Residents Raise Alarm Over Aging and Deteriorating Pipes Along Mountain Valley Pipeline

A Mountain View with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy logo

By Olivia Miller

Pipes that have been sitting exposed to the elements since the early days of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have caused residents and environmental groups to raise alarm bells as construction of the 303-mile pipeline has swiftly resumed. If completed, the pipeline will carry gas under 1,400 pounds of pressure across 75 miles of the steepest slopes in Appalachia and more than 200 miles with high landslide susceptibility. 

At a particular site in Franklin, Virginia, landowners say unburied pipe has been submerged in standing water, spending years rising and falling with water levels. 

The many legal battles Mountain Valley Pipeline has faced since construction began in 2018 have led to significant construction delays. As the seasons have passed over the last five years, landowners have watched uncovered pipes bear the brunt of Appalachian weather.

Environmental groups and advocates have been urging the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to hold Equitran Midstream Corp., developers of Mountain Valley Pipeline, accountable to meet the latest pipeline safety standards. 

PHMSA, an agency under the Department of Transportation, was created in 2004 to oversee 3.4 million miles of pipeline in the United States and regulate the shipment of hazardous materials.

On June 22, 2023, 26 environmental groups sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, and PHMSA urging the agencies to impose “the highest possible safety and environmental standards available to your agencies for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline before any ground operations resume.” 

The letter states, “We believe most, if not all, of these pipes were coated between six and seven years ago. Yet it appears that pipes have not been buried and have been stored outdoors for years—uncovered and exposed to the elements, including UV rays, rain, snow, wide ranges of temperatures, and wind. There is likely deterioration of both the exterior coating and the uncoated interiors. Pipe and coating degradation, cracking, and corrosion increase the risks of pipeline failure and explosion.”

Cathodic protection is the term given for the protective coating on pipelines. It is used to prevent corrosion of pipe buried below ground. Regulations set forth by PHMSA require cathodic protection to begin within a year of construction, but there are reported sections of MVP that have been buried for more than a year without cathodic protection. 

According to the National Association of Pipe Coating Applicators, “Above ground storage of coated pipe in excess of six months without additional Ultraviolet protection is not recommended.”

The developers of Mountain Valley Pipeline are rushing to see the pipeline operational by the end of 2023. Meanwhile, landowners are worried about an increased risk of explosions or leaks as the pipeline will operate across their farms and backyards—threatening their lives, homes and communities.

On Aug. 11, PHMSA issued a “Notice of Proposed Safety Order” to Equitrans Midstream Corp., where the agency said Mountain Valley Pipeline requires a “comprehensive evaluation to identify and remediate the integrity issues, mitigate the risk and protect public safety, property, and the environment.” The developers have until Sept. 11 to respond to the order.

In the order, PHMSA stated, “The MVP construction project has been halted for long periods of time while pipe segments have been buried without cathodic protection installed, and without other corrosion control processes and inspections at different junctures.”

PHMSA also noted that previous inspection data from MVP was being recorded on an outdated form that does not represent current processes and procedures governing coating remediation work.PHMSA stated, “These delays have resulted in the fusion bonded epoxy (FBE) coating on much of the of the pipe left staged on the project right-of-way (ROW) exposed to potential maleffects (solar oxidation) from the sun’s UV radiation. FBE coating on pipe is not intended to be left exposed to UV radiation for extended periods of time prior to being buried. (National Association of Pipe Coating Applicators (NAPCA) Bulleting 12-78-04.)”

As construction carries on, developers of Mountain Valley Pipeline have yet to respond to the order.