Pipelines will harm Va. communities

Environmental, social and financial risks are too high to ignore

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

In a search to surge profits and expedite fossil fuels, specifically natural gas from shale reserves in Appalachia, energy giants such as Dominion, Duke and more are pushing hard and continuing work to construct hundred-mile long gas pipelines across Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Two in particular, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, are in legislative standoffs that have halted or postponed their construction, but only temporarily. 

With the clock ticking on the construction of such projects, it is important to understand what these projects will mean for the state of resources and ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic region at large, as well as Virginia residents and communities locally.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is a 303-mile-long, 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline proposed to run from West Virginia through to southern Virginia currently in its early stages of construction. Similarly, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is a proposed, 600-mile-long, underground natural gas pipeline network that would trace from West Virginia through to Chesapeake, Va., with additional branches into Brunswick, Greensville, and Robeson Counties in North Carolina. 

A quick glance at either of the two pipeline official sites could easily make a believer out of any rational citizen; the projects promise economic growth, increases in local jobs, cheaper energy costs, and more.

However, the PR teams for these projects fail to mention in the fine print, the major environmental hazards, impacts, and overall instability of such projects. While the proposed “benefits” of gas pipelines sound nice at first glance, it is crucial that the communities proposed to potentially reap such “benefits” understand that they are also the first at risk of the plethora of negative impacts such projects can have them, their health, protected lands and ecosystems at a larger scale. 

From an environmental perspective, these projects cannot be stopped soon enough.

Natural gas pipelines can, and often do, result in a variety of negative impacts on social, economic and environmental systems. Using a conglomeration of official reports, expert analyses and direct information from heavy-hitting and reliable sources, The Natural Resource Defense Council has outlined major consequences of the pipelines, further confirming that the interests of the corporations behind such pipelines are not the same as those of the consumers they claim to benefit, and definitely not in line with environmental interests. 

After analyzing such reports, it is plain to see that these pipelines are unnecessary financial and environmental burdens on the communities and ecosystems of Virginia.

Financial burdens of the pipelines will fall on the shoulders (and wallets) of Virginian electricity consumers, while benefits will be reaped by major corporations like Dominion. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), demands for electricity in the areas at risk by these pipelines have dropped significantly since their proposals (2014 for the ACP, 2015 for the MVP). Further, the U.S. Department of Energy found that only 54 percent of our nation’s existing pipelines were used to capacity on average between 1998 and 2013, showing that new pipelines are simply unnecessary. 

With a lack of necessity for these pipelines, motivations for such projects point more and more towards corporate profit. Additionally, conglomerate environmental groups evaluated Dominion’s own reports from 2017, and found data that predicts that the pipelines will cost Virginia Dominion consumers up to $2.3 billion more in electricity bill increases; meanwhile, Virginians already pay within the top ten highest electricity bills in the nation. This data alone, while much more exists, should be enough to show that these pipelines are unnecessary new financial burdens for Virginia consumers.

But, if the financial implications of these pipelines aren’t enough to convince you, take a look at the track records of previous gas pipelines in the US, and start to think about the negative impacts these two would have on our local ecosystems and communities. 

For starters, public land is at risk with these pipelines; both of the two cross through national forests (the AVP through George Washington NF and Monongahela NF, the MVP through Jefferson NF), where historic habitats would be cleared, mountain ridges destroyed and wildlife displaced. These historically preserved forests are supposed to be regulated to thrive and last for generations to come by groups within the US Department of Agriculture and Forest Service, but appeals by energy corporations permit modifications to the environmental standards that are upheld within them (especially regarding deforestation, runoff pollution and sedimentation). 

However, these impacts are not contained to protected lands, as waterways connected to local communities across the states affected are at great risk to contamination. Between 2012-2014, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection found Dominion Energy at fault for 13 water pollution violations during the construction of previous gas lines; of these specific incidents, negligence was obvious as the corporation failed to report them as they were required to. 

Furthermore, many of the communities at risk are specifically vulnerable to environmental injustices, as many are low-income, historical communities of color and/or communities with large Native American populations. Two examples cited by the NRDC include Robeson County, NC, which (in affected areas), populations consist of over 50 percent Native American citizens, as well as Union Hill in Buckingham County, Va., which is a historically black community that has worked tirelessly against the imposing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

 The pipelines, additionally, would solidify our region’s dependency on fossil fuels for decades to come, meanwhile, analyses of renewable energy alternatives such as solar or wind energy were not calculated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in their regional assessments leading up to these projects. As many know, the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas (and their subsequent emissions of greenhouse gases) is the predominant cause of anthropogenic climate change (including global warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, amongst others). Climate activists and scientists promise that natural gas pipelines are steps in the wrong direction to reducing climate change. 

Currently, both pipelines are in legislative limbo; however, recent updates are promising. Just last week, bipartisan legislation passed through Va. House committee that would increase restrictions on Dominion’s AVP in the passing down of costs to lower-level power stations, pinching costs and (hopefully) making such a project unfeasible; meanwhile, the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a previous decision against the permits given to the pipeline construction, blaming the National Forest Service’s failure to uphold their “responsibility to preserve national forest resources.” Additionally and as of last week, a coalition of environmental groups have also appealed to the Fourth Circuit to rule against permits of the MVP as the project pushes forward with harmful construction. 

It is without question that the constructions of these major pipelines are financial and environmental injustices that will harm, not help, communities and ecosystems across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Resisting such injustices starts with an understanding of such issues.

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