PEARISBURG — Giles County resident Virginia McWhorter sought hard-and-fast details Monday evening but ended up declaring exasperation.
Like many others who attended an open house hosted in Pearisburg by Mountain Valley Pipeline, McWhorter wanted to know how the company would respond if construction or operation of the proposed interstate natural gas pipeline affected wells and springs.
John Uhrin, director of construction services for EQT Corp., a partner in the Mountain Valley Pipeline, told McWhorter that the company would analyze wells and springs within a quarter-mile of the pipeline and said the analysis would occur both before and after construction.
If evidence suggested the pipeline had negatively impacted a well or spring, the company would “drill a well or do what we have to do” to provide water, Uhrin said.
He then suggested McWhorter walk across the hall at the community center in Pearisburg to talk to Megan Neylon, Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental coordinator.
Neylon said the pipeline company is obligated to conduct testing of wells and springs only within 150 feet of an area where blasting is deemed necessary during pipeline construction.
Ultimately, Neylon and Uhrin compared notes, and Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman Natalie Cox, who was standing nearby, said the pipeline planning process is in its early stages.
As proposed, the 300-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, would travel through West Virginia and cross into Virginia at Giles County. The pipeline would then traverse Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties before connecting with the Transco transmission pipeline in Pittsylvania County.
The 42-inch-diameter buried high-pressure pipeline would transport natural gas that has been extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” from Marcellus and Utica shale formations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Monday’s open house in Pearisburg was the fifth such event hosted to date by Mountain Valley Pipeline and the last in Virginia. The company is scheduled to hold nine more open houses in West Virginia counties in the weeks ahead.
Cox said Monday that the pipeline’s current route crosses about 17 miles in Giles County. She said about 110 property owners in the county have received survey permission letters and that about 80 percent of those owners have granted permission.
Naomi Merrix said she came to Monday night’s open house hoping it would help her decide whether to allow the pipeline company to survey the 21 acres in Giles County that have been in her family for nearly 100 years.
“I’m not sure how to fight such a thing and I’m not sure I want to fight,” Merrix said.
A state law in Virginia allows a natural gas company to study and survey private property without permission as long as the company provides notice as specified by the law. Cox said the company has not yet initiated the formal notification process with property owners who have not granted permission for surveying.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed by Dominion and partners, is pursuing a different approach to gain access to private property when an owner refuses permission.
It has so far sued 121 property owners in Virginia and five more in West Virginia who have not granted permission to survey their property for a possible pipeline route. The company is seeking a court order that spells out its right to access private property. In one such lawsuit, Atlantic Coast Pipeline said failing to gain access for surveying at this stage of the process could jeopardize “timely construction of the project” and negatively affect “the public interest in expanding natural gas transmission capabilities.”
The state law cited by the pipeline companies is being challenged in court by pipeline opponents.
Ultimately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether there is sufficient demand for natural gas to justify construction of one or more new interstate transmission pipelines. If FERC greenlights a pipeline, its builders will have access to eminent domain to buy rights-of-way across private properties if negotiations with property owners fail to yield a sum acceptable to the parties involved.
Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have cited a host of concerns. Included among them have been fears that pipeline construction and operation could affect wells, springs and streams, property values and safety. In addition, opponents have said that the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and similar infrastructure would support fracking, a controversial extraction process, and slow the embrace of alternative energy sources.
Boards of supervisors in Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties have passed resolutions opposing the current route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Supervisors in Giles County have said the current route raises concerns because of its proximity to the popular Cascade Falls hiking trails, two historic covered bridges in the vicinity of the community of Newport and the Eastern Elementary/Middle School.
Proponents have said the pipeline could bring comparatively abundant and cheap natural gas to new markets, provide a cleaner alternative to coal for power generation, support the nation’s energy independence and provide economic benefits to the state, the country and communities along the route. Supporters also note that pipelines generally have a good safety record.