One man attending the open house with two older women did describe the pipeline representatives as responsive to questions, helpful and polite.
He declined to disclose his name.
He was surrounded in a meeting room at the Days Inn Blacksburg by a host of others Thursday night who had come seeking information about the proposed and deeply controversial interstate Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Nancy Bouldin of Monroe County, West Virginia, expressed mixed feelings about responses she received during the open house, which was organized by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and
The company wants to build and bury a 300-mile, 42-inch diameter pipeline to transport natural gas at high pressure from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to a delivery point in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Thursday’s open house was the fourth this week in Virginia.
“I’m not really getting answers to a lot of my questions and the answers I am getting really leave me even more afraid,” Bouldin said.
She said pipeline representatives seemed to respond nonchalantly to inquiries about safety and potential environmental damage, relying more on platitudes than data to suggest Bouldin should trust the company to do the right thing.
“I just don’t trust them,” she said, noting that in October the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it was seeking a $4.5 million fine against a division of EQT Corp. for alleged water pollution at a hydraulic fracturing well site.
“Why should we trust them in an entirely new venture, cutting across mountains with a 42-inch diameter pipeline?” Bouldin said.
The pipeline’s current route would take it through Monroe County, where the Red Sulphur Public Service District has communicated concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on water quality, and several other West Virginia counties before entering Virginia in Giles County.
The route would then traverse sections of Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties on its way to Pittsylvania County.
In Blacksburg on Thursday night, several Giles County and Montgomery County residents braved the cold at the intersection of Yellow Sulphur Road and South Main Street to hold banners and signs protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Among them was David Seriff. He said he felt buoyed by news this week that the administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was banning high-volume hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, in that state.
“I think that’s huge,” Seriff said.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline’s source of natural gas would be fracking wells in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
In a Dec. 17 news release, New York’s Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker recommended that high-volume hydraulic fracturing be banned in New York.
“I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered,” Zucker said. “I asked myself, ‘Would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
Inside the Blacksburg open house Thursday night, Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for EQT Corp. and Mountain Valley Pipeline, said hydraulic fracturing is a safe and sound extraction technique.
Outside, Giles County resident Isaac Hadden, 12, held an anti-fracking sign. He said that nearly everyone he knows in Giles County is opposed to the pipeline.
The Mountain Valley project is in the early stages of a “pre-filing” process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is empowered to determine whether there is sufficient need for the pipeline to justify the project’s environmental effects.
If FERC approves the project, Mountain Valley will have access to eminent domain to acquire rights-of-way across private properties for which negotiations have failed to yield agreement about how much money the property owner should receive for that easement. In those cases, a court would help determine what fair compensation should be.
Although lawyers experienced in representing property owners in eminent domain cases say that compensation should include payment for how the infrastructure project impacts the property’s value overall, Mountain Valley disagrees.
Cox reiterated Thursday that industry-funded studies show no significant decline in property values tied to hosting transmission natural gas pipelines.
Mountain Valley has said it hopes to begin construction of the pipeline in 2016 and have it in service by the fourth quarter of 2018.
Pipeline proponents say it could provide economic benefits to localities along its route, provide a cleaner fuel than coal for power generation, bolster the nation’s energy independence, support a comeback of domestic manufacturing and more.
Opponents argue that the potential costs — to the environment, safety, property values and more — outweigh the benefits and continue the nation’s and the world’s dependence on a fossil fuel.
Nearly everyone agrees that buried pipelines are safer than other transportation alternatives for moving hazardous liquids and natural gas.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reports that “the energy transportation network of the United States consists of over 2.6 million miles of pipelines.”
But accidents involving natural gas pipelines have occurred, of course. And lives have been lost.
According to a PHMSA formula, the “potential impact radius” of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, with a pipe diameter of 42 inches and a maximum allowable operating pressure of 1,480 pounds per square inch, would be 1,616 feet.
The next open house is scheduled for Jan. 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pearisburg Community Center in Giles County.