BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Board of Education listened to a presentation last week from members of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that may be installed across the road from Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
April Pierson Keating expressed concerns about both the pipeline’s proximity to the high school as well as environmental issues that could arise.
“We feel we are at a critical juncture right now, not only in our energy portfolio but in the future of our community in terms of economic environment and safety,” Keating told members of the board of education. “We want to make sure we shine a light on all aspects of the situation.”
The group expressed concerns about safety at the high school, noting the incineration zone stretches into the parking lot. Another worry is that locating the pipeline so close to a ‘high consequence area’ makes it an attractive — and unprotected — target for terrorists.
“This pipeline, as with all natural gas or flammable hazmat pipelines, poses a small risk of leakage and/or explosion,” Keating said. “The incidence of explosion is low, but when it does happen it can be catastrophic. So you have to look at things like the maximum allowable operating pressure and the maximum yield stress and things like that, and look at formulas they use to do their calculations.”
Keating cautioned against using outdated information when evaluating the safety of the pipeline.
“The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has set guidelines on how far certain pipelines should be away from structures that contain humans,” Keating said. “Those standards were set in place back when the largest pipeline was 12 inches in diameter.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will be 42 inches.
The old standards said that being 660 feet away from a pipeline is sufficient, but Keating said that is not correct anymore because of the larger pipelines.
A man named Bill Houston analyzed actual explosions and found that the affected area can be up to 3 ½ times the projection.
Local resident Kevin Campbell told the school board that it’s hard to predict how large the actual blast would be “because a 42 [inch pipeline] has never exploded yet.”
“This 42 and the Mountain Valley Pipeline are the first ones of that size and pressure ever built over our terrain,” he said.
Based on level ground, the incineration zone is expected to be 1,800 feet, which comes well into the parking lot of the high school.
“From the center of the pipeline to the center of the high school is actually 2,200 feet,” Campbell said.
He also noted that the pipeline is also close to a water tower, which is the backup firefighting water for the high school complex.
“The likelihood of this pipeline exploding close to the high school is very remote, but it can happen,” he said. “It’s an unnecessary risk to the community because there’s no really valid reason for [the school] to be that close to the pipeline. With all the land we have in Upshur County, there is plenty of room to move it away from the center of our education.”
Campbell also said that the high school is an emergency shelter but can’t be used in the event of a pipeline leakage.
The 600-mile long pipeline is an “unprotected terrorist target,” he added.
“If you can detonate it next to a high consequence area, that would make some sensational headlines,” Campbell said. “I think there is a lot more information that needs to come out about this. The community needs to be much better informed than it is at this point. We really need to encourage our county commissioners to certainly hold off on endorsing it, because it’s potentially increasing liability to the county and the citizens unnecessarily. There is no valid reason for it to be this close to the high school when there are so many other options.”
Several months ago, the board of education signed an easement agreement for the pipeline to cross through school property.
Board member Dr. Greenbrier Almond said he had asked Dominion about burying the pipeline deeper and having shut-off valves closer together. The company agreed to bury the pipeline one foot deeper.
Another issue is truck traffic, which is estimated to increase heavily due to the pipeline.
“We also know that property values can be reduced when you live with a pipeline on or even near your land,” Keating said.
Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance also asked for the community’s help in evaluating the draft environmental impact statement.
Keating said the statement, which can be found online, is being reviewed by conservation groups for missing landmarks such as streams or caves which people in local communities know about.
“Site specific information is critical at this point,” she said. “The comment period is open until April 6.”
The next regular meeting of the board of education was moved to Thursday, March 9 at 7 p.m. at Academy Elementary School.