On September 10, a 24-inch natural gas pipeline exploded in Beaver County, north of Pittsburgh. Fortunately, no lives were lost, though one family narrowly escaped their home before it was destroyed. Six high-tension electric towers were brought down by the blast causing 1,500 customers to lose electric service (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 10).
Why should we care about this? The Revolution Pipeline is brand new, still in the commissioning phase and not yet operating commercially. Doubtless, officials from Energy Transfer Partners would have described it as a “state of the art, best in class” modern pipeline, just as officials from Trans-Canada described the Leach XPress pipeline that exploded in West Virginia on June 7, six months after it was commissioned.
Preliminary investigations indicate that both of these pipeline explosions were caused by soil movement that undermined the buried pipeline, stressing it and causing it to break. In both cases, the soil movement was caused by heavy rains on steep slopes. According to the director of the county conservation district, these erosion and sedimentation controls were installed as designed, “but they were not working.”
Here in Virginia, we are facing hard pushes by the corporations behind the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. At 42 inches diameter, these monster pipelines are designed to carry three times the gas as the one in Beaver County, Penn., and they would cross many steep slopes in West Virginia and Virginia. An independent study of the ACP route in Virginia by highly-regarded scientists concluded that site-specific erosion control plans are necessary to avoid “catastrophic slope failure.” But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not required such studies for either pipeline.
Almost 50 years ago, landslides and flooding caused by Hurricane Camille’s heavy rains caused 124 documented deaths in Nelson County. Now, with Hurricane Florence fresh in our minds, we find no comfort in Dominion’s claims that their “state of the art, best in class” erosion control measures will hold the soil on our steep slopes and prevent pipeline ruptures.