Definition of Insanity: Mountain Valley Pipeline Asks for “Emergency Authorization” to Prevent a Life Threatening Landslide

Jonathan Sokolow
4 min readAug 9, 2019


MVP excavator flipped over on steep slope in Elliston, Virginia in July 2019

The latest outrage from Mountain Valley Pipeline is almost beyond belief.

In July, this bloated corporate criminal — MVP is under criminal investigation by the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Roanoke — sent out a crew to survey a portion of the pipeline route in West Virginia. Among other things, they were looking for endangered species.

The MVP surveyors were unable to do their work, however, because the pipeline route was too dangerous for them.

Dangerous, as in it was in imminent danger of a landslide.

In a July filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, MVP admitted:

“MVP attempted to conduct stream and wetland delineations, cultural resource, and rare, threatened, and endangered species surveys. Due to the instability of the slip, surveys were limited.”

MVP asked for permission to do “emergency slip remediation.”

MVP’s “emergency” request was dated July 11, but it was not actually filed with FERC until July 29. That gives a sense of how seriously MVP takes the term “emergency.”

It is not clear what remediation work MVP did after its July 29 filing. What is clear is that whatever work was done did not work.

Yesterday, ten days after filing its “emergency” request with FERC, MVP dropped a new bombshell. An MVP attorney wrote FERC to provide “additional information” on MVP’s “slide repair” request:

“Due to the unstable nature of this slide, Mountain Valley is requesting emergency authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to cut trees necessary to repair the slide.”

In this filing, MVP disclosed that the “slip” problem on this particular site actually had been going on for more than three months:

“This slide was identified on April 22, 2019 and was stabilized. Following a significant rain event on July 7, 2019, additional slide movement was observed on July 11, 2019.”

Three months after the initial landslide danger was noted, however, the problem has not been resolved. In fact, it has gotten worse.

Much worse.

In a chilling passage in yesterday’s letter, MVP made this stunning revelation:

“The progression of the slide caused additional area outside the limits of disturbance to destabilize, uprooted numerous large trees, has the potential to impact an aquatic resource, and has progressed to the point where a residence directly downslope is unsafe to be occupied. Mountain Valley Pipeline must stabilize the slide before it causes damage or injury to the landowners and resources located down-slope of the slide.”

That bears repeating. MVP has made a residence “unsafe to be occupied.” And something must be done to alleviate the danger of a landslide “before it causes damage or injury.”

Last week, we wrote that MVP’s main contractor, Precision Pipeline, has a history of killing its own workers. One year ago, we wrote here and here, that Precision Pipeline has a terrifying record of causing landslides on its pipeline projects. In fact, none other than Dominion Energy sued Precision Pipeline for having caused 50 landslides in a 55-mile pipeline project Precision built for Dominion.

Now it is beyond debate that MVP is endangering lives on this project. MVP just admitted it.

How many more such slides exist along the 303-mile route of this pipeline?

It seems that no one in a position of power has been listening.

Until recently, that is, when Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said he was “appalled” to find erosion and sediment control problems with MVP. He was so appalled that he issued a stop work order for the MVP — along a two mile stretch of the route.

And now MVP is admitting that lives are in danger. Not hypothetical danger, but the type of danger that requires “emergency” action.

As Tammy Belinsky, a Floyd County attorney involved in the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, noted in reaction to MVP’s latest admission:

“They cut the trees off a slope that should have been known to have unstable soils. Then MVP cut more trees down in a failed attempt to stabilize a slide. Now MVP wants to cut more trees hoping for a different result. Definition of insanity, no?”

MVP clearly is in a rush to complete this $5 billion corporate boondoggle, which already is years behind schedule. With the Fourth Circuit repeatedly rejecting permits for the MVP and for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and with investors seemingly nervous about the overall health of the companies behind MVP, it is clear that MVP is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter the risk, to get this project done before someone shuts it down.

Which raises the question, are any state officials in Virginia (or West Virginia) paying attention? What will it take to get the Department of Environmental Quality to shut MVP down? What will it take for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who already has accused MVP of having committed more than 300 violations of Virginia water laws and regulations, to advise his client, DEQ, to issue a stop work order along the entire route?

How many landslides is too many? How many workers or landowners will have to be hurt? How many residences will have to be made “unsafe to be occupied.”

This is not complicated. It’s an emergency.

Just ask MVP.



Jonathan Sokolow

Attorney, writer and activist living in Northern Virginia