National Forest Pipeline: Introduction


  • Failure to install required runoff controls
  • Careless issuance of open-trench waivers
  • Lack of inspection and enforcement

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is one of three proposals for construction of large natural gas pipelines across the mountains, valleys, streams, and rivers of the central  Appalachian mountain region. Each of these 42-inch-diameter pipelines would be larger than any built before in this region or anywhere else in this type of environment. The potential for damage to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is extreme.

Industry spokesmen assure us that pipeline construction across even steep and rugged mountains can be done in an environmentally responsible manner. They cite long lists of permits and authorizations that they must obtain and strict regulations with which they must comply. They ask us to believe that we can rely on the high standards of pipeline construction companies and the careful oversight of regulatory agencies to prevent environmental damage.

Our observations lead us to a different conclusion.

Although environmental protection is clearly a public-relations priority for the pipeline industry, it is not a priority in practice. Although protective regulations are on the books, compliance is lax, and the regulatory system is remarkably ineffective.

With so much at stake, we cannot rely on “business as usual.” We have initiated case studies in an effort to understand:

  • The environmental laws and regulations that apply to pipeline construction
  • How these laws and regulations are actually applied
  • How it is that implementation of environmental policy fails so dramatically
  • What we can do to make the system work

In this case study we examine a Columbia Gas of Virginia pipeline upgrade project in Virginia’s Giles County. Although this pipeline project is relatively small by comparison to the three proposed trans Appalachian pipelines, it provides a relevant and informative case study subject.

Different segments of this pipeline are under the jurisdiction of different land management and regulatory agencies, including the Forest Service, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ), and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (WVDEP). These agencies will also have responsibilities related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other proposed pipelines.

This case study is focused on a section of the pipeline that crosses Peters Mountain in the Jefferson National Forest. The agencies with primary regulatory responsibility for this part of this pipeline project are the Forest Service and the VADEQ.

It would be reasonable to expect that the highest standards of performance and regulatory oversight would apply to a pipeline construction project on national forest land. Instead, this case study provides striking evidence of both careless construction practices and regulatory system failure.

This case study describes the lack of care and oversight associated with the Giles County pipeline upgrade project. It is clear that none of the responsible parties met their regulatory and environmental stewardship obligations —not Columbia Gas of Virginia, not the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and not the Forest Service.

This case study confirms and increases our concerns about the environmental risk posed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the other mega pipelines proposed to cross the Appalachians. How can we rely on a regulatory system that is apparently incapable of dealing effectively with even one small project across only one mountain?