By Duncan Adams, Roanoke Times
A spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC confirmed Monday that the company is considering alternative routes for the buried natural gas pipeline — a project that has stirred vigorous opposition since summer but has also found some support in potentially impacted counties in West Virginia and Virginia.
Spokeswoman Natalie Cox emphasized in an email Monday that this examination of other routes is motivated by Mountain Valley Pipeline’s quest to find a route “that has the least overall impact on landowners, the environment and cultural resources” and is not unusual in this early stage of seeking approval of the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“As part of this effort, we are currently evaluating possible alternative routes in multiple counties and will begin contacting landowners and localities along these alternative routes,” Cox said.
The pipeline’s route has shifted before. The current path would take it through Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties before ending at the Transco pipeline in Pittsylvania County.
The pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, would transport natural gas at high pressure from West Virginia through a buried, 42-inch-diameter steel pipe.
Cox declined Monday to disclose details about possible alternative routes.
But Clay Goodman, county administrator for Craig County, confirmed that pipeline representatives recently visited Craig County to review tax maps. Goodman said he had no additional information.
Chris McKlarney, county administrator for Giles County, said that the county was informed Monday by an EQT Corp. representative that other routes are being considered.
“However, they explained that the evaluation of additional routes does not necessarily mean that it will shift out of Giles, only that they are evaluating additional routes,” McKlarney said.
Paul Friedman, an employee of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is project manager for the commission for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Friedman said Monday that he could not confirm that the pipeline route is shifting.
“I’ve heard rumors that they’re looking at numerous alternatives,” Friedman said, noting that FERC encourages interstate energy infrastructure projects to consider alternatives that might have the least environmental impact.
Maury Johnson, whose family has a farm of about 300 acres in Monroe County, West Virginia, said his family ultimately decided to allow a pipeline subcontractor to survey their property so that Johnson could point out springs and other features he would want the pipeline route to avoid. Johnson said Monday that he heard last week that the pipeline route, which could have come within about 500 feet of his house, has shifted and will no longer cross his farm.
Johnson said he believes the pipeline project should be rejected until its builders can provide greater assurances that it can operate safely. He referenced a Jan. 26 explosion of a 20-inch diameter ethane pipeline near Follansbee, West Virginia. According to preliminary findings of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s office of pipeline safety, the pipeline’s failure resulted in the release of about 23,901 barrels of liquid ethane.
The agency’s preliminary findings reported that “there was no impact to people or to waterways, though the explosion and resulting fire burned approximately five acres of woodland” damaged the siding of one house roughly 2,000 feet from the rupture location. The cause of the failure is being investigated. That pipeline is owned by Texas-based Enterprise Products L.P.
Meanwhile, Johnson said he had heard that one reason the pipeline route might shift is tied to concerns about potential impacts to the Greater Newport Rural Historic District in Giles County.
Cox declined to comment about specific factors driving the consideration of new routes.
The National Register of Historic Places listed the Greater Newport Rural Historic District in 2000. The district’s narrative description reports that it includes about 21,371 acres and covers about 33 square miles. The district includes a host of buildings and structures, including covered bridges and the resort hotel at Mountain Lake.
Cox reiterated that routing the proposed pipeline is a work in progress.
“We will spend the next several months further evaluating the feasibility of these alternative routes, and potentially others, as part of our development of the pipeline,” she said.
Cox said the evaluation will consider topography as well as the potential impact on the environment and historical and cultural resources.
Although the pipeline has propelled regional cooperation among its foes, the project has also found support among people who believe the pipeline could yield a variety of economic benefits.
Mountain Valley Pipeline hopes to file a formal application with FERC in October, seeking the agency’s approval. If FERC ultimately greenlights the project, Mountain Valley will be able to use eminent domain to buy rights-of-way from landowners with whom it has not negotiated a price for the easement.
The company hopes the pipeline will be in service by the fourth quarter of 2018.