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Pipeline Impacts on Appalachian Trail Detailed

Conservationists say they're worried about what a huge gas pipeline would do to the Appalachian Trail. (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)
Conservationists say they're worried about what a huge gas pipeline would do to the Appalachian Trail. (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)
September 20, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – A new report details the impacts a huge natural gas pipeline would have on the Appalachian Trail, and some of America's most cherished forest lands.

Part of the Too Wild to Drill report looks at where the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) runs along the Appalachian Trail near the Virginia-West Virginia border.

Laura Belleville, vice president for conservation and trail management at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says the MVP would put a 125-foot-wide bare strip through what had been undisturbed woods – close to some of the most visited and beautiful sections of the trail.

"Angel's Rest, Kelly Knob, Dragon's Tooth,” she points out. “A large swath through what was an intact forested area, and that goes on for miles."

Federal regulators look likely to give initial approval to the MVP this week, although the pipeline will face challenges in court and before state environmental agencies.

The energy companies behind the pipeline say it's needed to bring Marcellus gas to eastern markets.

Belleville says it would cause erosion and forest fragmentation, as well as impacting views.

She says three million people visit the trail each year. But Belleville says the industrial scale pipeline project would break up and damage the now intact forest landscapes, degrading water and harming wildlife.

"When you remove acres and acres of intact forested area, you will get a lot of erosion coming off of very, very steep slope,” she states. “There are also some species that require large, intact areas of forest."

One issue for pipeline opponents has been the vulnerable karst geology of the region. Limestone bedrock often is eroded away by water – making it subject to slips, sinkholes and cave-ins.

Belleville says the area is also seismically active – pointing to an earthquake in Giles County last week.

"It registered a 3.7 on the Richter scale,” she says. “What kind of impact could an earthquake have on a 42-inch pipeline going through karst habitat?"

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has withdrawn water pollution permits for the MVP. Belleville says the Appalachian Trail Conservancy hopes Virginia regulators will do likewise, although officials there have been more deferential.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA