The major field trip of the Fall Review was the tour of a small part of the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, led by Rick Webb and a team from the Compliance Surveillance Initiative. After an introductory program at the Linwood Public Library, our caravan of seven vehicles made three stops, seeing what we could see from the public road of where pipe had been laid. We didn’t go on the pipeline route itself. Even had it not been trespassing, the route is so steep that walking up it would have been challenging.
Construction of the ACP has stalled due to successful legal challenge to flawed permits. There has been no construction since December 2018 – except for excavation, pipe installation, and other construction activity described by Dominion as “stabilization.” So far, West Virginia has had 18 miles of tree felling, 28 miles of earth disturbance, and 21 miles of pipe installation.
This tour focused on the Upper Elk watershed, where about 5 miles of pipe have been installed, including one stream crossing.
If Dominion is able to proceed, construction of the ACP will enter a new phase of environmental risk as the pipeline corridor crosses
- hydrologically connected karst
- the steep and rugged terrain of the Allegheny Front
The route of the ACP first encounters significant karst in upper Elk River watershed, a 92 square mile area that is entirely underlain and interconnected by karst groundwater flow systems. The risk to karst groundwater in this area is compounded by the presence of the highly erodible and slip-prone soils and rocks of the Mauch Chunk formation.
The currently planned ACP route will cross the Allegheny Front area along the divide between Slaty Fork of the Elk River and Clover Creek of the Greenbrier River. If construction ever reaches the Clover Creek watershed it faces more high risk construction due to
- long steep slopes
- high-excavation requirements
- highly erodible, slip-prone soil
- interconnected karst groundwater
- sensitive aquatic ecosystem
At the bottom of the slopes the pipeline will cross sinkholes and other karst features. Dye tracing has shown extensive connections between multiple sinking points and downstream springs. The Clover Creek watershed supports multiple sensitive aquatic species, including endemic cave-dwelling invertebrate species.
How Steep Is It?
One reaction to the tour of a part of the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was, “How can they build it here? It’s steep as a horse’s face!”
But is it? Are the mountains that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline crosses really as steep as a horse’s face?
Horses’ faces are, of course, not of uniform steepness. There is, however, a widely accepted standard in what is called “horse conformation”, the standards used in judging horse competitions. It shows an “ideal head”; the face of that ideal head has a slope of approximately 59° or 171%.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, on the other hand includes more than a mile of slope exceeding 60% with segments ranging from 26 to 267 feet in length. Thus far, there is only one short length (less than 30-feet) of ACP pipe buried where slopes are 60% or steeper. There is nothing that even approaches 171% (or 59°).
Thus, the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not literally as steep as a horse’s face. Like “dumb as a box of rocks” or “crooked as a bag of fishhooks”, “steep as a horse’s face” is only metaphorically true. It is not a unit of measurement by which we can measure the steepness of the pipeline route.
At the same time, it’s steep. Too steep to comfortably walk up without zigzagging. Steep enough to require extraordinary measures to keep slopes in place. Steep enough that when one sees the route the only reasonable reaction is “Darn, that’s steep!”