The Jordan Lake watershed is in the bulls-eye of a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cross the drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the MVP Southgate project and is holding two public meetings this week to receive comments.
If built, the MVP Southgate would be a 74-mile extension of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, which starts at a fracked gas operation in West Virginia. Owned by MVP, LLC, a subsidiary of EQM Midstream Partners, a company based near Pittsburgh, the main MVP line is under construction in Virginia, where its has racked up 300 water quality violations.
The Southgate project would enter North Carolina in Rockingham County, near Eden, cross the Dan River, burrow under the Stony Creek Reservoir and travel southeast, hugging the Haw River to Alamance County. The Haw River lies within the Jordan Lake Watershed and feeds the lake, a major drinking water supply for Cary, Apex and other cities and towns.
The purpose of a DEIS is to assess the potential and likely environmental effects of the pipeline on waterways, endangered species, habitats, forests and communities along its route. After FERC receives public comment on the draft, it will issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Like FERC’s environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in eastern North Carolina, the DEIS glosses over or ignores serious and cumulative impacts of MVP Southgate. Along its route, it would cross 224 waterbodies, including three major ones, as well as 27 acres of wetlands. According to the 700-page document, the project would cause long-term, permanent impacts to 615 acres of forest, 12 acres of protected riparian forested lands in the Jordan Lake watershed, and 1,439 acres of wildlife habitat.
The company is also proposing to run the pipeline parallel to and within 15 feet of a waterbody in 28 locations, including within the Jordan Lake watershed, where rules require a 50-foot buffer.
Emily Sutton, the Haw Riverkeeper, noted that the company proposes using horizontal drilling beneath the Stony Creek Reservoir, the drinking water supply for the City of Burlington. Because of concerns about the toxicity of pipe coatings, federal regulators have asked owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for more data about those materials.
The pipeline also would cross the Dan River, already injured by the 2014 coal ash disaster, as well as tributaries to the flood-prone Haw River, which is polluted with emerging contaminants such as 1,4-dioxane. The Haw also has problems with excessive sedimentation, which degrades water quality.
Construction of the MVP will use about 6 million gallons of water, but the DEIS does not pinpoint the source, which prevents federal regulators from assessing the environmental effects of those withdrawals.
Sutton said she is also concerned that during construction contractors will dam some of the waterbodies to install the pipeline. “If they release all that water at once it will drown aquatic life and the velocity of the stream will cut the banks away.“
The DEIS says that contractors will restore and maintain the health of environment “when practical.”
MVP Southgate, LLC, says the pipeline is necessary to transmit gas to central and western North Carolina. However, in a November 2018 letter to FERC, NC Department of Environmental Quality Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman questioned the validity of the project. “We remain unconvinced the project is necessary,” she wrote.
Rep. Jerry Carter, a Republican from Rockingham County, and other elected officials, including the Alamance County Commissioners, have also said they oppose the project. The main proponent, Copland Fabrics, in Burlington, said it needed the gas, but the company has since declared bankruptcy. Businesses that wanted to tap directly into the line would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.
The DEIS omits several important factors, including the the environmental justice burden the pipeline would impose on the Black community of Green Level.
Nor does the document address the role of pipelines in climate change. Scientific studies have shown that methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, leaks both from the fracked gas wellhead, as well as along the route, at rates greater than previously thought. DEQ’s Clean Energy Plan, released for public comment Aug. 16, notes that pipeline construction also releases carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, through emissions from trucks, machinery, which is not accounted for.
To proceed, the project must receive a water quality permit, known as a 404, from the US Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a state permit, known as a 401. But the Trump administration released proposed rules last week that would restrict states’ authority to reject or amend 401 permits. State regulators could consider environmental impacts only from direct discharges associated with pipelines, but not sedimentation and erosion.
A second Trump administration proposal, announced last week, would weaken federal law by requiring regulators to consider the “economic effects” of mitigating the environmental effects on endangered and threatened species. If the proposal passes legal muster, it could reduce protections for these species, such as the Yellow Lampmussel, along the MVP Southgate route.