by Jon Sokolow
On May 28 and June 4, we published two stories about a lawsuit filed in federal court in Richmond that pits Dominion Energy against Precision Pipeline, LLC, the Wisconsin company that is currently building the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The stories – which have garnered more than 37,000 readers – exposed previously unpublished expert reports – found here and here – that demonstrated Precisions Pipeline’s sheer incompetence in building a 30-inch diameter 55-mile long pipeline for Dominion in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
As we noted, the expert reports revealed that there were more than 50 landslides after the Precision Pipeline project was completed:
“Yes, >50 landslides.
In a 55-mile pipeline project
With a 30-inch diameter.
In non-mountainous terrain….”
That’s an average of one landslide… every mile.
The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline is 300 miles long. Do the math.”
The landslide risks at issue in the Dominion/Precision Pipeline lawsuit are terrifying because the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines are proposed to be built through some of the steepest terrain in Virginia, with slopes as steep as 78% in places. This mountainous terrain is particularly susceptible to landslides when fill material generated by construction is deposited on slopes after the pipelines are buried. The reasons are discussed in this excellent short video, “The Truth is in the Proof.”
One week after our stories were published, a brand new TransCanada/Columbia Gas pipeline exploded in West Virginia, generating a fireball that could be seen as far away as Pennsylvania. When the pipeline went on line in January 2018, company officials described it as “best in class” even though “whistleblowers at numerous pipeline companies have raised red flags about the impacts of rushed construction.”
The West Virginia explosion occurred on a slope known as Nixon’s Ridge. Almost immediately after it occurred, stories started to circulate that workers had observed shifting soil during construction but were told to “just keep working” and “get the pipe in the ground.”
Now the bombshell news just broke: “Columbia Gas Transmission has told federal pipeline regulators that a landslide was the apparent cause of the rupture and explosion of a new natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, W.Va., last month.” And it turns out it’s not the first time in recent years that a pipeline exploded in West Virginia due to a landslide: a similar explosion occurred in 2015 in a 20-inch pipeline.
In addition, after months of relentless public pressure, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has just charged Mountain Valley Pipeline – and, by inference, that same landslide perpetrator, Precision Pipeline – with at least eight violations of Virginia law during early phases of construction. This mild enforcement action, detailed in a “Notice of Violation,” is the beginning of a lengthy process that may lead to a slap on the wrist for MVP, and it falls far short of the stop work order that is being demanded by landowners and concerned citizens.
But the Notice of Violation proves what activists have been screaming for months, that Precision Pipeline already has caused major damage to Virginia’s water resources in just the initial few months of construction. Just two examples: “unauthorized fill” at one site that “ranged in depth up to eleven inches of sediment” in “two stream channels [that] covered a distance of approximately 2,800 linear feet; and similar “unauthorized fill” that “ranged in depth up to seven inches of sediment” in “four streams [that] covered a distance of approximately 6,009 linear feet.” That’s one and one half miles of damaged streams at just two locations. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is slated to cross hundreds of such streams in Virginia. And still, DEQ is allowing construction to proceed.
MVP is in such a rush to finish its pipeline -before the opposition or the courts stop it for them – that it just asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to work around the clock if necessary. Just ask West Virginia what happens when a pipeline company rushes to install a pipeline in steep terrain.
On this record, it is sheer folly to deny the very real threat that multiple landslides can and will occur if DEQ allows Precision Pipeline to complete construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the mountains of southwest Virginia.
We don’t have to speculate as to whether pipelines built by Precision Pipeline lead to landslides. None other than Dominion Energy has told us the ratio is roughly one landslide per mile. MVP is slated to be 303 miles long.
Nor do we have to guess what happens when landslides occur in steep terrain disturbed by pipeline installation. Just ask West Virginia. They explode.
Which leads to these questions:
Why would Virginia’s DEQ allow a company that has a proven track record of creating 50 landslides in a 55-mile long pipeline project and is now being charged with multiple violations of state law to work another day on a massive pipeline project in steep terrain?
Why would any elected Virginia Democrat (or candidate) – members of the party that is supposedly committed to protecting our environment and fighting climate change – want to preside over this unfolding disaster that will be remembered for generations?
Why would Virginia Democrats who have sat on their hands or supported these pipelines assume that millennials, the generation most committed to saving our planet, will turn out in droves for a hoped for electoral “landslide” when those same politicians who are begging for shoe leather and money allow an actual landslide specialist like Precision Pipeline to rush towards completion of a dangerous fracked gas pipeline on mountainous terrain?
We are witnessing an environmental disaster unfold in real time. And we know how the story ends. The question for every politician in Virginia – and every employee at DEQ for that matter – is crystal clear: Which side are you on?