Two recent announcements portend even more risk for citizens along the unneeded and unjust Mountain Valley Pipeline. The MVP announced it may increase volume from 2 to 2.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d), and the EPA announced that it is eliminating pipeline leakage rules. More gas and more leaks is a recipe for disaster.
A recent study found that natural gas transmission lines, like the MVP, average losses of 0.35% through leaks and intentional discharges, with 90% of the losses from leaks. A 0.35% loss at 2 bcf/d is 7 million cubic feet per day. At 2.5 bcf/d those losses increase to 8.75 million cubic feet per day. Relaxing leak standards will likely further increase these already high volume losses.
Everything that would leak or be discharged from the MVP is a pollutant. This pollution would enter our environment, and could enter our bodies through inhalation or ingestion.
The natural gas that would be lost from the MVP is around 95% methane. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. Over a 20-year period methane is 84 times a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane levels in our atmosphere are already 2.5 times higher than prior to the industrial revolution, and higher than they have been in at least the past 800,000 years. These levels are expected to continue to rise if natural gas use continues. This will further worsen climate change.
Methane is also highly explosive. More pressure required to move the increased volume of gas in the MVP would result in an even more catastrophic explosion should the pipe fail. Leaks that continue as a result of the EPA rule elimination could result in pipe failure and explosion.
The remaining 5% of the gas stream is a witch’s brew of carcinogens, mutagens, toxins and radioactive materials with significant health and environmental impacts.
It includes ethane, propane, butane, pentane, hexane, heptane, octane, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, benzoic acid and naphthaline. All have negative health impacts, and many are extremely dangerous, even in small amounts.
The gas stream also includes radioactive substances. These include, but may not be limited to radon-222, lead-210 and polonium-210. EPA has determined that radon-222 causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in our country. Lead is an extremely toxic metal, and even in its nonradioactive state it is listed second on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry priority list, only behind arsenic. One microgram of polonium-210 is more than enough to kill a person.
All of these pollutants are likely to be discharged every day from the MVP.
The environmental impact statement for the MVP deceptively states that because natural gas is buoyant any leaks would rapidly disperse in the air.
The leaked methane may mix with our atmosphere, but it will not dissipate. It will remain for decades, all the while adding to catastrophic climate change, which we know is just beginning to wreak havoc across our planet. Climate change will get worse…much worse.
Methane is lighter than air. But all of the other pollutants in the gas stream are heavier than air, and much heavier than methane. I believe that these pollutants will separate from the methane, and fall to the ground during the ongoing leaks and discharges. These pollutants could accumulate on properties and communities all along the MVP.
Another and perhaps even more sinister negative consequence of the MVP is that lead-210 and polonium-210 will form scales inside the MVP pipes over time, and due to radioactive decay, radiation levels in the pipes will greatly increase far into the future. This radiation might not be dangerous as long as it is contained in the pipes. However, there is no approved plan to remove the pipes from the ground when the MVP eventually stops transporting natural gas. If left in the ground, the pipes will eventually collapse, and this radiation and other residual pollutants will be released into our environment and onto future residents.
Federal and state regulatory agencies, including the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, are aware of these issues. They have dismissed them as less than significant. I think they are missing the mark, at the behest of this polluting industry, and thereby threatening citizens along the MVP, and our planet as well.
I would suggest that citizens contact these agencies, and elected officials, and demand protection from the dangerous and polluting MVP through adequate public health and environmental regulation.
Limpert is a retired environmental regulator who formerly lived in Bath County along the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He now lives in Maryland.