By Bob Peckman
Peckman is a retired physicist, a long-time trail builder of the Appalachian Trail and a jazz drummer living in Roanoke for the past 36 years.
Construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline has resumed because there will be less erosion by completing the pipeline sooner than completing it later. When is the only decision being considered. When is the only decision ever considered. The Environmental Impact Statement process should have determined if the pipeline should be built, not when.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement did not contain required details on how they would prevent the erosion that is currently the problem. Many contend that controlling erosion at half the MVP steepness is not possible. The purpose of the DEIS was to lay out the plans so that we could evaluate them and comment resulting in either an EIS for a bullet-proof successful plan or denying permission. But MVP’s erosion plans were not presented.
There are many parts of the EIS that are still missing even though they are legally required. One is a demonstration of public need, which is required before condemning property of private citizens. (It is interesting to note that the gas does not have any safety odor added because it is destined for export.) But that is all mud over the dam. The EIS, a contract, was given to MVP to build what they are building. It binds us to tolerate what the EIS allows and it binds MVP to refrain from doing what is not allowed. It is a generous contract in their favor, but a contract that binds both parties.
We have abided by this contract, albeit sometimes by the force of law enforcement. MVP on the other hand has violated the contract over and over, time and again, from the very beginning. We have photographs where they did not install the erosion controls until they were forced. But they have also failed because complying is impossible. They have not only demonstrated incompetence but also blatant disregard for very lenient requirements. This does not inspire compassion for their plight.
MVP now has a fortune, many fortunes, invested in our mountains. If we sent them home at this point it would be an economic catastrophe and might even bankrupt them. But they are building this with same techniques and under similar conditions as the Nixon Ridge Pipeline in Marshall County, West Virginia, that exploded shortly after construction was finished, similar to the conditions in the town of Newport. An explosion there would be more than a financial disaster. Property owners near pumping stations will suffer financial disaster. People who lose their high-quality water will suffer huge financial disaster. Municipalities burdened with mud in their water supplies will suffer economic catastrophe.
It is not the obligation of the public to guarantee that investors make a profit when they invest foolishly. If FERC was fooled into thinking that this project would work, it was MVP that fooled them. FERC also has no obligation to guarantee their financial success.
The decision on MVP construction should not be when to resume construction but rather if to resume construction. If they cannot complete the pipeline as required by the EIS, which is not possible, a legal decision should be made to terminate the project. To be fair, if we are going to stop them, we should tell them early so they can cut their losses. That does not mean that they can leave without restoring and stabilizing the scars as much as is possible. They are obligated to us just as we are obligated to them. They must do everything possible to make us whole again by corrective action and by compensation. (It is interesting that they have not yet compensated the landowners and not even negotiated a price, which is against our state constitution.)
Cahas Mountain Road is proof that even with total public scrutiny and publicity, they are unable to control the erosion. The explosion in Marshall County, West Virginia, proves that it is not safe to run a pipeline like this near human activity. Stop the pipeline.