By Cynthia D. Ellis
Our editor prompted me to write about what is new with the MXP…the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline…that mega pipeline that slashed through 14 counties in western West Virginia. He knew that I live about ½ mile from a portion of the 167-mile-long line and maintain a special interest in it.
The answer is, “Not much.” The pipeline was deemed “completed” and went online in 2019. The gas is coursing through the line and surely profits must be occurring.
There is one thing though. Some of us concerned resident warned that slips would happen on the slopes in our counties. Slopes have migrated throughout the construction period and continue today. These have affected roads and streams and, of course, given the terrain, will likely not cease. West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has levied small fines upon the offending gas company; environmentalists pointed out that the fines were too small…and the slips persist.
The gas company [TC, formerly TransCanada, formerly Columbia] is required to offer up regular reports to FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission]. Citizens can receive those reports. They have become quite repetitive. Recent accounts, on sections of the line called “spreads,” and identified by mile post [MP] numbers, say things such as,
1. March 16, 2021, Spread 2, MP 29.74 —A new slip was discovered in a restored section of the ROW. The land movement was observed to have originated near the toe of the slope, overwhelming ECDs and migrating off-ROW. The disturbed area is approximately 100′ by 100′. No resources were observed to be impacted. The slip was reported to the DEP Spill Report Hotline, reference #52-13119. On March 23, 2021, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Inspector conducted an inspection of the Spread 2 ROW in the company of Columbia’s Environmental Inspector. Areas requiring attention were observed and are being addressed by the contractor. A Notice of Violation is anticipated following the inspection.
2. Also in March 2021, “slip tracker” noted new slips on 5 spreads with a total of 16 reported.
3. Feb 24 2021, Spread 7, MP 140, Putnam Co., “Hogsback” The slip is not impacting any resources and the LEI indicated that the slip will be monitored over the winter and will be permanently stabilized in the spring when mechanical crews return to the ROW. [Personal note: The Hogsback slip, 7 miles from my home, in its original collapse, caused the families in two residences to evacuate and eventually be relocated with compensation by Columbia, after litigation.]
4. And, in December through February, slips were reported in Wirt, Wetzel, Cabell, and Jackson Counties; with 2 slips reported in Doddridge.
So…these happenstances are nothing new, but landowners and communities along the route of the MXP have never stopped experiencing concerns and inconvenience due to the continued movement of soil along its path.
In the bigger picture, there have been some possible pro-citizen changes in FERC itself, which issues permits for these pipeline projects. On March 18, FERC held its first hearing toward establishing an Office of Public Participation. Some general remarks were made about the MXP, and West Virginia was represented by Maury Johnson, who has been active in opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline in our state and in Virginia.
But we are also watching the appointment of Sarah Venuto, an executive with Duke Energy and a former natural gas industry lobbyist, as director of the office of FERC’s external affairs. Ms. Venuto had been an aide to WV Senator Joe Manchin whose views on energy trend toward continued use of fossil fuels.
WV Congressman David McKinley recently held a “forum” on energy. He lamented the opposition to gas pipelines and spoke of job opportunities, but, as part of reporting on that forum, “According to West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, employment for pipeline construction in the state fell considerably in 2020 as the Mountaineer Xpress pipeline finished construction in 2019 and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project was canceled due to mounting legal challenges.”
I’m reminded of the high numbers of out-of-state license plates on the construction trucks that we saw here. I do not know of anyone who has gained a long-term job related to the MXP.
The water testing surveys, of our local streams, do continue with helpful volunteers enlisted by Trout Unlimited and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and they are now using a new smartphone map app to automatically upload photos of creek conditions along with the other data collected.
Some of us who have maintained contact with the gas company have received a booklet titled “Pipeline Safety Information for Excavators and Farmers.” In it, warnings are issued for events such as leaks and ruptures.
This may show that they expect there could be more problems.
So do we.