afford legal representation that would allow them to obtain the best deal possible. Attorneys General Mark Herring (D-Va.) and Patrick Morrisey (R -W. Va.), as the peoples’ lawyer in their respective states, should intervene to ensure landowners are treated fairly in easement negotiations. A fair easement will provide landowners extra income without lowering their property values.[14] The pipeline will also add jobs to a region that is suffering due to the declining coal industry.[15] Currently, coal production in West Virginia is at an historic low, but natural gas extraction in Northern West Virginia is booming.[16] FERC estimates each construction spread (a portion of the pipeline between twenty-two and forty miles) will require between 536 and 671 workers.[17] Operating and monitoring the pipeline will require permanent jobs.

Proposed pipelines have a tendency to raise safety concerns, but as of 2014, the United States has 1,585,329 miles of existing gas pipelines.[18] According to the Department of Transportation, natural gas pipelines “have the best safety record of any energy delivery system in the United States.”[19] Natural gas is far from the panacea to our climate crisis, but it is an incremental step toward a clean energy economy.

[1] See e.g. Rebecca Hersher, More than 70 Arrests in North Dakota as Pipeline Detractors Weigh Legal Action, NPR (Feb. 2, 2017, 12:14 PM), http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/02/513033308/more-than-70-arrests-in-north-dakota-as-pipeline-detractors-weigh-legal-action.

[2] Mountain Valley Pipeline, https://www.mountainvalleypipeline.info/overview (last visited Feb. 17, 2017).

[3] Id.

[4] Duncan Adams, FERC Delays Release Date for Final Environmental Statement for Mountain Valley Pipeline, Roanoke Times (Jan. 31, 2017 4:30 PM), http://www.roanoke.com/business/news/franklin_county/ferc-delays-release-date-for-final-environmental-statement-for-mountain/article_32e5fb8a-7126-5ba4-9114-9068e0b7d1d2.html.

[5] Union of Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/environmental-impacts-of-natural-gas#.WKdkrCMrLR0 (last visited Feb. 17, 2017)

[6] Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mountain Valley Project and Equitrans Expansion Project: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, ES – 14 (2016).

[7] Id. at ES – 5.

[8] Id. at ES – 12.

[9] Id. at ES – 5.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Duncan Adams, Pipeline Easement Agreements Stir Questions, Strong Feelings, Roanoke Times (Feb. 12 2017. 12:00 AM) http://www.roanoke.com/business/news/pipeline-easement-agreements-stir-questions-strong-feelings/article_92fe9bfd-6a32-5780-99cd-512c11a42340.html

[13] Id.

[14] Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, supra note 6, at ES – 9.

[15] Andrew Brown, Monroe County Couple at Center of Pipeline Debate, Charleston Gazette-Mail (Jan. 28, 2017) http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-politics/20170128/monroe-county-couple-at-center-of-pipeline-debate.

[16] Id.

[17] Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, supra note 6, at ES – 9.

[18] Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Table 1-10: U.S. Oil and Gas Pipeline Mileage, https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_10.html (last visited Feb. 18, 2017).

[19] Mountain Valley Pipeline, supra note 2.

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