Curtis Tate Published

Safety, Health Doubts Linger Near Mountain Valley Pipeline’s Path

A woman with binoculars looks out on a construction site with heavy machinery and exposed dirt, with green hills in the background.
Kathy Chandler, a resident of Bent Mountain, Virginia, looks at the site of a failed pressure test on the Mountain Valley Pipeline near her property.
Curtis Tate/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Mountain Valley Pipeline could start moving natural gas anytime now, but the people who live near it still have questions about their safety and health.

On Tuesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the pipeline to begin operating.

That’s despite a flood of comments on the commission’s public docket in recent weeks opposing or seeking to delay the decision.

Last month, the pipe burst during water pressure testing in Roanoke County, Virginia, and state and federal regulators haven’t shared much information about what happened.

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Equitrans Midstream, which built the 303-mile pipeline, didn’t give a timeline for when gas would begin moving through it. 

“Final preparations are underway to begin commercial operations,” she said in an email.

People in affected communities are now wondering what to expect, including Russell Chisholm, of Newport, Virginia, co-director of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights.

“I think it’s weighing heavily on everybody up and down the 303 miles of the route,” he said in a call Wednesday with reporters.

Chisholm said there were likely to be problems with leaks that could affect residents’ health.

Autumn Crowe, interim executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said safety remained a concern for communities near the pipeline.

“It’s important for the public to know, it’s important for emergency responders to know, it’s important for everyone along the route to know when and how much gas is going through the pipeline,” she said on the call.

Jessica Sims, Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, said regulators had not done enough to reassure the public of the pipeline’s integrity or share sufficient detail about the failed pressure test on May 1.

“The public is still in the dark about important safety and environmental considerations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and FERC,” she said.

The groups conceded they had few legal options remaining to challenge the pipeline, but said they would continue to monitor it.