West Virginia is sitting on top of nearly unimaginable amounts of natural gas. The Energy Information Administration estimates the state’s shale gas reserves exceed 28 trillion cubic feet. Yet, we have not yet been able to take full advantage of this energy windfall.
One reason is huge gas reserves are being discovered elsewhere, and hydraulic fracturing means those reserves that were once unreachable can now be tapped. The oversupply drives down prices and serves as a disincentive for drillers.
Another reason is that our infrastructure has not caught up with the enormous supplies, which is why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is so critical.
The proposed pipeline, which would run 600 miles from Harrison County southeast through the state, across Virginia and into North Carolina, will supply natural gas to utilities for power generation. The project by Dominion Transportation Inc. would provide a significant new market for West Virginia natural gas.
Naturally, there are concerns about the pipeline–some property owners don’t want the pipeline on or near their land—but much of the opposition is from the environmental community which objects to fracking and carbon fuels.
Environmentalists have raised myriad concerns about the potential impact on groundwater, forests, recreational areas, historic sites, and sensitive species, to name a few. They also argue there is no economic benefit to impacted communities.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has just released its draft impact statement on the pipeline and it finds the planned mitigation by Dominion means the impact, with the exception of forest vegetation, “would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”
“We have concluded that the majority of impacts from construction and operation… when added to the impacts of other projects, would not result in a significant cumulative impact on the environment,” the draft said.
FERC also concluded in the draft that pipeline construction “would benefit the state and local economies by creating a short-term stimulus,” while generating long-term tax benefits for counties crossed by the pipeline.
Additionally, the pipeline would boost natural gas production in West Virginia, creating jobs, demand for products and services by suppliers, payroll and severance taxes, all things we badly need right now.
Ideally, West Virginia’s natural gas industry will not rely solely on out-of-state sales. The economic Holy Grail would be in the development of a vibrant chemical and plastics manufacturing sector here that uses natural gas as a feedstock.
However, there’s enough natural gas for both domestic production and power generation elsewhere. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is an important step in getting the gas to market and, as the FERC report shows, it can be done in an environmentally responsible way.