Commentary

Pipeline’s carbon offsets don’t come close to adding up

July 28, 2021 12:01 am

Workers had begun laying portions of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2018. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – July 26, 2018)

By William Limpert

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to try to divert attention from the destructive effects of its project. In a July 12 news release, MVP announced that it would purchase more than $150 million in carbon offsets to make MVP operational emissions carbon neutral for the first 10 years of operation through a methane abatement project at a Southwest Virginia coal mine. 

A closer look behind the smoke and mirrors reveals the true nature of the carbon offset plan. 

MVP boasts that methane mitigation projects like their offset plan are cited in the 2021 UN  Global Methane Assessment and they quote that report: “Fast and ambitious methane mitigation is one of the best strategies available today to deliver immediate and long- lasting multiple benefits for climate, agriculture, human and ecosystem health.”  

But the MVP fails to mention that the report, with Assessment Chair Drew Shindell and others from Duke University contributing, also states ”At the same time, without relying on future  massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies, expansion of natural gas infrastructure and usage is incompatible with keeping warming to 1.5° C.” 

In other words the UN report states that we shouldn’t be building any new fossil fuel  infrastructure — like the MVP. 

The hypocrisy of the press release is similar to the MVP saying that they are going to comply with one of the Ten Commandments, while secretly violating a number of the other commandments. 

There are many other negative issues the plan would not address. 

The MVP plan would not offset any operational emissions beyond 10 years. The MVP could be in operation for 50 years. 

The plan would not offset the downstream combustion of 2 billion cubic feet per day of methane that the MVP would carry. Unless questionable carbon capture practices are employed, those greenhouse gases would still discharge unabated into our atmosphere.  

Neither would the plan offset the upstream greenhouse gas leaks and emissions from fracking required to obtain the gas. 

It would not offset the pain, suffering and negative health impacts to our fellow citizens living in the fracking fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania where MVP gas would be sourced.  Studies show significant negative health impacts to families living near fracking sites. 

It would not offset the seizure of land, loss of property value and loss of home business income for thousands of hard-working low- and middle-income Americans along the MVP route.  It would not offset the threat to their drinking water wells and springs, pollution to their streams, rivers and air, or destruction of their farmland. 

It would not offset the documented mental health anguish that many of them have suffered from the MVP’s attack on their peace of mind.  

It would not offset the miles of forest that the MVP has destroyed. These forests cleaned the air, sequestered carbon, provided clean water, wildlife habitat and a beautiful cathedral of  peace and tranquility. They have been replaced by the permanent scar of the MVP, an ongoing nightmare for those who are now forced to look at it every day, much like looking at a scar across the face of a loved one.  

It would not offset the taking of Native American lands and sacred sites, or the disproportionate negative impact the MVP would have on environmental justice communities like Chatham, Virginia, where the MVP Lambert compressor station would add more pollution to  a community that has already been burdened by over 50 years of pollution from two Transco compressor stations. 

It would not offset the leakage and intentional discharge of numerous toxins, including radioactive substances, that are carried in the gas stream. 

It would not offset the negative health impacts to all of us from fossil fuels, as the UN report clearly points out. 

The MVP project would not offset the downstream greenhouse gas emissions. MVP operational greenhouse gas emissions are about one third of one percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be discharged from burning the gas. Using the same cost-to-offset ratio as the MVP plan, the cost to offset 50 years of combustion from the MVP is $225 billion. 

Who will pay for that offset? I think the answer is simple. MVP won’t pay for it. You and I, and all those who follow us will pay for it by struggling to survive an increasingly unhealthy and  unlivable climate. 

The MVP should be given a Pulitzer Prize for deception and double talk. 

But the MVP should know that we are watching, the rest of the world is watching.

William Limpert is a retired environmental regulator. He and his wife Lynn previously lived in Little Valley, Bath County, in the direct path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. They now live in Frederick County, Maryland.

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