Thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) conditioning his vote for the Cut Inflation Act to a backroom allowing a reform agreement which would complement the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), this highly controversial fractured gas pipeline has become a household name.
Attention is not good news for the MVP.
While MVP has long been a blight on rural Appalachian communities in Virginia and West Virginia, with Manchin’s help, MVP has morphed into a veritable national scandal.
Before Congress considers legislation regarding MVP, it is essential to understand why this pipeline is such a terrible idea.
First, the MVP is not just another pipeline.
At 42 inches in diameter and 303 miles long, the MVP is one of the largest methane gas pipelines in the United States. However, what sets the MVP apart is the unprecedented level of risk associated with the pipeline route. Over 200 miles of MVP Crosses Zones which have experienced landslides in the past and are highly susceptible to future landslides, including over 75 miles of steep mountain slopes.
No other gas pipeline in the United States has never attempted to travel so many miles on such unforgiving terrain.
According to the data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, from 2001 to 2020, landslides have been one of the most frequent causes of “significant incidents” involving gas transmission pipelines in Appalachia. The MVP has already been impacted by several landslide events during construction, including an where “the installed pipe has moved…in at least three places”.
When a high-volume, high-pressure gas pipeline like the MVP ruptures, the common assumption in the industry is that there is at least 80% chance of explosion. Landslides have caused no less than five major gas pipeline explosions in Appalachia in the past four years alone. Fortunately, the gas never passed through the MVP – the blast zone nearly half a mile wide.
Second, the MVP cannot properly be considered a critical infrastructure project.
If that were the case, it stands to reason that the developers would have chosen the route that would give the MVP the greatest chance of success. It is not the shortest route, and probably the cheapest, between its point of departure and its point of arrival. Appalachia is criss-crossed by many major gas pipelines — including pipelines considerably longer than the MVP — but none come close to traversing so many steep landslide-prone slopes.
There is no guarantee that the MVP, if completed, will be able to provide the safe and reliable the gas supply touted by its promoters. Moreover, given the increase in heat waves and wildfires in the West, catastrophic floods in Appalachia and global droughts being driven by anti-climate fossil fuels, extracting any additional methane gas from the ground is inherently dangerous.
In addition, the United States already has more than enough gas to provide households and industry with abundant and affordable supply, and demand is should decrease overtime. However, the amount of gas exported by the United States has exponentially increased since 2015 – and driving up prices in the domestic market. Following a recent explosion at a gas export terminal in Texas which took the plant out of service, the price of methane in the United States immediately fell.
Finally, facilitating the construction of the MVP through congressional action would be tantamount to overriding decades of fundamental regulatory and judicial processes.
Since the start of construction of the MVP in 2018, the project has lost almost all permits needed to build the pipeline. This includes permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers to cross waterways and wetlands; Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service permits to traverse national forests; and permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to disturb the habitats of endangered species. Permits from these last three agencies have now been thrown twice by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Although many legal challenges have been filed by environmental interest groups, this does not affect the fact that the the courts have found serious shortcomings in permits issued to MVP. Demanding compliance with the law is not a radical judicial act, no matter who takes the case to court.
Due to its problematic route and design, MVP is now more than $3 billion over budget and four years behind schedule.
Rather than try to fix the project’s flaws, however, the developers continue to hope that the rules do not apply to MVP. Indeed, project promoters are among the first donors to manchin and Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), the chief architects of the back room agreement.
Congress must not nullify the very safeguards put in place to protect the public from harm caused by proposed energy infrastructure projects. Especially not for a project as dangerous and unprecedented as the MVP.