Workers had cleared trees along the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - July 26, 2018)

By Emily Satterwhite

In May 2018, Mountain Valley Pipeline confessed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that its plan for stream crossings along its proposed 303-mile fracked gas pipeline had been based on “theoretical desktop analysis” that “did not take site specific constructability issues (elevations, terrain and workspace) into account.”

From May to September, MVP, FERC, and the Army Corps of Engineers communicated with one another about this confession. We only know about this correspondence thanks to the work of a community-based watershed group in West Virginia, which in December filed a letter with FERC outlining its findings from a Freedom of Information Act inquiry.

Before then, all we knew was that on September 24, 2018, MVP requested a project-wide Variance-006 that would allow pipe to be buried more shallowly on either side of streambeds and that the variance was granted the very next day.

In requesting a variance, MVP admitted that if it followed its original vertical scour and lateral erosion plan, construction “would pose increased environmental or landslide risks or be unsafe or impractical due to terrain or geology.”

FERC staff approved the massive changes, essentially allowing MVP to fabricate its own construction standards on the fly, despite reservations from within both FERC and the corps. Documents indicate that Chris Carson, a corps project manager for the Huntington district, cautioned that “no information is provided indicating whether any of the changes would result in additional discharges of dredge or fill material into waters of the United States.”

FERC Senior Consultant Lavinia DiSanto directed MVP to provide a “site specific scenario … for each location that would receive mitigation.” MVP Design Engineer Ricky Myers dismissed DiSanto’s directive as “excessive” and insisted that MVP would abide by its own newly revised rule: they would build as they saw fit and then consult with a monitor after construction.

FOIA documents give no indication that MVP or FERC informed the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection or the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regarding the MVP—FERC-corps communications about the variance prior to publication on the FERC docket.

Collusion between FERC staff and MVP enables ongoing reckless construction of a massive project that continues to negatively affect water quality and the well-being of people and communities.

If MVP is able to obtain a new Army Corps of Engineers permit (its previous permit was vacated by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals) and allowed to resume construction in waterways, MVP will do so under its own rogue standards.

FERC commissioners should mandate a supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) that includes the site-specific analysis requested by FERC contractor DiSanto. Virginia’s attorney general and State Water Control Board must issue a stop-work order until such time as the SWCB can assess the effects of variance-006 upon construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and demand that MVP to do the stream-by-stream homework that Virginia’s DEQ should have required in the first place.

Emily Satterwhite is an associate professor and director of Appalachian studies at Virginia Tech.