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MVP is completed. What could be ahead for future pipeline development in Virginia?

A mountain ridge with a winding dirt path, where trees and other plants have been cleared. Pipes for the pipeline can be seen on the edge of the path, to be buried.
Protect Our Water, Heritage Rights
MVP in progress in spring 2024.

Last week, the Mountain Valley Pipeline began transporting gas. The pipeline faced years of opposition from environmental groups and many residents. It was more than double its original budget, scaling mountain ridges, wetlands and streams.

Politics played a major role in how the Mountain Valley Pipeline was ultimately finished.

In 2023, the pipeline was several years behind schedule, and legal suits continued to drag its progress. Then, Congress stepped in to give the pipeline a lift.

And at the center of much of that part of MVP’s story is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

“I am thrilled that Republicans and Democrats came together to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline and shore up America’s energy security,” Manchin said last June, describing how he successfully pushed through an order to fast track the MVP. The legislation was inserted into an unrelated bill that raised the debt ceiling.

Donna Pitt is a volunteer in Giles County, who for years worked alongside her neighbors to oppose the pipeline.

“Well we fought them three times and won, and there but for an act of Congress, we would have stalled them yet again,” Pitt said.

She and others feel like Congress stripped them of their voice.

“It’s almost like, well…we feel like we were sacrificed,” Pitt said.

Some worry about the precedent Congress set, by becoming so heavily involved with MVP.

“I think the level of congressional interference with the project was unprecedented,” said Jessica Sims, a field coordinator with the group Appalachian Voices.

“And certainly concerning as a reality that could happen again,” Sims said.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said he takes a neutral position with the MVP, though he opposed the move to fast track it.

“I have been very unhappy with congress, bypassing normal permitting rules and judicial review, to greenlight the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Kaine said in a call with reporters on June 14.

As future pipeline projects enter the stage, landowners and environmentalists may face another hurdle. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled on a case, that redefined which waters can be protected from development.

“And it was already hard for municipalities and the local community to protect their streams and wetlands, but now it’s much harder,” said Cully Hession, a Virginia Tech engineering professor who teaches students about water systems.

He’s followed MVP’s construction and watched as communities along the route fought to protect their water. He said the new definition of federal waters means some streams and wetlands may lose protected status.

“I think that suddenly we’re gonna have developers want to put pipelines across Virginia, and we really won’t have much to say about it,” Hession said.

Muddy water spurts out from the ground, where clear spring water once flowed, residents say. Another spring nearby was a drinking water source for one home, and it has also now been contaminated, according to Donna Pitt, a volunteer with a community organization, Protect Giles County.
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
Muddy water from a polluted spring in Giles County in February 2024. State officials and MVP determined the spring was affected during construction along the MVP.

With the potential for more pipelines on the horizon, safety advocates are pushing for more strict inspections.

Shortly after MVP resumed construction in 2023, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration flagged MVP for potential safety risks and required the company to do extra inspections on their pipes.

These tests revealed over a hundred potential safety issues, from corrosion problems to dents in the pipe. The fact that these problems were discovered before the pipeline went into service shows that more oversight is needed to protect people, said Bill Caram, executive director with an organization called Pipeline Safety Trust.

“In our mind, because there continue to be pipeline failures, people continue to die from pipeline failures, they should be requiring this of all pipelines that are being built. But they’re not,” Caram said.

The Pipeline Safety Trust was created after the Bellingham disaster in Washington, which killed three people.

The 25th anniversary of that explosion was June 10, which also happens to be the same day MVP declared it had completed construction and requested permission to start transporting gas.

Opponents of MVP and developers both now have their eyes on another pipeline project, the Southgate Extension, which would connect to MVP in Pittsylvania County and transport gas into North Carolina.

Federal regulators have allowed MVP until 2026 to complete Southgate, and it’s unclear at this time which state permits, if any, they may need before they can begin construction.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.
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