Thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) conditioning his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act on a backroom permitting reform deal that would complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), this highly contentious fracked gas pipeline has become a household name.
The attention is not good news for the MVP.
While the MVP has long been a scourge to rural Appalachian communities in Virginia and West Virginia, with Manchin’s help, the MVP has morphed into a full-blown national scandal.
Before Congress considers any legislation addressing the MVP, it is vital to understand why this pipeline is a terrible idea.
Firstly, the MVP is not just another pipeline.
At 42 inches in diameter and 303 miles long, the MVP is among the largest methane gas pipelines in the U.S. However, what sets the MVP apart is the unprecedented level of risk associated with the pipeline’s route. Over 200 miles of the MVP crosses areas that have experienced landslides in the past and are highly susceptible to future landslides, including over 75 miles of steep mountain slopes.
No other gas transmission pipeline in the U.S. has ever attempted to cross so many miles of such unforgiving terrain.
According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, from 2001-2020, landslides were one of the most frequent causes of “significant incidents” involving gas transmission pipelines in Appalachia. The MVP has already been impacted by multiple landslide events during construction, including one where “the installed pipe shifted … in at least three locations.”
When a high-volume, high-pressure gas pipeline like the MVP ruptures, the common industry assumption is that there is at least an 80 percent chance of an explosion. Landslides have caused no fewer than five major gas pipeline explosions in Appalachia in just the past four years. Thankfully, gas has never flowed through the MVP — the blast zone is nearly a half-mile wide.
Secondly, the MVP cannot rightly be considered a critical infrastructure project.
If it were, then it stands to reason the developers would have selected the route that would give the MVP the greatest chance of success. Not the shortest, and presumably cheapest, route between its beginning and endpoint. Appalachia is crisscrossed by many major gas pipelines — including pipelines considerably longer than the MVP — yet none come close to crossing as many steep, landslide-prone slopes.
There is no guarantee that the MVP, if completed, will be able to provide the safe and reliable supply of gas touted by its developers. Furthermore, given the increase in heat waves and wildfires in the West, catastrophic flooding in Appalachia and worldwide droughts being driven by climate-busting fossil fuels, bringing any additional methane gas out of the ground is inherently unsafe.
Furthermore, the U.S. already has more than enough gas to provide households and industry with an ample and affordable supply, and demand is expected to decrease over time. However, the amount of gas exported by the U.S. has increased exponentially since 2015 — and driven up prices domestically. Following a recent explosion at a gas export terminal in Texas that took the facility offline, the price of methane in the U.S. immediately dropped.
Lastly, facilitating the construction of the MVP through congressional action would mean overriding decades of bedrock regulatory and judicial processes.
Since construction began on the MVP back in 2018, the project has lost virtually every permit needed to build the pipeline. This includes permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cross streams and wetlands; permits from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to cross national forests; and permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to disturb habitats supporting endangered species. The permits from the latter three agencies have now been tossed out twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
While many of the legal challenges have been brought by environmental interest groups, this has no bearing on the fact that the courts found grave deficiencies in the permits issued to MVP. Compelling compliance with the law is hardly a radical judicial act, regardless of who brings the case to court.
As a result of its problematic route and design, the MVP is now more than $3 billion over budget and four years behind schedule.
Rather than attempting to fix the project’s flaws, however, the developers continue to hold out hope that the rules do not apply to the MVP. Indeed, the project developers are among the top donors to Manchin and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), the chief architects of the backroom deal.
Congress must not overrule the very safeguards put in place to protect the public against harm from proposed energy infrastructure projects. Especially not for a project as dangerous and unprecedented as the MVP.