Curtis Tate Published

Watchdog: Feds Should Look At Mountain Valley Pipeline Rupture

Two sections of pipe rest on the ground as a yellow sign warns people of pressure testing for a natural gas pipeline.
Sections of pipe lay above ground at Bent Mountain, Virginia, on Friday, May 10, 2024.
Curtis Tate / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A pipeline safety watchdog said federal regulators “should be on notice” about a pressure test failure on the Mountain Valley Pipeline earlier this month.

A section of pipe burst during hydrostatic testing on May 1 at Bent Mountain, Virginia, releasing large volumes of municipal water and sediment into streams and on nearby properties.

The incident was initially reported to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality by a landowner. It took days for state and federal regulators, as well as the pipeline’s builder, to publicly address the incident.

The Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group, wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday requesting that the agency seek more information about the failed test.

Equitrans Midstream, the company building the 303-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline, has asked FERC for approval to begin operations by the end of the month.

The pipeline is intended to convey 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day from West Virginia to Virginia.

A group of 18 Virginia lawmakers asked FERC to deny the approval following the failed test.

The pipeline watchdog, while stopping short of calling for FERC to deny the approval, said the regulator should seek more information about the failure at Bent Mountain and others from the company and its federal regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“Pipeline Safety Trust believes that FERC should be on notice about this failure, and that it should request more information from both MVP and PHMSA about this test and other hydrotests conducted on all segments of the pipe,” the letter said.

The pipeline builder has an agreement with PHMSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, dating to October that requires it to fix any problems with sections of pipe that were exposed to weather and sunlight for prolonged periods.

The pipeline’s opponents, including environmental groups and landowners, have noted that exposure to the elements can degrade the pipe’s corrosion-resistant coating.

Landowners in the Bent Mountain area said the failed section of pipe was installed in 2018.

“It should also seek information about the remedial actions taken for this segment and whether MVP has taken care to ensure that similar weaknesses or abnormalities are addressed in a manner that meets PHMSA’s safety standards,” wrote the Pipeline Safety Trust’s Erin Sutherland, policy and program director/counsel, to FERC.

The Pipeline Safety Trust was founded after a fatal 1999 gasoline pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington. Its executive director, Bill Caram, testified to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month as Congress considers a bill to reauthorize PHMSA.

In a letter to FERC also dated Friday, Equitrans Midstream’s Todd Normane, senior vice president and legal counsel, wrote the failed test demonstrated the safety practices the company is following.

“It is important for the public to know that Mountain Valley is committed to the safe and responsible construction and operation of the MVP project,” the letter said, “and hydrostatic testing is one component of a robust inspection and testing process designed to ensure system integrity.”