The Bulletin

Fight brewing over alleged aquifer damage by Mountain Valley Pipeline 

By: - August 12, 2021 12:01 am

Mountain Valley Pipeline construction crosses under the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke County near Bent Mountain. (2018 photo by Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Already tense relations between Mountain Valley Pipeline and opponents of the project were further inflamed Wednesday after the owners of a property on which the pipeline was drilling alleged the company had penetrated the shallow local aquifer.

An attorney for J. Coles Terry, the owner of a property on Bent Mountain in Roanoke County where the pipeline developer has been drilling holes for dynamite, sought a temporary injunction against the company from a federal court on Aug. 11 as part of an ongoing eminent domain case, citing alleged damage to the aquifer.

In a motion filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Terry said that after Mountain Valley began drilling on Aug. 9, he discovered that “half of the borings are half-full with water from the shallow aquifer serving as the headwaters of Bottom Creek.” 

In a separate complaint filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which certificates gas pipelines, Terry reported that water in one 13-foot hole had risen by seven feet and 9 inches. 

“I am requesting that FERC require MVP to immediately stop work on my property until a qualified hydrogeologist inspects what has happened,” he wrote. “I am very concerned that if drilling continues, it could cause damage to my well which is my family’s sole source of drinking water.” 

Mountain Valley Pipeline, however, called reports that the aquifer had been penetrated by drilling “inaccurate and blatantly false information based on unsubstantiated claims” and said opponents’ “willingness to mislead the public and mischaracterize construction activities to advance their agenda is wrong and unnecessarily consumes public agency resources.” 

“The construction activities occurring on Bent Mountain include drilling holes to a depth of less than 15 feet below the surface,” said MVP spokesperson Natalie Cox in an email. “Given the local terrain, the fact that water may be present in the holes is normal and there is no evidence that an aquifer has been penetrated.” 

Roberta Bondurant, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights group that has opposed the pipeline since its inception, said that “when you drill down in several places and you hit water, I believe it’s a fair inference that your drill has gone into a watery aquifer.” 

According to Ann Regn, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, inspectors who visited the area Aug. 9 through 11 found “no evidence of any damage to the aquifer.” 

“We believe the potential for impact to the aquifer or water supplies is low but will continue to monitor the areas,” she said in an email, adding that “if a groundwater source were to be impacted, there is a legal process in place requiring MVP to remedy the situation.” 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.