I have always viewed it as my responsibility to pass on Mt. Rush Farm, our business and property in Buckingham County, VA, to the fifth generation in as good as — or better — condition than I had received it. I never imagined that in the United States, where we pride ourselves on improving our lives through hard work, another business could jeopardize our legacy and future.
The proposed 42-inch, high-pressure Atlantic Coast Pipeline, though, would rip through our property for one mile, scarring our farm, endangering our precious water supply and threatening everything generations of my family have built.
Dominion Energy and its partners want to build this massive fracked-gas pipeline at a cost of $5 billion–$6 billion across more than 600 miles of land in Virginia and other states. The pipeline would pass near several of my family’s wells, and cross our streams, some of the more than 700 stream– and wetland-crossings in the commonwealth. These crossings include some of the most pristine waters in the heart of the largest remaining wild landscape in the Eastern United States.
As compensation for taking our land, the pipeline’s builders offered a one-time payment, but no guarantees of compensation when gas leaks into our water supply, or worse, an explosion happens.
There is also no compensation for the annual reduction of income we can earn from our land. Nor will they share any of their ongoing earnings with us.
Instead, they will saddle us with a major disruption, place us in daily and long-term danger, and cause our every future decision to hinge on their infrastructure. They’ve shown little respect for those who have tirelessly nurtured this farm, merely viewing us as a vessel for their own profits. From the outset, they touted their ability to take our land through eminent domain and denied our requests to move the pipeline to the eastern border of our property to reduce the danger to my family and the ongoing economic losses.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was established more than 30 years ago, but has been historically underfunded, impeding its ability to fully develop and enforce safe pipeline building and operation regulations.
Standards are lower in rural areas, allowing, for example, pipe only two-thirds as thick as those used in populated areas, and safety cut-off valves every 20 miles apart versus the three miles required in urban areas.
Government data show high rates of pipeline failure. Regardless, pipeline builders continue to put pipes in the ground at unprecedented rates, and regulators have not addressed the many risks imposed by new, much larger diameter pipes under much higher pressure or new building techniques. The de-prioritization of the danger this poses to my safety, my income and net worth, and my water supply, which my business relies on, is unacceptable.
While the state Department of Environmental Quality has a duty to carefully examine pipeline plans to ensure the environment, especially our vital water, is protected, Virginia is not meeting this mandate. State regulators promised they would study every water crossing individually. Instead, the DEQ has ceded the responsibility to the Trump administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — with no accountability — to uphold a general nationwide standard. Recently, during the construction of another gas pipeline in western Virginia, the state did not even inspect it until citizens complained about erosion and sedimentation clogging their streams. It is still not completely fixed.
My family, neighbors and countless other landowners are terribly worried about what would happen if the massive Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the similarly ill-conceived Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed a few counties to the west in Virginia — with almost 400 water crossings — are simultaneously under construction. How can a handful of state inspectors possibly give these projects adequate oversight?
This company and our government are effectively sacrificing us — exposing us to tremendous daily and long-term risk for one-time compensation, limiting current and future uses of our own land, neglecting to update safety requirements, and failing to adequately fund safety oversight and environmental protection. With our neighbors, I fight for our rights and negotiate for our security and the environmental protections that we’ll need for the next 50-plus years, but we don’t know how this will end.
We need the State Water Control Board, which has the obligation to protect our water and the authority to reject or approve the water permits for the Atlantic pipeline, to go beyond empty promises and take the necessary steps to ensure our safety. We need the water board to carefully study every water crossing and every affected water source. If it approves the plans, it must continuously monitor construction, restoration and operation, as well as strongly enforce the law.
My family has nurtured this land for more than a century. It’s not too much to ask that our work be respected and even encouraged so that it can support at least another five generations. Otherwise, our American dream will be stolen for someone else’s private profit.
The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.