Atlantic Coast Pipeline plan gets preliminary thumbs up from federal regulators

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would deliver up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of Marcellus shale gas from West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina every day, has had enough adjustments to minimize its environmental impacts, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Commission released a long-anticipated draft environmental impact statement on Friday.

MORE Read the draft environmental impact statement here.

The project by Dominion Transportation Inc. would run the pipeline 600 miles, beginning in Harrison County through Virginia and into southeastern North Carolina.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wrote, “With Atlantic’s and DTI’s implementation of their respective impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures as well as their adherence to our recommendations to further avoid, minimize, and mitigate these impacts, the majority of project effects, with the exception of impacts on forest vegetation, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.”

That’s not the point of view of some environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices. Those groups and others released a joint statement remaining critical of the $5.1 billion project.

They wrote, “The Atlantic Coast project would pump fracked gas across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, harming communities, water resources, private property, historic sites, and iconic public treasures including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail. The groups say FERC failed to honestly assess these impacts and disregarded evidence that the project would lock consumer into decades more reliance on dirty fossil fuels.”

The groups maintain there’s already enough natural gas to meet consumer demand and that the pipeline infrastructure — with six major pipelines proposed for construction — is being overbuilt. They contend the agency also has dismissed cleaner energy alternatives.

“Citizens along the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — along with landowners in the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 301-mile fracked-gas project proposed in the same region — vow they will continue to build resistance to stop them,” according to the groups’ statement.

Dominion released a statement calling the draft report a “very significant milestone.” The company says it can build the project in a way that protects public safety and natural resources in the region, according to the statement attributed to Leslie Hartz, vice president of pipeline construction at Dominion Energy.

“We have worked constructively with landowners and agencies to address the important environmental issues that have been raised. As the draft report demonstrates, we’ve taken meaningful steps to avoid or minimize impacts and incorporate public input in many important areas of the project,” Hartz stated.

Dominion has made more than 300 route adjustments and more than 250 miles of rerouting to “avoid environmentally sensitive areas and many other features of individual properties,” Hartz stated.

The draft statement will be open for public comment until April 6. After that, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would issue a final environmental impact statement and then a ruling.

The final ruling would focus on the environmental impact; whether there’s a need for the project; and whether the gas it will deliver will be at prices that are “just and reasonable.”

Dominion hopes to begin construction next fall.

Pipeline construction is considered a key component of economic growth in West Virginia over the next few years.

Natural gas shows some promise over the period as low prices and regional infrastructure bottlenecks that have weighed on the industry will subside over the next year or so, according to West Virginia Economic Outlook: 2017-2021 report issued this fall by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“We anticipate conditions will improve considerably in 2017-18 thanks to new pipeline capacity and expanded natural gas use in electricity generation,” John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research said when the report was initially released.



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