On Sept. 16, federal regulators released a draft environmental review for the proposed fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline that public interest advocates say fails to adequately assess the public need for the project and the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate.
The controversial $3.2 billion pipeline, proposed by EQT and NextEra, would cut 301 miles through West Virginia and Virginia – crossing public lands and more than 1,000 waterways and wetlands – and require the construction of three large compressor stations. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of six major pipelines proposed for the same region of Virginia and West Virginia where experts warn the gas industry is overbuilding pipeline infrastructure.
In preparing its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relied heavily on gas company data to assess the public need for the project, the groups say. A report released earlier this month concludes there is enough existing gas supply in Virginia and the Carolinas to meet demand through 2030. The groups also fault the agency for dismissing clean energy alternatives.
In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC has extended the usual 45-day period for public comment to 90 days. Comments are due Dec. 22.
While legal and environmental experts are continuing to review the nearly 2,600-page document, they have identified major gaps in FERC’s analysis, including:
• The core issue of whether the massive project is needed to meet electricity demand, and whether other alternatives including energy efficiency, solar and wind would be more environmentally responsible sources;
• A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline;
• Any accounting of other environmental and human health damage from the increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline; and
• Thorough analysis of damage to water quality and natural resources throughout the pipeline route.
“It’s shameful that FERC did not prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “It would allow a private pipeline company to take private property for private profit. Apparently FERC decided it didn’t have to do the hard work necessary to determine whether the MVP is necessary. Such a lack of diligence is remarkable because FERC has the extraordinary power to grant MVP the right to take property that has, in many cases, been in the same families for generations.”
“The resource reports MVP has already submitted to FERC are the alleged backbone upon which the DEIS is created. These reports are, however, uncatalogued collections of partial surveys, studies and desktop engineering notions which are rife with omissions, and inadequate and incorrect data”, said Laurie Ardison, co-chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR). “The DEIS is fatally flawed for a variety of process and substance matters, not the least of which is MVP’s insufficient, unsubstantiated foundational material.”
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline could result in taking people’s property in West Virginia solely to benefit out-of-state companies,” said Jim Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter chair. “To make matters worse, it will affect all West Virginians because it will result in higher gas prices for local consumers. Low cost energy is one of the few advantages that West Virginia has in attracting new businesses, and this pipeline will make our energy costs higher while lowering costs for competitors in other states. That pipeline is bad business for West Virginia businesses.”
Highlights of major impacts of the MVP route as identified by FERC in the DEIS:
• About 67 percent of the MVP route would cross areas susceptible to landslides.
• The pipeline would cross about 51 miles of karst terrain.
• Construction would disturb about 4,189 acres of soils that are classified as potential for severe water erosion.
• Construction would disturb about 2,353 acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.
• The pipeline would result in 986 water-body crossings; 33 are classified as fisheries of special concern.
• The MVP would cross about 245 miles of forest; in Virginia, it would impact about 938 acres of contiguous interior forest during construction classified as “high” to “outstanding” quality.
• In West Virginia, the pipeline would result in permanent impacts on about 865 acres of core forest areas which are significant wildlife habitat.
• The 50-foot wide operational easement would represent a permanent impact on forests.
• FERC identified 22 federally listed threatened, endangered, candidate, or special concern species potentially in vicinity of the MVP and the Equitrans projects, and 20 state-listed or special concern species.
• MVP identified 117 residences within 50 feet of its proposed construction right-of-way.
• Construction would require use of 365 roadways.
• A still incomplete survey of the route shows the pipeline could potentially affect 166 new archaeological sites and 94 new architectural sites, in addition to crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway Historic District, North Fork Valley Rural Historic District, and Greater Newport Rural Historic District, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.