The Impact of the MVP: One Citizen’s View

Judee Rauchle from Preserve Franklin was kind enough to allow us to share the presentation she made on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors. We appreciate her letting us post her comments and the time she took in preparing this.

Good afternoon, Gentlemen. I thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of Preserve Franklin. I’m Judith Rauchle…My husband and I have owned land and lived on Cahas Mountain Road for over a decade now. So far, the route for the pipeline does not go through our property, but this affects all of us in Franklin County. I’m concerned for all of us and for your children and grandchildren who will inherit the results of our decisions.

We citizens of Preserve Franklin have a multitude of very legitimate concerns…….not the least of which is that some would be forced to surrender property via eminent domain….but not constitutional eminent domain for the public use or good, but “Eminent Domain for Private Gain”….since it ultimately benefits only the private gas companies. And if we think otherwise, we’re being deceived. This proposed, huge 42″ inch pipeline is not a distribution line but is a transmission line. (EQT describes it as a “Transportation Line”)…..sending at least the majority of the natural gas out of the country, if not all of it. If it were possible to tap off this transmission line which would cost millions upon millions of dollars…. just the process of tapping into a huge transmission line means that it would also greatly increase and expand all the numerous safety hazards involved. Tapping into it also produces another hazardous byproduct to get rid of somehow! There is no precedent for construction of a 42″ pipeline in Virginia across steep/forested terrain, and in fact the company which proposes to build it has no experience at all in building one of that size. And let me mention quickly here that a recent statewide survey found that 83% support Virginia developing its own state plan to reduce pollution and increase the use of clean and renewable energy as a way to meet Virginia’s future needs and to increase energy independence. Over 8 in 10 want to increase energy efficiency and more permanent job creation by the use of renewable sources. This pipeline represents the exact opposite of that.

The EQT/Next Era representative said that the commercial life of the pipeline would be 20 years, and at the end of that period, it would be “retired in place”. This is even worse than it being “abandoned”. This mammoth pipeline will be left beneath the property of landowners across the county, slowly deteriorating and leaching contaminants into the soil and water. And who will be responsible then? Natural gas pipelines in the “retired” category do not have to comply with all the regulations of even an “abandoned” pipeline. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has acknowledged that pipelines in this category (and I’m quoting)…”pose varying levels of risk to public safety and they may be eligible for deferral of certain requirements such as integrity management activities!”

Franklin County is mainly a rural area, and the rules/regulations for pipelines in a more sparsely populated area are different and much more lax than in a more urbanized area. The pipeline wall thickness can be half the thickness in a rural area, and the shut-off valves can be much, much further apart. So, we would be at twice the risk than in an urban area….at twice the risk with far less infrastructure to respond to and deal with any resulting hazards. That sounds to me like we (in a rural county) are just so much collateral damage. Our lives are not in the least bit important to these companies.

Simply moving a product through a pipeline does not benefit the inhabitants…it just exposes them to the inherent great risks involved which our children and grandchildren will inherit. We are naive to think this transmission line is anything but what it is.

Dr. Todd Fredericksen, Associate Professor of Forestry and Wildlife at Ferrum College, told me that there would definitely be habitat fragmentation, destruction and negative impact on forest interior wildlife species. He said the forest edges may be colonized by invasive species and there would be obvious toxicological problems with any leaks and wildfire risk with gasline explosions.

Our mountainous area is greatly prone to soil erosion problems….there would be trouble with water pollution, flooding, stream channel damage, decreased ground water storage, slope failures, and damage to adjacent or downstream properties. Storm water runoff (a huge problem in soil erosion here) can carry petroleum, salts, sediment, and metals into groundwater/well supplies. David Trible, Professional Wetland Scientist says that numerous toxic chemicals from equipment during the construction process will enter surface and groundwater immediately. Then, chemicals from potential leaks/explosions would saturate the surface and groundwater with this toxic mix. This will contaminate and have serious health effects on livestock and crops, and our drinking water. Then, the continual spraying of easements will result in more toxic chemicals in our soil and water supply. This will greatly impact our lives, our health, and for many of us the way we make our living.

The safety hazards involved are tremendous…We already know that EQT is not concerned with water protection, since they had six criminal charges of water pollution brought against them in Pennsylvania and numerous other violations from 2006 through 2014 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. They were charged with “pollution of waters” and “disturbance of waterways”. These are considered “major pollution incidents” causing untold damage to these communities and the environment. But, these huge corporations can afford their thousands of dollars of fines, so they just pay it and move on to the next one apparently with no change in procedures.

Natural gas compressor stations operate around the clock, and they emit air pollution 24 hours a day, seven days a week…not to even mention the noise pollution. They normally have no pollution control devices…emitting nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gas. Many of the pollutants are carcinogenic or neurotoxic aggravating and producing all kinds of health problems, and compressors operate under high risk conditions, created by the high pressures and reduced temperatures of operation……causing vibrations, cracks, and corrosion leading to failure of mechanical components, explosions, and fires.

High pressure gas pipelines are not safe…and this one will have as much as 1500 psi of pressure! Dr. Glen Stevens, Coordinator of Environmental Sciences at Ferrum College provided me with information from the U.S Dept. of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials’ Safety Administration (PHMSA). It reports 11, 314 significant gas pipeline accidents from 1995 to 2014, resulting in thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. And as you can see on the PHMSA graph, these incidents are going up, not down. The damage reported came to about 6 and a half billion dollars. A 20 inch pipeline in Sissonville, WV in 2012 shows one such catastrophe…the gas burned so hot that it melted 800 feet of highway on Interstate 77 and destroyed 3 homes. Can you imagine a fire of that intensity burning across our beautiful, forested/mountainous terrain in Franklin County? …and this was only a 20 inch pipeline…imagine what a 42″ pipeline explosion would do. Just in the month of January 2015, there were 5 pipeline explosions…the most recent one in Brooke County, WV which exploded into a huge ball of flames (shown in a photo you have there). All of these explosions were from 20 inch pipelines….the MVP would be 42″. Environmental engineers tell us that if it exploded, the blast radius would be at least a half mile. I’ve provided you with some other photos of these recent blasts. You’ll also see a chart of the “Recommended Minimum Evacuation Distances for Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks and Ruptures”. A 42″ pipeline at 1500 psi would have a 3,709 ft. evacuation distance ….that’s almost three quarters of a mile! We are truly all in this together! I have spoken with local firefighters who are concerned that our fire departments are not equipped and do not have the man power to deal with such blasts. Natural gas fires have to “burn off”…you cannot put them out. There would almost certainly be devastating forest fires in many cases.

Virginia has 2 active and well-defined zones of earthquake activity. One of these is called the Giles County Seismic Zone. We (in Franklin County) are within this earthquake zone. The largest earthquake in intensity in Virginia’s history occurred in this zone (1897)….a 5.9 on the Richter Scale. The proposed MVP appears to go right through this zone. According to Dr. John Costain, Professor Emeritus of Geophysics at Virginia Tech: ‘it’s not clear at all that we have effective engineering safeguards or that they would even be possible for a natural gas pipeline in the event of an earthquake.’ I’ve provided you with intensity maps of this earthquake zone.

In conclusion:

One of the bedrock principles in a democracy is the equal consideration of the interests of all citizens….in this case equal rights of speech. Citizen participation is at the heart of political equality and provides the mechanism by which citizens can communicate their preferences and needs to the people they elected to serve those needs. And so, the restriction to 1 speaker per month on a particular topic is unconstitutional. If there are concerns that this would take up the supervisors’ time for discussion of other topics on the agenda, then the only way to keep from being unconstitutional in this case is to have a separate meeting on this topic alone…the proposed MV Pipeline…when people can actually attend. Believe me, we have so many concerned citizens in Franklin County…land owners…who would be affected by this pipeline and who adamantly oppose it for very real and serious concerns. I would remind the Board that the rights of citizens do not stop at the ballot box.

We’re supposed to be a government ‘of the people, BY the people, and for the people’.

We need our voices to be heard, and so we are respectfully asking that you please consider a separate public hearing on this topic where your constituents…the people who elected you….can exercise their right to voice their concerns.

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