It’s been about two years since energy companies began proposing construction of natural gas pipelines crisscrossing West Virginia with promises of jobs and much-needed revenue for financially struggling counties.

The pipelines would transport natural gas from West Virginia to surrounding states. And that has people deep in conversation — whether political or kitchen table. Pipeline proponents and opponents alike are speaking of jobs, energy independence and the environment.

There are at least six pipelines planned for West Virginia, either in the government-approval or developmental stages. Only one of the projects is slated to cross counties in our region, the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

A map shows the pipelines crisscrossing the state like a spider web. The pipelines’ epicenter is the northern West Virginia counties of Wetzel and Marshall.

From there the lines spread in all directions: The Rover and Leach Express pipelines run into Ohio; Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast travel southeast; the WB Xpress heads into Virginia; the Mountaineer Express heads south through several central and southwestern counties and into a neighboring state.

While most of the projects are still in the development phase, two are waiting for a green light from the federal government, Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast.

MVP revamped plans

Before natural gas took a turn downward, companies were promising millions to localities in tax revenue and hundreds of jobs.

But even before natural gas prices went south, the benefits of the pipelines created controversy over economic and environmental impacts.

Last year’s natural gas price drop forced some companies to scale back on earlier promises. For example, the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a partnership between EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc., would have traveled through 10 West Virginia counties, including Monroe, Summers, Greenbrier and Nicholas.

The 300-mile transmission pipeline is slated to start in Wetzel County and connect with another pipeline in Pittsylvania County, Va., delivering natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits in West Virginia and southeastern Ohio.

EQT spokeswoman Natalie Cox said the company is now looking for alternative routes, a normal occurrence in the early stages of seeking federal regulatory approval on pipeline projects.

“From day one of this project, Mountain Valley Pipeline has been committed to identifying a proposed route that has the least overall impact on landowners, the environment and cultural resources,” she said in an earlier statement.

An EQT-funded study stated that from 2015 to 2018, the project owners plan to spend $811 million directly on resources — equipment, materials, labor and services — in West Virginia. This direct spending would translate into $594 million in cumulative Gross Regional Product over the four-year period. 

The MVP project would create more than 4,500 jobs at the peak of construction in 2017; 2,829 of these jobs would be directly associated with the project, 633 jobs would be created along the supply chain and 1,052 jobs would be created in the general economy, the company’s study found.

Another report, commissioned by POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), estimates the total cost to an eight-county region in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia is between $8 billion and $8.9 billion in present value terms.

That figure includes between $65.1 million and $135.5 million in the short term as construction strips forests and other productive land bare, and as private property values decline due to the dangers and inconvenience of living near the pipeline’s route.

Additionally, the counties could lose between $119 million to $131 million each annually after construction due to permanent changes in land cover, lost property tax revenue and hindrance to economic growth in key sectors.

The study focused only on eight of the 17 counties the pipeline is slated to traverse. POWHR said the study’s aim is to refute EQT’s October 2015 study on the pipeline’s economic benefits to Virginia and West Virginia communities.

Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline was expected to start in December 2016 after mandatory approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As of last week, the company was still waiting for FERC approval. Environmentalists are asking the commission to delay an environmental impact study set for release next month.

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