Monday numbers: A closer look at the Mountain Valley Pipeline (and the doublespeak regulators employ to describe its environmental impacts)

By: - March 2, 2020 6:00 am

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has rarely met a pipeline it didn’t like, and the MVP Southgate project is no exception.

In its 500-plus-page Final Environmental Impact Statement the commission determined that the 70-mile project — 48 miles of which will run through Rockingham and Alamance counties — won’t significantly impact the environment, as long as contractors properly mitigate the damage.

And there would be damage. In fact, the language of the FEIS details, albeit often in bureaucratic/Orwellian terms, the long-term effects on wildlife, forests, habitats and drinking water supplies.

Consider the following excerpts from the report along with their translations into everyday English:

FERC Report: After clearcutting trees and understory to build the pipeline, there would be “long-term to permanent impacts on woody vegetation, as it may take several decades for the vegetation to reach maturation.”

Translation: it will take years and years for the forest to regrow.

Report: The “edge effect” — changes in habitats along the boundary between natural and developed land — could alter plant, insect and animal species. Or as FERC put it, “17.2 acres of interior forest would be permanently converted to an ‘herbaceous state.’”

Translation: This portion of the forest would be permanently removed, replaced by grasses and scrub.

Report: “While adverse and long-term impacts on wetlands would occur, the project would not result in any loss of wetlands.”

Translation: Technically, that’s true. The wetlands would not be filled in, (which would require a federal permit) so the acres would not be “lost.” But the function of the wetlands, as habitat, flood control, water filtration, could be compromised and damaged.

Report: “Displaced wildlife could experience inter- and intra-specific competition, lower reproductive success and overall increased rates of stress injury and mortality. Wildlife would be expected to return and colonize successfully restored habitats” in one to five years.

Translation: Wildlife, having lost their homes and food supplies, would have fewer offspring. They would be more likely to die prematurely. But they’ll return some day, hopefully.

Report: As for birds, “because forest habitat takes a comparatively longer time to regenerate there would be reduced bird diversity, smaller populations, and smaller suitable microhabitats. … Noise from construction could lead to nest abandonment, egg failure, reduced growth and survival, malnutrition or starvation of the young.” These impacts would be “temporary.”

Translation: Birds, already threatened by the effects of climate change, would abandon their nests and their young while trying to find new habitats. But they’ll return some day, hopefully.

An FEIS is not subject to public comment; those were made on the draft. But  before the project can begin, the NC Department of Environmental Quality must approve several permits, including a key water quality permit, also known as a 401. It could be summer before DEQ decides on whether to approve it.

48.2 — Miles of pipeline that would extend through North Carolina

16 to 24 — Diameter of the pipeline

18 — Diameter of a basketball hoop

2.3 million — Gallons of water to be removed from the Dan River for construction needs

2,523 — Feet of the Dan River that would be crossed by the pipeline

1,619 — Feet of Stony Creek Reservoir, a main drinking water supply, that would be crossed

260.7 — Acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance affected by the project, Rockingham County

284.2 — In Alamance County

21 — Number of waterbodies containing fisheries of special concern that would be affected by the project

1030 — Number of acres disturbed during construction and operation

25.7 — Acres of wetlands that would be temporarily affected

17.2 — Acres of interior forest that would be permanently converted to an “herbaceous state”

206 — Peak number of local jobs, pipeline construction

442 — Peak number of local jobs to build interconnects

112,857 — Tons of greenhouse gases, in carbon dioxide equivalent, emitted during construction along the entire route

156 — Tons of fugitive greenhouse gas house emissions, during operations

-0.3% — Estimated decrease in natural gas consumption, residential sector

5.6% — Estimated increase in solar photovoltaic energy, residential

27 — Number of occupied houses within 50 feet of the pipeline

4 — Occupied mobile homes

2 — Stores

1 — Smokehouse

Sources: FERC FEIS, US Energy Information Administration

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.