Geologic instability

The pipeline will be constructed over a known earthquake fault line. While East Coast earthquakes tend to be a little less strong than their West Coast counterparts, because of different underlying geology, they are much more far-reaching in their effects. The 2011 earthquake (5.8 Richter), centered in Louisa County, caused problems at great distances. It ruptured water lines 50 miles from the epicenter, for example, and did serious structural damage to the Washington Monument (100 miles away).

The pipeline is slated to be laid across or through the Blue Ridge, an area of extensive karst geology. Karsts are formations predominantly composed of water-soluble minerals, and feature complex underground drainage systems, along with caves, cavern systems, and smaller pockets of eroded rock. The karsts are inherently unstable, prone to landslides, sinkholes, and other collapses of the surface and near-surface.

Furthermore, constructing pipeline on steep mountain slopes is subject to erosion, mudslides or worse. In October 2014, Dominion was fined by West Virginia for multiple environmental violations as a result of shoddy construction on mountainous slopes.

In this photo accompanying a DEP consent order, a portion of a Marshall County slope, where Dominion Transmission built an eight-inch natural gas liquids pipeline, has collapsed into a streambed. Dominion has proposed building a 42-inch natural gas pipeline through northern Pocahontas County. DEP photo.

Dominion Transmission built a small eight-inch natural gas pipeline that collapsed into a streambed. Dominion has proposed building a 42-inch natural gas pipeline through the Wintergreen Area. DEP photo.

Water damage

Nelson County has a limited municipal water supply. Many homes and businesses are completely dependent on well water. The blasting and other digging associated with pipeline construction have the potential to fracture bedrock and disrupt underground watercourses, causing unpredictable consequences for local wells.

The pipeline threatens both surface water and underground aquifers with contamination from industrial waste. Maintaining the integrity of the water supply is crucial to a local economy that has seen a proliferation of highly water-dependent businesses such as breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Pristine water is also important to Nelson’s agriculture.

Forests and habitats

Nelson County has larger, intact areas of forest than most counties in the Virginia Piedmont. Forested land, much of it old growth, constitutes 80% of its land area and is considered critical for wildlife and water quality protection.

The integrity of intact habitat areas will be violated by the pipeline. Many local species depend on undisturbed forestland to ensure freedom of movement and will not cross major clear-cut spaces such as the pipeline easement requires. The pipeline will cut a wide swath through these sensitive areas.


Ten million people live within a two-hour drive of Nelson County, and many are drawn to vacation amid the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Rockfish Valley. The pipeline would mar the region’s viewshed, which is one of its primary assets. So important is the environment to attracting visitors to our tourist economy that the county’s Comprehensive Plan list a key goal to “protect the county’s scenic resources as essential to the county’s rural character, economic strength and quality of life.”