Sections of steel pipe of the Mountain Valley Pipeline lie in the sun on wooden blocks

Sections of steel pipe of the Mountain Valley Pipeline lie in the sun on wooden blocks on Aug. 31, 2022 in Bent Mountain, Virginia.

(Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Biden’s Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Titan Submarine Disaster

We have seen what happens when things are built from substandard materials with faulty design.

When President Biden agreed to the debt deal in May, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) became his pipeline. Climate scientists tell us it’s exactly the wrong thing to be building in 2023 but the president fast-tracked it anyway. He may claim that his hands were tied by Manchin and the Republicans who were willing to hold the economy hostage if they didn’t get their way. But no one is tying the President’s hands when it comes to an important safety measure regarding MVP.

For more than 50 years there’s been a federal law on the books that says all pipe must have an external coating that is “sufficiently ductile to resist cracking.” The purpose of the coating is to prevent corrosion over the many years and decades that the pipeline will be in service. The reason it has to be sufficiently ductile (flexible) to resist cracking is because 40-foot sections of pipe flex quite a bit when they are moved from the factory to the pipeyard to the right of way and finally into a ditch. The factory-applied coating is designed to flex but it loses its flexibility, as well as other qualities if it sits out in the sun for too long.

The National Association of Pipe Coating Applicators (NAPCA) says that the coating shouldn’t be exposed to the sun for more than six months but the MVP pipe was coated 6 or 7 years ago and most of it has been exposed to the sun in pipeyards or along right of ways ever since. The January 2020 issue of Corrosion Management reported (starting on p. 16) that the coating on Keystone XL pipe was “no longer fit for purpose” after it had sat out in the sun for years just as MVP’s pipe has. Every piece of KXL pipe that was tested failed the flexibility test and had cracks in the coating. Cracked coating is obviously no longer corrosion-proof.

The coating shouldn’t be exposed to the sun for more than six months but the MVP pipe was coated 6 or 7 years ago and most of it has been exposed to the sun in pipeyards or along right of ways ever since.

In 2010 a gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno. It killed eight people, injured more than 60 and destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes. It was a 30-inch pipeline. MVP is a 42-inch pipeline that can operate at four times the pressure. It is critical that MVP pipe have a top-quality and corrosion-proof coating, which it currently does not. We know that because of the Corrosion Management study and NAPCA’s warning.

MVP wants to get the pipe buried as soon as possible and they will no doubt claim that either the coating is fine and doesn’t need to be recoated, or that they can somehow properly recoat it in the field. It would be absurd to believe what they say. This is a company that has already paid millions of dollars in fines for hundreds of violations. And Biden should be told that half of the emissions gains from his highly touted EV (electric vehicle) sales last year were wiped out by the year’s number one climate disaster, a methane leak that MVP’s builder couldn’t get under control for thirteen days.

There are only two ways to properly address the coating problem. Either replace all the pipe with new, recently coated pipe or ship all the pipe in the field back to the plant for stripping, cleaning, and recoating, which is what a Keystone XL pipeline manager said was necessary, because the coating process is quite involved and can only properly occur in a factory setting. See this two-minute video.

After the recent submersible disaster in the North Atlantic occurred, we learned that the builder and captain of the Titan sub had been repeatedly warned by experts that his vessel was unsafe because it was built with inferior materials. He disagreed…and he was right…until he wasn’t.

The company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be like that guy. They will insist the coating is fine. But they aren’t the captain of this ship. Joe Biden is. This is his call, not Manchin’s or anyone else’s. The chain of command, from the bottom up, is the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), the U.S. Dept of Transportation, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and ultimately President Biden. He can enforce the safety rule and ensure that the coating is sufficiently ductile to resist cracking or he can ignore all the warnings like the captain of the Titan did…and then someday maybe send his thoughts and prayers.

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