Monongahela National Forest, environmentalists react to natural gas pipeline plans
A few weeks ago, Greenbrier District Ranger for the Monongahela National Forest Jack Tribble received a request to survey the forest from Dominion Resources for its proposed $5 billion, 550-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from West Virginia to North Carolina.
The survey letter is the same one that property owners received months ago from the company, with 60 days to approve or deny surveying, Tribble said.
“We’re just getting that letter, the same letter that they got, my guess is over the summer or late fall, we’re just getting now. So we’re just reacting to the letter saying, ‘can we come onto your land and survey.’”
Tribble said the Forest Service has decided to hold a series of public meetings in conjunction with George Washington National Forest in Virginia, which is also in the pipeline’s proposed path. A Forest Service pipeline project lead will be hired to coordinate public input, Tribble said.
Tribble hopes to hear public input on the proposed location of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, slated to cross Cheat Mountain, Shavers Mountain, and Burner Mountain, all part of the Allegheny Mountain range along the West Virginia and Virginia state lines, and all with an elevation above 4,000 feet. He specifically called Cheat Mountain a sensitive area.
Established in 1920, Monongahela National Forest spans across 10 counties in the state and includes eight species of birds, bats, salamanders, and plants that are federally registered as threatened or endangered.
“When somebody asks to go onto public land to do a survey we can say no if there’s something detrimental to going out and surveying, but that’s very rare. This is not a matter of us saying yes or no to surveying, this is more of a, we want public opinion on the location.”
Frank Mack, a spokesperson with Dominion, said that safety is a top concern for the company.
“We’re going to have people walking the pipeline. We’re going to have aerial patrols on a regular basis. We do pigging, which is internal computerized pipeline inspection, which insures the integrity of the inside of the pipe to make sure it’s not cracked or corroded. There’s pipeline coating and we also have a gas control group that monitors our entire system 24/7. So we have somebody looking at it at all times,” Mack said.
“Not that we can guarantee that nothing will ever happen, but because of a variety of programs and methods that we use and continue to update and with additional input from the federal government, we feel confident that the pipeline’s going to be safe.”
Elise Keaton, education and outreach coordinator for Greenbrier River Watershed Association, said the pipeline is dangerous and detrimental the region’s natural resources. A pipeline of this size, 42-inches, has never been constructed in such mountainous terrain.
“I would ask them to show us an example of a perfect pipeline that’s never had a leak, never had an explosion, never had any environmental impact, and I think they’ll be hard-pressed to do that, so they can tell us that there are a lot of safety measures that go into that, but that may not be the case,” Keaton said.
Tribble said there have been no safety issues to his knowledge with the existing pipeline operated by Columbia Natural Gas in the forest.
“We have timber sales; we have a lot more disturbance than a pipeline would be. We’re a working forest,” Tribble said.
Keaton said the concept of a “working forest” goes against the idea of National Forest properties.
“What do we mean by protected land? That land is protected for a reason. That’s some of the most ecologically fragile and diverse land in the hemisphere, if not on the planet,” Keaton said.
Twelve tracks of land in Pocahontas County are included in the pipeline “study corridor”. The company plans to submit its preferred route to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) next summer of 2015. FERC has the ultimate say in approval or denial of the permit for the pipeline.
Fifty-eight percent of the 12 tracks of land in Pocahontas County are approved for survey, according to Dominion Resources. The remaining 42 percent of the 12 tracks denied permission to survey. Across the entire pipeline, about 72 percent of landowners have given permission to survey.
For property owners that have denied permission, the company will not be entering the property at this time.
“If a land owner’s very strong about not giving us permission, we’re going to leave it at that at that point, but at some point we’ll have to go to court to get permission,” Mack said. “It’s also helpful for them and in their best interest to give us permission so then we try to avoid some things on their property that they request.”
Keaton called the threat to obtain a court order to survey a land owner’s property an intimidation tactic by the company.
“Again we would reiterate, do not sign anything before seeking legal advice and do not believe the gas companies when they tell you it’s in your best interest to do so,” Keaton said.