By Ken Stiles
Stiles has lived in Blacksburg since 2010. He teaches at Virginia Tech.
As a resident and property owner in Montgomery County, I have a deep personal stake in the future of our community and the preservation of our quality of life.
In recent months, I have closely followed the news coverage and public dialogue surrounding the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. However, rather than jumping to conclusions based on negative publicity and concerns raised by pipeline opponents, I decided to conduct my own research to evaluate the risks and benefits of this project.
What I found was actually quite reassuring. In short, I discovered that much of the alarm about the project is unwarranted and in many cases is not based on an honest assessment of the facts.
There are already nearly 50 miles of pipeline currently running through Montgomery County. The East Tennessee pipeline is 20 inches in diameter and transports gas across long distances and at high pressures similar to what has been proposed for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. I can’t remember hearing about any explosions or leaks in the area, and I’m sure these opponents would be pointing such out at each opportunity if any had occurred.
After traveling the distance of the East Tennessee line through southern Montgomery County, I discovered that it is nearly invisible to the human eye, and it doesn’t threaten the residents that live nearby. It passes through residential areas, commercial districts and farmland — all without adverse visual impacts or environmental damage.
I also discovered that Roanoke Gas operates nearly 1,100 miles of distribution natural gas pipelines throughout the region. These pipelines serve more than 59,000 customers — both homes and businesses — including many in our county. While I was unable to obtain similar information for Atmos Energy, another major natural gas provider in our county, one of its lines runs to my house, and I suspect many, many others in the area.
All of these pipelines are safe for residents and businesses. Through my research, I have been unable to find any incidents of environmental damage or threats to public safety. Many people live near and along these pipelines, and many businesses operate in close proximity and even benefit from using natural gas these pipelines provide. Cars safely travel across these interstate and distribution pipelines every day.
Regarding the concern that the pipeline will decrease property values, I found that most of this alarm is based on pure speculation. Eminent domain attorney Joe Waldo stirred up a lot of concern in the community at one meeting by claiming that he has studies showing that pipelines decrease property values; however when asked for these studies, he did not provide them. I think the residents in our community deserve a more honest and transparent explanation of the facts.
Furthermore, this concern about property values doesn’t match the reality of the East Tennessee pipeline in the county. During my on-the-ground research, I found subdivisions with $300,000 homes currently being built just a stone throw’s away from the pipeline, and there doesn’t seem to be any decrease in value based on their close proximity to the pipeline.
Some residents have also expressed concerns about detrimental impacts to the environment. I encourage them to travel the distance of the East Tennessee pipeline through our county as I have. There you will find vast expanses of pristine countryside and pastoral farmland — all on or near this existing interstate pipeline and without any disturbance to the environment or agricultural use of the land.
Finally, opponents have claimed that natural gas contributes to our carbon footprint and that our community will not benefit from it economically. But these opponents ignore the potential for coal-fired power plants in our region to convert to natural gas, which would produce far less carbon emissions and other pollution than coal. From my research there are at least seven existing coal-fired power plants near the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline that would reduce Southwest Virginia’s carbon footprint and improve our environment by converting to gas.
And then there is the possibility that businesses — with easy access to natural gas — will locate in our region and create good-paying jobs for our people. Manufacturing jobs are some of the highest paying in our region, and I hope we can all agree that more of these jobs would be beneficial.
I would suggest that our neighbors and politicians look at the facts, instead of spreading fear and misinformation. This pipeline offers many long-term benefits for Montgomery County and minimal risks to the residents of our community.