Curtis Tate Published

Federal, State Agencies Quiet About Mountain Valley Pipeline Failure

A section of damage pipe secured to a flatbed truck, pictured from inside someone's car.
A section of damaged pipe.
Grace Terry

This story has been updated with comment from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The state and federal regulatory agencies that oversee the Mountain Valley Pipeline have said little about a rupture last week during a pressure test.

Groups that oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline say last week’s failure in Roanoke County, Virginia, shows the risks the project poses to communities and property.

Because it is undergoing testing now, Wednesday’s rupture only released water. But the pipeline’s builder, Equitrans Midstream, has asked federal regulators for permission to begin operations at the end of this month.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting asked the company for comment and has yet to receive a reply. We also reached out to the principal state and federal agencies that oversee the project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have not replied.

After this story was first published, Irina Calos, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said the breach occurred at 10 a.m. on May 1, during hydrostatic testing of the pipe.

“A section of pipe ruptured during this test, and municipal water used in the testing was discharged through the rupture,” she said.

Equitrans Midstream has removed the accumulated sediment, she said. She added that the incident would not affect any state permit approvals.

The public initially became aware of the incident because it was reported to a state database by a landowner.

Jessica Sims, Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, says her group has received very little information about the pipeline’s failure.

“Much more of a response would be helpful for community members to understand what happens now, what happens next,” she said, “What does this mean for the testing schedule? What does this mean for the overall integrity of the project?”

If FERC approves Equitrans Midstream’s application, 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day could be moving through the 303-mile pipeline next month from West Virginia into Virginia.

Had the rupture occurred then, the public would know much more about what happened and why. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated a 2012 gas pipeline explosion in Sissonville, West Virginia, producing a detailed report.

But Sims says the state agency in Virginia doesn’t even publicly say when testing on the MVP will occur. She also says Freedom of Information Act requests to PHMSA, a small agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, are taking months to complete.

She says state and federal regulators need to be more transparent.

“If there is a problem, how will the community know what has happened?” Sims asked. “And what is the plan in place to communicate that?”