Anti-carbon activists win, West Virginia loses on Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced last Sunday the companies were canceling their jointly-proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that was supposed to deliver natural gas from Harrison County, West Virginia to North Carolina.

The utilities threw in the towel after six years of planning and securing rights of way. But mostly the time was spent in protracted legal fights with opponents, primarily anti-carbon organizations.

The price of the project had nearly doubled, to $8 billion dollars, over those six years and only a fraction of the pipeline had been put in the ground.* No wonder Dominion and Duke threw up their hands.

Score a big win for the activists. A headline on the website CleanTechnica, which provides news and analysis on clean technology, said it all: “Delay Wins the Day.”

This is a huge blow to West Virginia on several levels.

First, it cuts off what was going to be a primary shipping source for Marcellus Shale gas from West Virginia.  The 42 inch, 600-mile long pipeline would have had the capacity to ship about 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Second, good paying skilled craftsmen jobs and associated tax revenue are now lost.  American Exploration and Production Council, an industry trade organization, estimates the pipeline’s construction would have created 17,000 new jobs and $2.7 billion in economic activity and generated $28 million annually in property tax revenues for local governments.”

Steve White, executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, estimated that at peak about 5,000 construction workers would have been on the pipeline job in West Virginia.

“A lot of paychecks we just won’t get for local workers,” White said on Talkline Monday.  “It’s a terrible loss.”

The utilities’ decision to give up, along with the uncertainty of the legal climate for pipeline projects, will have a chilling effect on the industry.  How willing are companies to invest billions, if they can get the financing, when they suspect opponents can simply wear them down?

The irony here is that the increasing use of natural gas, as well as renewables, for power generation have contributed to a steady decline in carbon emissions.  It may not be fast enough for some, but the trend is headed in the right direction.  Last year, CO2 emissions from energy consumption in this country were at their lowest level in 30 years.

Renewable power sources such as wind and solar have seen sharp increases in recent years as their costs of generation have fallen below that of coal, but natural gas has replaced far more coal generation capacity than renewables,” reported Inside Climate News earlier this year.

Renewables are coming on strong, but it will be decades before the technology and infrastructure have advanced to where the country does not need dependable base-load fuels like gas and coal. To think otherwise is to put the country’s energy needs at risk at a time when demand for electricity is increasing.

West Virginia is sitting atop one of the world’s largest supplies of natural gas.  This resource is essential for the future of power generation and manufacturing.  Our state stands to benefit significantly from years of gas production.

However, if delay is in fact going to win the day, that hope will be extinguished.

*(Correction: An earlier version said incorrectly that none of the pipeline had been laid yet.  Dominion says 26 miles of pipeline have been put in the ground in West Virginia.)


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