Pipelines in the sun

This stockpile of pipes near Beckley, West Virginia, has been sitting outside for months, exposed to the elements. In the distance are the hills and rugged terrain the Mountain Valley Pipeline is meant to traverse.

The Department of Environmental Quality should revoke permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. New information makes it clear that Virginians are being asked to bear all of the risks and receive none of the benefits from the natural gas infrastructure.

For too long the fossil fuel industry has taken advantage of a federal policy that incentivizes the building of pipeline infrastructure by guaranteeing a rate of return to investors and passing the cost of construction on to public utility ratepayers. When pipeline investors bear no financial risk, people in the natural gas industry will take advantage of the circumstances. A natural gas and propane company’s CEO admitted, “The pipeline business will overbuild until the end of time.”

This federal policy was meant to encourage the speedy construction of infrastructure for natural gas. The policy is now outdated, however, because there is no longer any economic need to build new high-capacity natural gas pipelines, given increased energy efficiency, the growth of the renewable energy market, and sufficient existing natural gas infrastructure.

Synapse Energy Economics Inc., a research and consulting firm specializing in energy, conducted an analysis of the economic necessity for the MVP and the ACP. Its conclusion was that the “region’s anticipated natural gas supply on existing and upgraded infrastructure is sufficient to meet maximum natural gas demand from 2017 through 2030. Additional interstate natural gas pipelines, like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and keep industrial facilities in production.”

It would be as foolish to build more natural gas infrastructure now (when there is no need) as it would have been to have built new stables when the automobile replaced horses and buggies. Natural gas is no longer the cheapest form of energy, and it’s no longer considered a clean energy source.

While high-capacity natural gas pipelines pose no risks to their investors, their risk to property and lives is so unpredictable that no insurance company will insure them. If a high capacity natural gas pipeline fails, the force of the blast is estimated to have the impact of a small tactical nuclear bomb. The bonds posted for the MVP and ACP are not enough to compensate for the potential loss of life and property, much less for the contamination of water sources.

People were stunned in December when the DEQ’s Water Control Board refused to consider any new information at its pipeline hearings. A month later, MVP urgently petitioned the federal court to let it force its way onto the property of landowners who were appealing eminent domain condemnation.

During the hearing, the MVP lawyers mentioned they had to quickly bury the pipes they had purchased months before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved their project. MVP’s engineer, Robert Cooper, stated in court testimony that they were having to rotate the pipe in their storage yards to try to protect the epoxy coating from degrading in the sun. The pipes, exposed to the elements for almost a year now, may have begun to corrode. MVP’s poor planning doesn’t mean the public and environment aren’t entitled to a rigorous review and thoughtful due process before their project can continue to proceed.

The DEQ’s Water Control Board must consider new information regarding the MVP and ACP pipelines. It needs to know if the pipes planned for the projects have been compromised. It needs to know if the EQT and Dominion will hire responsible builders who won’t sacrifice safety precautions to cut costs.

DEQ’s Water Control Board members must protect our water. They are not a rubber stamp to issue permits. They have the power to deny and to revoke permits. Violations have already been reported on the construction of the ACP and the MVP.

Last week, New Jersey’s attorney general asked a U.S. District Court to reject a request by PennEast Pipeline Co. to use eminent domain for its proposed natural gas pipeline, because Penn East was putting private interests over the public interest. Virginia’s attorney general can determine there is no public economic necessity for ACP and MVP to use eminent domain to violate Virginia’s land, and he can defend our commonwealth.

The DEQ should not issue permits for projects it knows will do harm to the environment and will put the public at risk. The DEQ, whose mission is “to protect and improve the environment for the well-being of all Virginians,” should revoke the permits for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines.

Freeda Cathcart, FLMI, is a certified specialist in the insurance industry. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia, and may be contacted at ContactFreeda@gmail.com; Twitter: @FreedaCathcart1.

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