by Jon Sokolow (note: this is part 1 of a two-part series; part 2 is here)
In recent weeks, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) started tree clearing and ground preparation for its proposed 42-inch, 303-mile fracked natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia through Virginia. Almost immediately, reports emerged that MVP and its contractor, Precision Pipeline, LLC were wreaking havoc on Virginia’s water and land resources. Photos and video evidence clearly showed that Precision Pipeline, a Wisconsin company, had no idea how to deal with the springtime mountain rains that typify southwest Virginia, leading to landslides, mud on roads and sediment pollution in creeks and streams. And this massive construction project has only just begun.
Activists are screaming “we told you so” because they have been saying for four years that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be safely built in the mountainous regions of southwest Virginia. Local residents, with growing support from around the Commonwealth, have been arguing that construction of this pipeline alone would create permanent damage to the forests, creeks, streams, springs, and rivers on which hundreds of thousands of people depend for their drinking water. This does not even begin to account for the additional harm that the fracked gas’ methane and other pollutants themselves would cause to our environment. State officials have all but ignored these concerns.
The evidence of Precision Pipeline’s incompetence in the initial stages of this project is mounting, as shown here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. In fact, a new Facebook page was just created to catalogue the daily damage being inflicted.
It has gotten so bad that even the weak and/or incompetent Virginia Department of Environmental Quality was forced to concede that one of these incidents was “clearly unacceptable,” leading to an order temporarily stopping construction at a site in Franklin County.
It turns out that someone else is saying we told you so: Dominion Resources.
Yes, THAT Dominion Resources.
It turns out that Dominion’s wholly owned subsidiary, Dominion Transmission, Inc. (“DTI”) has been fighting Precision Pipeline in federal court for almost three years in a battle royale over a pipeline that Precision built for Dominion several years ago in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That fracked gas pipeline, which was part of Dominion’s larger Appalachian Gateway Project, was a relatively small 30 inches in diameter and “only” 55-miles long. The case is pending in federal court in Richmond and is expected to go to trial in October.
Precision completed and was paid for the project – and then sued Dominion for $86 million in additional charges that it claims it is owed. Dominion denies it owes anything more and points, in part, to a series of expert reports that it says document Precision’s incompetence in building the pipeline.
In one of those reports, never before released but published here for the first time (see below), an engineering firm hired by Dominion details a long and terrifying account of Precision Pipeline’s incompetence when it comes to causing landslides during pipeline construction.
Thirteen of them.
In a 55-mile pipeline project.
With a 30-inch pipe.
In non-mountainous terrain.
The expert report, prepared by Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (“CEC”) an engineering firm hired by Dominion’s law firm, McGuireWoods LLP, shows the following:
- At least thirteen landslides occurred during construction of the pipeline built by Precision for the Appalachian Gateway Project. Each of these landslides is meticulously documented in the expert report: “Precision was aware the project was located in an area with landslide risks and, knowing this…did not employ appropriate construction methods to reduce the number of landslides that occurred. As a result, a greater number of landslides occurred on the ROW [Right of Way] and Precision’s refusal to repair them resulted in DTI incurring the cost of repair.”
- “Fill placed by Precision in some areas contained unsuitable materials (e.g., elevated organics), and fill was not adequately compacted to provide soil stability….”
- “Knowing that there was a risk of landslides developing, Precision failed to employ earthwork methods in accordance with industry standards….Landslides occurred due to failure to install subsurface drains in high-risk or seepage areas, failure to provide adequate surface water controls, failure to remove wood chips and other organic debris from fill slope areas, failure to properly construct ESC features, and failure to adequately compact fill.”
These are not the words of activists, or tree sitters, or affected landowners.
These are the words of an engineering firm hired by Dominion!
Virginia’s DEQ has turned a deaf ear to local residents who have been screaming for this project to stop and stop now.
Governor Northam has ignored tree sitters who have placed their bodies in the path of the pipeline.
He has refused to honor his own campaign promise – made on video – that DEQ would do a stream-by-stream analysis of this pipeline before construction proceeds.
And he has broken another campaign promise – also caught on video – that he and his wife would hold “focus groups” to address local concerns.
Meanwhile, state officials have ignored the pleas of more than one dozen elected officials and Democratic committees who say that the Mountain Valley Pipeline (as well as the much larger Atlantic Coast Pipeline) should be stopped.
Maybe these state officials will listen to Dominion? Maybe they will be swayed by the arguments of McGuire Woods, Dominion’s attorneys, who many consider to be Virginia’s “shadow government.”
Thirteen landslides in a 55-mile project. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is almost six times that length. Do the math.
And that’s just landslides.
What about sediment in streams? What about damage to farmland, damage to drinking water, damage to tourism in some of the most pristine areas of Virginia and the resulting damage to property values and the local economy.
So Governor Northam – and I cannot believe I am writing these words – maybe on this one you should listen to Dominion! Stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline before Virginia’s future – and your legacy – are drowned in a muddy landslide.
It’s never too late to do the right thing.