C: https://appvoices.org

June 1st, 2024, the grand opening day, came and went —but nothing actually happened. It was the latest of many proposed start dates that have come and gone over the years.

The highly controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) was meant to start a year ago, then last month, and finally, on June 1st. Again, that deadline was missed.

The company behind the fracked gas pipeline, Equitrans Midstream Partners (EQM), is still burying sections of it, while testing other sections. Problems persist, as they have done for years. This week, local news is reporting that more pipeline “anomalies” have been discovered, with tests of MVP pointing to over 130 “potential problems” that “required additional analysis.”

Meanwhile, MVP continues to face significant and fierce opposition from local residents who vehemently oppose the $7.85 billion pipeline. Stretching 303 miles from West Virginia to southern Virginia, the project has been met with mounting resistance, further contributing to its delays.

And so, yet again, the grand opening of this explosive and destructive pipeline will have to wait.

The delays mean that not only has the pipeline not been formally opened yet, but its start date — known as the “in-service date” — is still unknown. It may be days, weeks, or even months. It may be never finished, billions of stranded assets poured into a failed pipeline.

Regardless, the dogged, determined, and courageous community fight against the pipeline continues to this day, a testament to the resilience and unwavering spirit of Appalachian communities opposing this fracked gas disaster.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also known as FERC, gave the MVP a green light in October 2017. Since then, frontline communities and civil society have led years of spirited resistance and bitter legal fights that have long delayed the project.

Of course, the fossil fuel company behind this disaster wants to rush the job as soon as possible and ram it through, failed tests and pending legal issues be damned. While Equitrans has pushed for a series of unachievable in-service dates to please its shareholders, the community and many others think otherwise.

“I’m asking you to please deny their rush for [an in-] service date,” one local Virginia resident and Community Organizer with Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights (POWHR), Crystal Mello, wrote to federal regulators just over a week ago. Mello and others are demanding that the regulator “go slow” with a final decision to allow the MVP to start operating.

In April, several conservation groups filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging FERC’s decision to extend a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for MVP. At the time, Caroline Hansley, Sierra Club’s Senior Field Organizer, said: “The time to build more dirty and dangerous pipelines is over.”

The company had already tried to get the in-service agreement for late May but had failed. At the time, Jessica Sims, the Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, said: “MVP brazenly asks for this authorization while simultaneously notifying FERC that the company has completed less than two-thirds of the project to final restoration and with the mere promise that it will notify the commission when it fully complies with the requirements of a consent decree it entered into with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last fall.”

Meanwhile, the spirited resistance continues, including direct action. Last week, a protester was arrested for blocking construction access to the pipeline. This follows many other such protests in recent weeks and months.

Back in March, in a week-long series of actions, one young activist spent nearly 36 hours inside the pipeline. Two other pipeline resistors — aged 81 and 63 — locked themselves to a broken-down vehicle for over nine hours. Their banners read “Doom to the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” “Water is Life,” and “From the River to the Sea, Gaza to Wounded Knee.” On the same day, seven others were arrested. Other activists locked themselves to a drill for more than eight hours.

The company’s response has been to launch multiple draconian lawsuits, leading to the accusation that these are SLAPPS — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation — designed to silence people into not protesting.

Meanwhile, according to Inside Climate News, some demonstrators have been threatened with domestic terrorism charges and others with felonies, including felony kidnapping, allegedly for holding up a work vehicle with a worker was inside. On March 4, several protesters said that police drew guns while chasing them.

The fight against the MVP is a classic environmental justice fight, with the pipeline route running directly through forests and people’s property, including low-income communities in West Virginia and Virginia. It will carve a permanent 50-foot-wide strip of land around the pipeline, permanently scarring the landscape.

In this rural area of the United States, MVP has also invoked the legal doctrine of “eminent domain” — traditionally used by the government to seize property for public projects — to take property from about 300 landowners in Southwest Virginia for a private venture. Local lands are at risk of a large catastrophic accident which could lead to damages up to $1 billion.

The battle to #StopMVP is also a climate fight. As Oil Change International and Bold Alliance pointed out in 2017, the greenhouse gas pollution from the MVP would be “very substantial”, responsible for an estimated 90 million metric tons of annual emissions, or the equivalent of 26 average U.S. coal plants.

Safety concerns, including pollution and explosions, are also a major issue with MVP. In early May, a section of the pipeline ruptured while being tested, drastically increasing community concerns. According to Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR), a locally rooted group opposing the pipeline, the breach heightened concerns about public safety and discharged significant pollution to local water sources.

“The earth-shattering disasters MVP continues to cause on the methane gas pipeline route are a terrifying forecast for the future of people and planet if FERC allows it to go into service,” said Russell Chisholm, POWHR co-director. “We have warned regulatory officials that MVP is a reckless company tossing corroding pipes into landslide-prone mountain slopes in a rush to meet its contract obligations. It is past time for our safety to come first.” Chisholm calls the completion of the pipeline his worst nightmare.

In response to the egregiously failed test, the local Montgomery County Board of Supervisors urged FERC to “deny Mountain Valley Pipeline’s in-service request until all safety requirements of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration consent decree have been complied with.” The Board added, “The safety of all our residents is of the utmost importance to us.”

Another local body, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, spoke out publicly. Speaking for the Board, County Administrator Richard Caywood said, “This rather dramatic pipe failure has caused a great deal of concern among our residents who live in the area and who appropriately ask: What if the pipe failed with gas rather than water?”

More recently, a large sinkhole has re-appeared in the ground near the pipeline, raising concerns that a slow leak could be leading to soil destabilization. “You would think that they would want to come out and examine it and see what’s going on rather than just covering it up,” said pipeline opponent and concerned resident Bob Peckman.

As local residents warned years ago when the project was initially proposed, the pipeline’s topography is a massive obstacle to safe construction and operation. The clue is in the name: mountain. It passes steep mountainous terrain, traversing ecologically sensitive land, including national forest, and routes under the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

Over two-thirds of the terrain along the project’s route through West Virginia and Southwest Virginia is susceptible to landslides.  Pipeline opponents say the rugged terrain poses multiple dangers, both during construction and when the pipeline carries gas along steep slopes susceptible to landslides.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has cited MVP for causing over 300 violations of erosion and sedimentation control regulations. In 2019, the Department fined MVP $2.15 million, resolving a lawsuit both Agency and former Virginia Attorney General had filed alleging the company violated a previously issued water quality certification by not controlling sediment and stormwater runoff.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has also fined MVP a combined $569,000 in 2019 and 2021 for erosion and sedimentation issues. There is also an ongoing legal dispute over a safety incident that led to one worker being hospitalized and one of MVP’s contractors being fined.

The MVP may finally open one day, posing a lethal safety risk every day it operates, pumping fracked gas to exacerbate our climate crisis. It may yet stand idle: a stranded relic to the greed and ignorance of the fossil fuel industry and its allies.

What is sure, though, is that the resilient community fight that has delayed the pipeline for so long, highlighting the climatic, ecological and safety flaws of the MVP, will continue. There are new chapters of the MVP fight to be written. There will be new stories of heroic community resistance to be told.

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