By Peggy Mackenzie
A public health and safety meeting was held on Apr. 10 at Western Greenbrier Middle School to provide the Greenbrier County Public Board of Health (PBOH) with the pros and cons surrounding the very real potential of a natural gas pipeline company’s plan to construct a pipeline through the western end of Greenbrier County.
According to moderator Dr. Arnold H. Hassen of WVSOM, the PBOH had received a notice of Monroe County’s Board of Health report on the pipeline, which stood in firm opposition to the pipeline coming through that county. To be fair, Hassen said, the Greebrier PBOH wanted to hear from all sides of the issues before pronouncing its opinion on the health and safety concerns of the pipeline construction, as well as the permanent presence of a compressor station proposed for Greenbrier County. The meeting was recorded for the PBOH to review and will be considered as part of their stance on the pipeline.
The meeting was attended by several physicians, many with WVSOM, Greenbrier County 911 Director Al Whitaker, representatives from Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), Greenbrier County Commissioner Lowell Rose, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester, Greenbrier Valley Watershed Association Outreach Coordinator Elise Keaton, and three representatives from EQT Corp., a partner in the MVP project, plus several concerned private citizens. The Mountain Messenger had the only press representative present.
It became quickly clear that the general consensus of the local speakers at the meeting were against the pipeline.
“Basically, the idea is to get the pipeline in the ground as fast as they can get it,” stated Keaton. “They’re a business.”
“Horrific,” asserted Dr. Jeanne Wahl, citing a natural gas explosion which occurred in Sissonsville earlier this year and another in Braxton County in late 2014. “Natural gas explosions can – and have – occurred right here in West Virginia,” she said.
Maintaining water purity was an especially concerning aspect of the project. The pipeline is set to cross several waterways in western Greenbrier county, Wahl said, citing Lower Sewell, Buffalo Creek, Morris Creek, and the Meadow River. There is a threat of accidents occurring on narrow mountain roads, contaminating water ways below, much like what Greenbrier Valley experienced when diesel fuel was spilled into Anthony Creek earlier this year. “We’ve learned what it was like to be without clean water,” she said.
Additionally, though the construction of the pipeline is only a brief phase of the project, the compressor station, about the size of a WalMart building, will remain. Compressor stations release inconsistent noxious emissions into the air, and emit constant noise pollution at 55 db without relief, ending the rural peace and quiet for nearby residents.
“There are many side effects of such air and noise pollutions, Wahl said, such as neuro and respiratory effects, hypertension, vision and sinus stress, and aggressive behavior, all of which have been shown to be aggravated by noise and air pollutants.
While there a lot of “unknowns” with this project, pointed out by Dr. Bob Foster of WVSOM, “it’s difficult to assess the project’s impact on water supplies, air quality, noise pollution, and accidents on our mountain roads,” he stated. MVP has never built a pipeline in mountainous terrain, or in karst, he said.
The three pipeline representatives, displaying a calm, profession mien, addressed many, though not all, of the concerns the other speakers brought up. They insisted MVP will monitor the streams, minimize the erosion and runoff, muffle the compressor station noise, and establish extensive baseline water source tests of property owners’ wells should a contamination event occur.
“We will make it right” was their claim. “We will provide water buffaloes and bottled water.”
Clearly not convinced, several pipeline opposers asked, “How will you make it right? And for how long? And does that include our animals?”
The industry is moving fast across the country, said Carli Mareneck. “But what’s the track record?” In a very short time, thousands of pipelines and track wells have criss-crossed the nation. The demand for natural gas is high, and so the push is on to get the gas to market as soon as possible.
“Who has the power to decide who’s responsible when something goes very wrong?” Mareneck asked. “Bottled water is not a good solution when a well has been breached with a contaminant.”
“At a time when we are seeing persistent water shortages in other parts of the country, in West Virginia, water is our most precious resource,” she said.
Mayor Manchester had a question about the potential for another pipeline coming to lower Greenbrier county, which perked up some ears in the audience. He said he had heard the buzz from Senator Ron Miller that lobbyists were swarming around the capitol building in Charleston, seeking support and offering favors for another pipeline in the immediate area.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a joint venture between affiliates of EQT Corporation and NextEra Energy, have plans to run a 300-mile-long pipeline from northern West Virginia to an export terminus in Virginia, described as a highly marketable trading area along the East Coast. MVP has announced they now have two new partners in the venture, WGL Holdings and Vega Energy Partners. NextEra Energy holds a 35 percent interest and EQT Midstream Partners, is expected to assume EQT’s 55 percent majority interest in the joint venture and to operate the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, according to a press release at valve-world.net.
The MVP is expected to provide at least 2bcf (two billion cubic feet) per day of firm transmission capacity and has secured commitments at 20-year terms for this minimum capacity amount. The estimated 300-mile long pipeline is currently targeted at 42-inches in diameter and is expected to cost approximately $3 to $3.5 billion. Subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the MVP is expected to be in-service during the fourth quarter of 2018, the release reported.
Hassen, in closing the meeting, urged MVP representatives “to take our concerns seriously,” because – bottom line – “It’s all about trust between the company and the community.”