Prove your humanity

The Mountain Valley Pipeline could start moving natural gas anytime now, but the people who live near it still have questions about their safety and health.

On Tuesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects  (FERC) approved the pipeline to begin operating. That’s one day after the pipeline’s builder, Equitrans Midstream, declared the project “mechanically complete.”

Terry Turpin, the director of the Office of Energy Projects, told Equitrans that the 303-mile natural gas pipeline was in compliance with environmental and safety requirements.

Turpin cited recent construction status reports, agency compliance monitoring and a staff inspection conducted May 13-17.

He also cited communication with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Turpin indicated that the associate administrator for pipeline safety, Alan Mayberry, said in a phone call earlier Tuesday that his agency had no objections to FERC giving the pipeline its approval.

That’s despite a flood of comments on the commission’s public docket in recent weeks opposing or seeking to delay the decision.

Landowners, environmental groups, state lawmakers and county commissioners based their opposition, in part, on a May 1 rupture of the pipeline during pressure testing in Bent Mountain, Virginia. 

Neither regulators nor Equitrans have disclosed the cause of the rupture or whether they will share the results of a metallurgical analysis.

The rupture released an unknown volume of municipal water and sediment into adjacent properties.

The pipeline is intended to move as much as 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day from West Virginia to Virginia.

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Equitrans Midstream, which built the 303-mile pipeline, didn’t give a timeline for when gas would begin moving through it.

“Final preparations are underway to begin commercial operations,” she said in an email.

People in affected communities are now wondering what to expect, including Russell Chisholm, of Newport, Virginia, co-director of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights.

“I think it’s weighing heavily on everybody up and down the 303 miles of the route,” he said in a call Wednesday with reporters.

Chisholm said there were likely to be problems with leaks that could affect residents’ health.

Autumn Crowe, interim executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said safety remained a concern for communities near the pipeline.

“It’s important for the public to know, it’s important for emergency responders to know, it’s important for everyone along the route to know when and how much gas is going through the pipeline,” she said on the call.

Jessica Sims, Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, said regulators had not done enough to reassure the public of the pipeline’s integrity or share sufficient detail about the failed pressure test on May 1.

“The public is still in the dark about important safety and environmental considerations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and FERC,” she said.

The groups conceded they had few legal options remaining to challenge the pipeline, but would continue to monitor it.