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Dominion says pipeline progress will go on, even with appeals court ruling

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A Dominion Energy spokeswoman says a federal appeals court ruling that vacated a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not halting the project’s construction.

“We have committed from the very beginning to stand by our environmental practices as setting a best in class example,” spokeswoman Samantha Norris said.

“Dominion Energy, as the chief operator for ACP, has from the very beginning identified some of these sensitive areas, so we have already analyzed many of the habitats and the species that are coming into question with this court ruling.”

A three-judge panel from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond in May announced a ruling that would invalidate a key U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review.

Environmental groups challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incidental Take Statement, which is meant to set limits on killing threatened or endangered species during construction and operation.

The environmental groups argued that the limits under the policy are not clear.

The appeals judges — Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and Judges Stephanie D. Thacker and James A. Wynn Jr. — agreed, calling the limits set by the agency so indeterminate that they undermine enforcement and monitoring.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which led the lawsuit, celebrated the appeals court ruling. It put out a news release labeled “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Stopped in Its Tracks.”

Dominion says its plans for the pipeline included possible variations.

At the start of the planning process for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a total of 6,000 miles were considered for the project, narrowed to just 600 miles to take those areas into account, Norris said.

“We made about 300 course changes along the way,” she said. “We did that for a variety of reasons, whether they were environmentally sensitive, culturally sensitive or just not the best location in a community.”

Norris estimates less than 2 percent of the 2018 construction schedule would be affected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.

“Roughly that’s about 10 miles,” she said. “It’s a ruling that we take very seriously, and we will abide by all regulations, but we are still continuing to progress with construction as planned for 2018.”

Just last month, ground was broken for the new Marts Compressor Station in Jane Lew, marking the first significant step toward the pipeline’s completion.

“Things are starting to drum up. A lot of construction is starting with a variety of pipelines,” Norris said. “Our work is concentrated in sections, so in those counties you will not see simultaneous activity all at once. We will be working in systematic sections throughout the course of the next two years.”

The Jane Lew station is one of three compression stations that will lie along the 600-plus miles between Harrison County and Greensville County, Virginia, to give natural gas the necessary boost to propel through the pipeline.

“As a result of naturally occuring scientific experiences like friction and gravity, the natural gas does change its pressure, so we have systematically placed these compressor stations. We will have one in West Virginia, one in Virginia and one in North Carolina,” Norris said.

Marts Compressor Station will provide 30 to 100 jobs during its year-long construction, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide an additional 3,000 employment opportunities through the construction phase in West Virginia alone.

“And you’re going to see a variety of different roles that men and women can play as employees for this pipeline, whether they’re welders, they’re inspectors, they’re general contractors or pouring concrete,” Norris said. “There’s just such a variety of positions that this pipeline will be bringing to our area.”

Additionally, Norris said, Dominion Energy has worked on a training and apprenticeship opportunity with the project’s general contractor for people who are interested in the profession.

“So we will be working through our union halls to provide free apprentice training for a few weeks, and then you’ll have those skills that you can carry with you for a lifetime,” she said. “It will open up doors of opportunity all over the nation for individuals all over the nation who are looking to get into good paying jobs and sustainable jobs.”

Norris, who began her position in October, looks forward to seeing a resurgence in the area’s oil and gas industry once the pipelines are able to help put the natural gas on the market.

“The East Coast is one of the largest economic regions of our country, and with that growth comes a demand for energy,” Norris said. “What this pipeline will allow is for that commerce growth to continue, as well as general consumers to have access to clean-burning natural gas to fuel their homes and their businesses.

“This will allow us to be a cleaner energy society,” she said. “We will be able to cut carbon emissions by transferring toward more natural gas use and energy production, so this is really a clean opportunity for economic growth.”​

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