Amid energy policy debates, a battle over a natural gas pipeline in Appalachia

When developers first approached West Virginia farmer Maury Johnson in 2015 seeking to bury part of a 303-mile-long natural gas pipeline on his property, Johnson was not eager to comply. But with eminent domain laws giving Johnson few options to oppose the move, developers began construction a few hundred feet from his house in 2018.

It didn’t take long for Johnson to determine that the project was going to be a problem. Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project did not appear to be taking into consideration the nature of the area terrain, blasting the fragile landscape without regard for the underground caves, sinkholes, and natural springs that characterize the region.

Soon he realized his well water he relied on for his household needs had become strangely murky.  He started washing his clothes at a laundromat 25 miles away and catching rainwater to use for bathing. He remains without “usable” water now, he said in an interview.

Johnson is among a contingent of critics who have come to view MVP as a dire threat to the health of Appalachian communities. They have a range of fears, including the potential contamination of air, water and soil with toxic chemicals used in the project. One particular fear is tied to the fact that some scientists see the pipeline as uniquely dangerous: Because it snakes through highly unstable soils in landslide-prone mountain terrain, the pipeline could break and potentially explode, the critics warn.