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Jobs and Risk: Atlantic Coast Pipeline Shutdown Divides W.Va.

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A MVP pipeline protestor in Summers County, W.Va. Photo: Appalachians Against Pipelines

When life-long Valley Head resident Melissa Wilfong first heard that the 600-mile Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline was going to be constructed just a few miles from her community, she wasn’t happy. 

“My first thought was, ‘oh no, they’re going to just tear up everything and be a nuisance,’” she said. 

Her opinion quickly changed after she had an opportunity to meet some of the hundreds of workers who soon flocked to Valley Head.

Valley Head, West Virginia. Photo: Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The unincorporated town, located in the shadow of the Allegheny Mountains in Randolph County, has a population of a few hundred. 

Wilfong and her family opened the local community center’s doors to the workers. For months, every Tuesday, hundreds of pipeliners, many from out of state and living in campers nearby, began showing up for a home-cooked meal. 

“It gets pretty crowded in here when there’s more than two or three people, but we made it work,” said Wilfong, gesturing to the modest community center kitchen. 

With the help of volunteers, the community center served a full dinner and dessert for $10 a plate, although the pipeliners often left more. Menu items included pork chops, steaks and ham, beans and cornbread. Each dinner brought in $600-$700, money Wilfong said helped the largely grant and donation funded center.

In the process, Wilfong got to know the men and women working on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline well. She said the workers welded a barbeque for the center and helped fix a broken air conditioner.  They were the first to take up a collection when a community member’s home burned down. They bought presents, Christmas dinner and groceries for two families during the holidays. 

Melissa Wilfong standing next to the grill built by ACP workers. Photo: Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“You know, we made friends,” she said. “These people would have done anything for us here, and they’re gone.”

Construction of the ACP stopped in December after a federal court ruled that the U.S. Forest Service made a mistake when it gave the Atlantic Coast Pipeline a permit to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Within a few weeks, most of the workers left and the dinners in Valley Head stopped too. 

Valley Head is not alone. Along the ACP’s route, there are dozens of communities like it that were taken by surprise when construction suddenly ground to a halt. According to pipeline developer Dominion Energy, which has a majority stake in the project, an estimated $478.7 million in total economic impact was put at risk when the pipeline shut down. 

That figure includes taxes and other spending on equipment and lodging. Across West Virginia, the company said the project intends to employ more than 2,000 workers, of which 600 positions are allocated to local residents.

The jobs and tax revenues associated with the construction of multi-billion dollar natural gas pipelines are significant during their months-long construction. In Appalachia, there have been multiple pipeline projects, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline. 

But environmental groups and a growing number of citizen activists argue that the environmental risks associated with these projects outweigh the temporary economic benefits. Installing large natural gas pipelines encourages the extraction and use of natural gas, a fossil fuel, at a time when the window for taking action to curb carbon emissions and prevent the worst climate change predictions is narrowing, the groups argue. They also say pipeline construction negatively affects communities and the state’s natural resources. 

“There’s not at all long-term economic benefits for the communities,” said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels program. The Sierra Club has been involved in multiple pipeline lawsuits. 

“There is long-term pollution associated with the construction of the pipelines and with the fracking for the gas that feeds them,” she said. “The risk here is that communities are left with the cleanup and with the pollution, but without the economic benefit.” 

State environmental regulators have issued citations for both the ACP and MVP since construction began for things like failing to protect streams and rivers from runoff. 

 In December, Virginia regulators sued Mountain Valley Pipeline developers, alleging the project had racked up more than 300 environmental violations. Earlier this year, MVP agreed to an almost $266,000 fine to cover multiple environmental violations dating back to April 2018 in West Virginia’s Braxton, Wetzel and Monroe counties. The ACP has been cited four times by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for violations since it broke ground in May 2018.

A sign welcoming Atlantic Coast Pipeline workers in Valley Head, West Virginia. Photo: Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Greg Buppart, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, another group that has filed lawsuits against the ACP, said pipeline projects also pose direct risk to those living near them. 

“In Appalachia, an impact that I think is often overlooked is it’s very difficult to build these projects on steep mountain slopes,” he said. “There’s a risk of explosion.”

There have been at least six pipeline explosions since early 2018 in Appalachia, including last summer’s explosion of TransCanada Corp.’s five-month-old Leach Xpress natural gas pipeline near Moundsville.

Good Jobs

Inside a rigging training class at the West Virginia Construction Craft Laborers’ Training Center in Mineral Wells. Photo: Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Building a large natural gas pipeline takes about one to three years. While not a permanent job, it can be lucrative while the work lasts. 

On a recent spring day, about 40 union apprentices are sitting in a classroom at the West Virginia Construction Craft Laborers’ Training Center in Mineral Wells. Multiple trainings are held at the 170-acre facility, including a month-long pipeline safety training class and a training on how to hoist heavy materials into the air using cranes. 

Inside one classroom, the walls are covered in butcher paper with colorful drawings illustrating things like traffic control and how to safely hoist heavy pipeline into the air. During one lesson, students weigh the merits of using different materials to attach pipe to a crane. 

During trainings, students often use butcher paper and markers to illustrate concepts. Photo: Brittany Patterson, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Many members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America have found jobs on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other large natural gas pipelines. Corey Dornon, training supervisor at the center, said Laborers working on pipeline projects, including the ACP, have at least 160 hours of training before they ever step foot on a job. He said Laborers’ stress environmental stewardship and safety when working on pipeline jobs. 

“It’s real unfair to these folks who have trained and prepared themselves for the job, for something to shut down that they’re relying on with no expectation of, ‘hey, when can I get back to it?’” he said. “When they shut these jobs down, they don’t know if they’re shutting this job down for a month, two months, six months or a year, or indefinitely. So, these folks, not only is their livelihood in jeopardy for a little while, as far as this job, but they’re almost in limbo.”

Dornon said Laborers’ are used to being laid off, but sudden shutdowns are harder to weather. Yet the high wages on these jobs make them extremely desirable, he said. Dornon worked for four months on a 42-inch natural gas pipeline in Eastern Ohio. 

“It was almost like hitting the lottery, when you got that phone call to go work on that job, because the money was really good,” he said, adding that a pipeline job could mean saving enough money to pay off a car, or, in Dornon’s case, add on to his home without taking out a loan. “Jobs like these really give people a chance.”

The shutdown has also been tough for some county governments and businesses. 

At an April event, Lewis County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Cindy Whetsell said $3.7 million in county taxes was expected next year. 

“The delay in the construction of this pipeline is hurting our residents, our communities and our businesses,” she said. Lewis County is one of five in West Virginia that will house the ACP. It’s slated to have almost 20 miles of pipeline and a natural gas compressor station. 

J.F. Allen Company, a construction firm that supplies gravel and builds roads and staging lots the pipeline uses, invested more than $1 million in four new trucks last year. Company President Greg Hadjis said they haven’t laid off anyone, but cut hours. 

“So we’ve had some trucks obviously we idled,” he said. “We were anticipating hiring…and scaled back a little bit, because we didn’t want to bring somebody on and immediately turn them away.”

Parsing Long-term Impacts

Photo: Seth Perlman, AP Photo

During the 2019 West Virginia Legislative session, Dominion Energy’s top lobbyist urged the Legislature to sign a resolution in favor of the project, HR 11, and condemned “rogue environmental groups” opposed to it.

“I think it’s important for West Virginia to go on record that the end result of their tactics hurt the state economy of West Virginia,” Dominion Energy’s West Virginia State Policy Director Bob Orndorff said in an address to the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development. “That’s important, for the pipeline industry to have that type of support from the West Virginia Legislature.”

However, understanding the lasting economic impact of pipeline construction on the state is a murky exercise. Currently, pipeline construction is boosting state tax revenues from the natural gas industry, according to Sean O’Leary, a senior policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. 

“We know these projects are going to start winding down in the next year, and when they do, that revenue is going to vanish,” he said.

report co-published in February by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found economists have not seen sweeping economic benefits from the natural gas industry at large, despite its six-fold growth during the past decade. 

For example, despite gains in median household income and educational attainment in natural gas-rich areas, poverty rates in the top natural gas producing counties or even the state as a whole have not improved. 

O’Leary said the same phenomenon could be true of these pipeline projects, especially as many of the construction jobs are held by workers who live out of state and who will likely leave once the pipelines are in the ground. 

“Once the pipeline is constructed, once construction is over, it’s a pipe and there’s not a whole lot left behind,” he said.

According to Dominion, the ACP will require just a few dozen permanent full-time employees once construction is over.

Still, the company is confident some workers will be back on the job by the end of this year. Last year, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out two key permits issued to the ACP under the Endangered Species Act. In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said it expects a new set of permits by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be issued by the end of the year. 

While partial construction may resume if the USFWS permit issue is resolved, the court case that stopped construction in December — regarding the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail — has not been resolved. Last month, Dominion asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Pipelines

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Developer Stops Construction

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Pipe laydown yard on Route 19, near I-79 in Sutton, West Virginia on February 2, 2018. Thousands of miles of new natural gas pipeline are coming out of Appalachia. Photo: Nancy Andrews

Atlantic Coast Pipeline developer Dominion Energy stopped construction Friday along the multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline’s entire 600-mile route.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Dominion said it was halting construction following a Friday decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court stayed the pipeline’s revised Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement, a key permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The permit authorizes construction through habitat identified as critical for certain threatened or endangered species across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Dominion has filed a motion with the court to clarify the ruling, arguing it is “overly broad.”

“The issues in this case involve a much narrower scope of the project – only four species and roughly 100 miles in West Virginia and Virginia,” said ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby, in an emailed statement. “We believe the Fish & Wildlife Service thoroughly addressed the issues raised by the court and the petitioners in this case when it re-authorized the project’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement in September.”

This permit has long been under litigation. In early August, the 4th Circuit ruled the USFWS needed to revisit the pipeline’s permit. Then in September, it accepted the revision and allowed construction to begin again.

The new stay is expected to be in effect pending review of environmentalists’ challenge to the documents. Oral argument in the case is scheduled for March.

Environmental groups praised the court’s decision.

“When we said we won’t stop fighting this dirty, dangerous, unnecessary pipeline, we meant it. Every day that this pipeline isn’t operating is a day that it’s not hurting our health, water, climate and communities,” said Kelly Martin, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director, in a statement.

This story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Appalachia

‘Somebody’s Up There Sittin’ in a Tree’ — A Look at the Ongoing Pipeline Protest on Peters Mountain

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Since late February, a small group of people have been quietly perched in two trees atop Peters Mountain in Monroe County. They are so remote, few have seen or heard directly from the protesters, but still there’s plenty of people noticing.

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100 Days, 100 Voices

Will New Gas Pipelines Take Away Landowner Rights, Shave off Mountaintops and Disrupt Clean Water?

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Newport, Va. – The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline has not been approved, much less built, but it is as real as the wooden stakes already in the ground to mark its probable path.

The 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline would start in West Virginia’s Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling region and draw a path south for 303 miles to connect with the Transcontinental Pipeline in Virginia. From there, the gas can go anywhere.

Along the way, thin wooden spikes with blaze-orange plastic ribbons mark a path through blooming flower beds next to homes, across fields, roads, creeks and rivers, up steep mountain sides, along mountain top ridges, through rolling valleys of West Virginia and Virginia’s most pristine areas, including crossings at the Greenbrier River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is one of multiple major pipeline projects underway in the Appalachian region making way for increased natural gas production from fracking. More than a thousand miles of new large-diameter pipelines are being built and existing pipelines are being reversed to send gas to the Gulf Coast rather than from it. 27 new liquid natural gas export facilities are in some phase of the approval process or have been approved for construction. Only two export such facilities already exist, according to data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also underway are several pipelines that will cross into Canada and Mexico to export natural gas.

 

Major Natural Gas Pipeline Projects in Appalachia. Source Federal Regulatory Commission. Graphic by Martha Thierry and Nancy Andrews/100DaysInAppalachia.com

While the nation has focused on oil pipeline fights such as Dakota Access and Keystone XL in the west, the natural gas industry here in the east has been planning and building a system that experts and industry analysts say will increase the number of natural gas wells drilled and completed in the Appalachian region. In short, fracking will increase once these pipelines are in place.

MVP’s and its proposed neighbor, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), 42-inch in diameter pipeline proposals are currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the government agency charged with approving or denying interstate pipeline projects.

FERC’s record is one of pipeline approval and with few, perhaps only one lone denial in the last decade. According to FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller, FERC doesn’t just “approve or not approve”  pipeline applications. “The pipelines that come in the door – a lot of them don’t go out the door the same way,” she said.

‘We don’t live in Russia’

For homeowners like Fern Echols that means the thin wooden stake she can see outside her kitchen window will likely be replaced by steel pipe big enough to swallow her kitchen stove and still have some room to spare. She and her husband Earl Echols are against the pipeline.

“We have worked hard all these years, raised our family, paid our taxes, paid our bills, and moved on and we mind our business. And one day someone comes up and tells me what they are going to do with our property and possibly do with me. The last account I had this was America. The way I’m feeling right now is this is a form of Communism. We don’t live in Russia. This is Newport.”

Fern and Earl Echols have lived in this one-story home for 47 years.

For the Echols family, their land and tranquility are being taken against their will. If FERC gives approval, the private pipeline company will be able to take their property under eminent domain laws. The Echols argue there is no public gain to be had from the pipeline, but rather only the profit of private companies that produce or ship natural gas. This includes the pipeline company itself, the private Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC — a partnership of multiple investors led by Pittsburgh’s Equitable Gas’ EQT Midstream Partners, LP.

Only 500 feet of pipe this size is in West Virginia

“I’m afraid that pipeline – it’s 42-inches in diameter…It won’t be safe,” Fern Echols said, “I won’t ever see no peace. I might have to stay here, but I won’t be comfortable.” The orange tasseled pipeline stake is 62 feet from Echols’ home, sticking straight up in the middle of her beloved purple, pink and white blooming phlox bed that she’s tended for 47 years.

There are millions of miles of natural gas pipelines in the U.S., but the majority of those millions of miles are the small, one- or two-inch in diameter lines that distribute gas to the end customer. In fact, MVP and ACP would be bigger than 99 percent of all natural gas pipelines in the ground today, according to data by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA). The size of these pipelines has increased the fears.

“Having that potential atom bomb right there, 500 feet away from your house,”  worries Jerry Deplazes.  “If that thing leaks and explodes you’re probably cinders when they’re done,” Deplazes said. If approved, the pipeline would run through the Deplazes farm just outside of Newport.

For many, the peace has already been disrupted. Pamela Humphrey, who lives near Newport in Giles County, is “always composing something, trying to get someone in Virginia to care about what’s happening to us and the way we’re being treated,” she said.  Humphrey sleeps with a pencil and pad at her bedside. When a thought comes to her in the middle of the night, she quickly jots it down. “It’s absolutely consuming,” she said of her letter-writing and calling efforts.

Susan Edwards might rather forget about the pipeline. She has nightmares. “I dream that Newport is on fire,” she said, “and that we can’t put it out.’’ Edwards lives in nearby Clover Hollow, and in her nightmare, she and her neighbors are separated from everyone by the fire that make her single exit road out of the hollow impassable. “We’re trapped,” she said of her nightmare.

Susan Edwards sings with her grandchildren Alexis Edwards, 17, and Megan Edwards, 15, at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Newport, Virginia.  The historic church is part of the Newport Historic District that’s now been identified among Virginia’s “most endangered” historic districts.

Construction offers worries too

Stuck in the heart of some of Virginia and West Virginia’s most pristine land, stakes also mark access roads – and for some people, those stakes create a fear equal to the fear of the pipeline itself. The path weaves through backyards, front yards and barnyards, would take out beloved trees and tranquility with it. The access roads come close to homes, some have their driveways fenced off from the construction.

“They said the access road would be 131-feet from my house. It’s not even 131-inches from my house,’’ Jerolyn Deplazes said. “It’s that close — trucks rumbling by the doorway, the farmyard, the barnyard— up the hill and disturbing the cattle.”

Jerolyn and Jerry Deplazes stand in their driveway next to their home on the left and the tool shed on the right. Their driveway would become an access road during pipeline construction. The pipeline itself would be built just over the ridge behind them in this picture.

Amid stakes for pipeline access roads, children from Mayapple School play in the woods above their classroom.

On the hills above Mayapple School, children play among the blue-and-white ribboned stakes in the woods. Mayapple is a nature-based school for children ages 2-1/2 to 6 years old. At playtime children run barefoot in the nearby fields, while some of the older students grab a shovel to move around mulch.

Melissa West, the school’s teacher and founder, fears she will need to close. She said she’s has had no luck finding an alternative space that would pass building code requirements and offer the nature-based setting that defines her program. Keeping Mayapple at its current location is not an option she said. “Even though the risks might be low, it’s not zero. An emergency with a pipeline could be extremely disastrous. Look, we’re talking about children’s lives here,” West said.

The original MVP plan brought the pipeline 211-feet from the school building. The revised plan moved the 3½ foot-diameter gas pipeline several hundred feet farther away, but not out of the “potential impact radius” of danger. Moving the path of the pipeline away from the school, placed it closer to Newport’s historic Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, a glowing-white, wooden structure built in 1852.

On a spring Sunday, Carter Craigie rang the church bells 20 times with the help of 8-year-old Kira Estes. The morning light streamed in through the colors of the arched stain glass windows, the sunlight bounced from one white wall to the next and back again.

“How can I not think about it?” asked Craigie of the impending pipeline. “I don’t understand how you can worship the U.S. dollar the way they do. I am trying to have a place in my heart for them, but it’s difficult. Remember, God loves us, each and every one.’’ He paused. “I struggle with that. I don’t think of the pipeline as being safe at all. I think the beauty will be destroyed and leave a permanent scar right through our county.”

Carter Craigie, 78, talks with bell ringer Kira Estes, 8, before Sunday School at the Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Newport, Virginia. The church would be about 500 feet from the pipeline.

There are no rules on how close a pipeline can come to a home

If the current proposal is approved, Fern and Earl Echols will find their home fenced in by construction and the pipeline. According to plans and the stakes in the ground, the pipe runs along one side of their house, with an access road along the other side. The Echols say no one has offered to purchase their one-story, yellow home. MVP spokesperson Natalie Cox, said the company is not buying houses, “typically if land is bought outright, it is for the construction of the station.”

The home of Fern and Earl Echols in Newport, Virginia, will be pinned-in on two sides during the construction of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Once the pipeline is in place, nothing can be built in the 25-foot right of way on each side of the center line of the buried pipe. But there are no regulations describing how close a pipeline can be put to a home or other above-ground structure.  “We don’t have regulations with requirements or distances from structures,” Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration public affairs staffer Darius Kirkwood said. “We have classification requirements to increase safety factors,” based on number of structures and distance from the natural gas pipeline he said.

Those regulations, including CFR 49 192.903, take into account the diameter of the pipe and the pressure of the gas in the pipe in an attempt to predict the “potential impact radius” should an ignited pipe rupture occur. Some Newport residents refer to this impact zone as “the blast zone.” For a natural gas pipeline of the size and pressure of the MVP , the area “which the potential failure of a pipeline could have significant impact on people or property” is 0.42 miles wide.

The Echols home, Mt. Olivet Church and the Mayapple School are within the “potential impact radius” of 1115 feet to each side of the center line of the pipe. Just in case someone were to miss this point, Richard Shingles, coordinator of Preserve Giles County, put up signs along the main road through Newport to announcing, “ENTERING PIPELINE BLAST ZONE.”

Rick Shingles helped put up signs to mark what regulations call the “potential impact radius” or what some call the “blast zone,” where the “potential failure of a pipeline could have significant impact on people or property.”

Bipartisan Support and Disapproval

Democratic governors in both Virginia and West Virginia are supportive of the pipelines. Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe touts interstate pipeline construction in economic briefs and has specifically spoken on benefits of the ACP, which is also on President Donald Trump’s priority list of  infrastructure projects.  West Virginia’s Gov. Jim Justice touts West Virginia’s recent and controversial permit approval for the MVP as “job creation.”  On the ground in opposition, one can find members of the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page for Hillary Clinton supporters. In other homes, you’ll see Donald Trump’s red baseball caps with his, “Make America Great Again” slogan.

“You have people on both sides of the political aisle” opposing the pipeline, observes Mt. Olivet’s pastor Morris Fleischer. “Conservatives may really be upset about the property rights issues. Others may be more concerned about the environmental issues, but all-in-all their voices are united against the pipeline as it is,” he said of the people in Newport.

As Trump supporters, the Echols and their daughter, Dawn Cisek, proudly refer to themselves as “Deplorables.” Like many others along the pipeline route, they see the pipeline and the FERC process of approval as an invasion of their home and landowner rights. They object to the use of eminent domain to force them to sell to a private company allowing it and others to make a profit and give them a path to export the gas in the future. In addition to worrying about her parents’ home, Cisek has a potential pipeline access road that could go within 20-feet of her 19th century farmhouse and possibly take down her two front-yard trees.

Cisek said she’s written to President Trump. “I told him that we were some of his ‘Deplorables’ and that we voted for him. This is one of our struggles that we’re having with this pipeline and we hope that he would at least look into it before he continues with it.”

Dawn Cisek hugs her parents goodbye after a visit. Both Cisek and her parents are directly affected by the pipeline.

Earl Echols said he wanted to stay in the house despite the pipeline, but Fern Echols would rather go. She worries about the family gatherings at Easter where everyone – 27 people at the last count of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – is in her kitchen and eating her deviled eggs.

MVP spokesperson Cox, “It’s difficult to find any route that’s not going to touch anything. Of course that’s our objective — to have the least impact possible, to keep people and their homes and their communities.”

Too many pipelines?

Outgoing FERC commissioner Norman C. Bay issued a statement in February calling into question the current method used by FERC for evaluating need for a pipeline so as it would, “not subject to costly boom-and-bust cycles.” He questioned the current method of defining the necessity of the pipeline through commitments to use the pipeline, especially if those companies lining up to say they needed the pipeline were affiliated with the pipeline company itself. This is the case with MVP and ACP.  As a cautionary example, he cited the building of liquid natural gas import facilities in the early 2000s that are now “stranded” because of the lack of need.

Bay, who had previously been unwilling to have an overview or regional impact perspective on pipeline construction, also called for a look at the environmental impact of increased gas production in the Marcellus and Utica that would result in the increase of pipeline capacity.

Some members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation have announced plans to introduce legislation to prohibit the use of eminent domain  “to be limited to situations in which the taking of property is for public, not private, use”  and require FERC to review pipeline proposals in a more systemic rather than individual manner.

Near the proposed site of the Mountain Valley Pipeline crossing on Peters Mountain, Monroe County, West Virginia.

Both the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines plan to run their 42-inch diameter pipes along the tops of mountain ridges. This will require removing the top of the mountain to a width sufficient to bury the 3.5-foot-wide pipe and create the 125-foot-wide construction right of way. This MVP “typical construction detail”  shows pipeline construction running along a mountain ridge. According to MVP spokesperson Natalie Cox, additional details will not be provided to the public for specific mountain ridge removal locations.

Concerns about mountaintop removal, water and the Appalachian Trail

Maury Johnson writes letters, calls and volunteers for Preserve Monroe in an effort to fight the pipeline.

Thousands of pages of documents have been filed on each of the pipelines. In some cases, thousands of pages are filed after the official public comment period has ended.

Even with all the information, there can be at times a lack of detail. For example, when residents look to find exactly how the pipeline will be constructed in their yard or on a mountain next to their home, little specific information is available.

Both the MVP and ACP plans call for ridge line placement, where the top of a mountain is removed to make a level 125-foot work area and trench to bury the 3.5-foot wide pipeline.

“How do you put a 125 foot corridor on a ridge this narrow?” said Maury Johnson in Monroe County, West Virginia about the mountain ridge above his property. “This is mountaintop removal. But they don’t have to go through the permits that mountaintop removal has to go through. They just cut the Ridge off and throw it over the sides of the hill,” he predicted. Though he doesn’t own the ridge above his farm, the pipeline is proposed to go through Johnson’s property.

Nowhere in the MVP filings can one see how much of each mountaintop will be removed. “We’re not going to give out our actual construction drawings. Those are our construction drawings. That’s why examples are provided on techniques that would be used,” MVP spokesperson Natalie Cox explained.

“It’s a geometry problem,” said Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance’s Lewis Freeman, whose group has studied the issue along the ACP’s route. Their report estimates 38 miles of mountain ridge removal for that pipeline.

“They have to cut some of these ridges down 50, 60, 70 feet. There’s no way you could put a 125-foot wide corridor on a ridge that’s 18 feet wide. You just can’t do it. It is mountaintop removal, ” said Johnson.

Maury Johnson walks along his farm. Among his many concerns about the pipeline are “mountaintop removal” to create a 125-foot wide work area and bury the 42-inch diameter pipe along the ridge of the mountaintops near his land.

An orange ribbon marking the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline crosses Peters Mountain and the Appalachian National Scenic Trial.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline will cross underneath the Appalachian National Scenic Trail near this spot.

Appalachian Trail crossing

Both the ACP and MVP cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Andrew Down said he is particularly concerned about the MVP proposals and the precedent it will set for other scenic trails. According to Downs, the MVP impacts nearly 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The MVP “does not follow best practices when siting infrastructure this size. They essentially parallel Appalachian Trail for about 12 miles, which we consider a completely avoidable impact source,” Downs said.

“There 58 pipelines that cross the AT currently,” Downs described “and hundreds of power lines. It’s almost unprecedented for us to offer opposition at this level,” the Conservancy’s Central and Southwest Virginia Regional Director said.

“We vastly prefer and have had greater success standing shoulder to shoulder with these energy companies and coming up with win-win solutions that are better and the Appalachian Trail better for the infrastructure. That may sound pie in the sky, but I’ve got projects that we’ve done with,” Downs said.

The Peters Mountain crossing  is of particular concern for those interested in not only the Appalachian Trail, but spring water in general.

Jana Peters and her husband Dana Olson live on Peters Mountain and are worried about their spring water.

One of the springs on Jana Peters’ and Dana Olson’s farm on Peters Mountain.

Karst terrain and water concerns

Never heard of karst? Perhaps you’ll remember the sinkhole that swallowed, 8 classic Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green,Kentucky? That’s an example of the power and unpredictability of karst terrain.

Karst terrain describes ground that has relatively soft and soluble limestone layers that give way to water to form caves, sinkholes and create almost pipeline-like networks for water to travel underground. These pathways carry water for springs and sub-surface streams. Parts of the MVP and ACP cross karst terrain and come near or over known sinkholes and caves. The unpredictability of the terrain has raised fears of pipeline accidents.

Some residents, like the Jana Peters and Dana Olson who live on the side of Peters Mountain, worry that blasting to break up bedrock in order to create the pipelines trench will cause unknown changes in underlying karst terrain and divert the flow of existing springs. Like others along the pipeline routes, spring water is their only water they have for themselves and their livestock.

It’s not just any water, some of Monroe County’s water has been judged among the world’s best tasting water. It’s so good, they sell it.

“My big concern is the springs. This is karst terrain. We’re likely going to disturb our water. We have wonderful springs, real strong springs – the best water you could ever ask for,”  Jerry Depalzas explained in nearby Giles County, Virginia just the other side of Peters Mountain.  They chaff at the idea their water can simply be replaced by water trucked into the farm. Their water is so important, Jerolyn Deplazes takes her own water with her in jugs when she and Jerry Deplazes travel.

Others such as Ashby Berkley see the beauty of the land and tourism as the better economic path in the long term. The pipeline is set to cross his property and the Greenbrier River at Pence Springs, West Virginia. The MVP plan is to dam and trench the river, rather than bore underneath. That’s significant given the Greenbrier is a free-flowing river, meaning it does not have any dams along its route.

“I look at it from a different industry point of view. We sell recreation in the beauty and fun.” Berkley said, “and it’s sustainable.” Berkley owns an historic resort dating back to 1791 in nearby Sweet Springs. He plans to restore the building, and hopes to employ as many as 200 people. He noted there was a time when the area thrived because of its great water and plentiful sulphur, hot and warm springs.

“People turn a deaf ear to ear to the concept of pollution, unless it affects the water. When they get yellow water and green water through the faucets. Then they want somebody to come and fix it,” Berkley said.

The task of fighting the pipeline is daunting for people like Berkley, “the idea of fighting this – the federal government, the state government, the industry – is awesome,” Berkley explained.

“We are fighting it because, my God we just can’t continue to live this way. It’s an abomination, seriously,” Berkley continued. “The whole emphasis is on a job and on making money instead of the educational thing that this is the earth, ” Berkley said.  “You know we only have one earth. And what good is a job going to do if you can’t live here?”

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the Greenbrier River at this spot in Pence Springs, West Virginia.

Ashby Berkley of Talcott, is a fifth generation West Virginian. The MVP would cross his property at the Greenbrier River in Pence Springs.

This is part of a series of people and places along the proposed pipelines routes in Appalachia.

Footnotes:

 

October 2016 filing from the Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC showing the route of the pipeline next to the home of Fern and Earl Echols in Newport, Virginia.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.

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