As Hurricane Florence arrives, residents of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia hold their breath, wondering where the massive storm surge, howling winds and torrents of rain will hit hardest.
Over 300 miles inland, southwest Virginia residents may also face dangerous flooding, and some worry that Florence may exacerbate the threats from a different, manmade hazard: the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Hurricane Florence is projected to be an “extremely dangerous” storm, poised to inflict life-threatening impacts and it may also dump vast quantities of rain over a limited area after making landfall with catastrophic flooding. One possible target soon is the Appalachian Mountains, including mountainous southwest Virginia — the site of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Those pipes may be exposed as the soil over them is churned off when we have torrential rain. That could lead to pipeline ruptures, with the pipe buckling on itself as the supporting soil under the pipe is washed away.
Along its 303-mile route, a swath 125 feet wide is now being clear-cut; trenches are being opened; pipes 42 inches in diameter are being laid. This heavy-construction scar went through farms and national forests, up and down steep mountain slopes, even across the Appalachian Trail.
Residents along the route have protested the loss of private property and destruction of treasured places, but the pipeline company has secured the right of eminent domain and has so far proved unstoppable.
Where the pipeline crosses steep mountains, erosion is a grave hazard. Locals fear that sediment will choke local streams and rivers, damaging the water sources of cities like Salem and Roanoke, VA as well as private wells and springs serving rural homes. Clearing land and digging trenches has already muddied local streams, choked off intermittent streams, and caused a mudslide that closed a local road, despite erosion control measures taken by the pipeline company. Heavy rainfall poses a particular threat.
Now, with Florence on its way, residents and developers alike worry about what may happen if the hurricane drops torrents of rain. Construction on the MVP was temporarily halted on Tuesday, and the pipeline company said it was focusing on steps to maintain erosion and sediment controls. However, such controls have failed repeatedly in the face of normal rainfall events.
If we have as much rain as they’re predicting, we’re expecting landslides. We’ve already had one road closed by eight inches of mud washing down from a worksite. And that was not an extraordinary rain.
If this were to happen, it could lead to disaster. That’s not just theoretical: A natural gas pipeline exploded in a massive fireball in Beaver County, PA less than a week ago, on Sept. 10, a mere seven days after the pipeline went into operation. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “while an investigation is underway, officials believe a landslide may have ruptured the line.” The cause of the landslide was not reported.
All eyes on Florence – MVP / ACP