Pipeline projects move forward

ELKINS — Two major natural gas pipeline projects on the East Coast have been granted approval.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted approval for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines. The recently announced approvals mean the pipeline developers will have the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land if they can’t reach an agreement with a landowner.

Both pipelines would start in West Virginia, carrying gas from the Appalachian basin to U.S. markets.

The 600-mile, approximately $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline would start in northcentral West Virginia, cross Virginia and bend through eastern North Carolina. Its lead developer is Dominion Energy, along with partners Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

Meanwhile, the $3.5 billion, 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline would run south from northern West Virginia through the center of the state, cross into Virginia west of Roanoke and then cut southeast to a point north of Danville. EQT Midstream Partners will operate the pipeline and own a significant interest in the joint venture with other energy companies.

A range of business and political leaders back the projects, saying they will lower energy costs and boost economic development.

“Our public utility customers are depending on this infrastructure to generate cleaner electricity, heat homes, and power local businesses,” said Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy’s vice president of engineering and construction, in a news release. “This project will result in a growing economy, a cleaner environment and lower energy costs for consumers and businesses across the region.”

Hartz continued, “In the coming days we will fully review the Certificate and finalize our plans for complying with its conditions. We will also continue working with the other state and federal agencies to complete the environmental review process and make this critically important project a reality.”

Steve Roberts, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce president, said in a news release from EnergySure, “West Virginians received welcome news with the FERC approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Supply Header Project. More progress, more jobs and an enlarged tax base are just a few of the anticipated results. West Virginia is an energy producing state and our nation needs West Virginia’s energy. We express appreciation to all involved.”

Anne Blankenship, West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association executive director, said in a news release from EnergySure, “We applaud FERC’s action today on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Receiving the approval of a certificate for this project is a critical step for growth of the oil and gas industry. It will provide the much needed infrastructure to move West Virginia’s natural gas to market and create thousands of construction jobs across our state.”

Opponents, including environmental groups and landowners, say both projects will infringe on property rights, damage pristine areas and commit the region to fossil fuels for decades.

“This project is far from a done deal. With the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and other agency permitting still necessary, we’ve now begun a new phase of our challenge in protecting our waters, farms and businesses, and our future,” said Roanoke County resident Roberta Bondurant in a news release from Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights, a bi-state coalition of community groups along the path of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The Virginia DEQ and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection must still certify that the project would not harm or degrade water resources. The West Virginia DEP issued its certification earlier this year, but recently asked the court to remand the permit back to the state for further consideration after a challenge brought by Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of several community groups.

The U.S. Forest Service, the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and state and local health and zoning departments are among the other government entities that still must weigh in on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

In addition, landowners along the proposed pipeline route have filed two lawsuits against FERC challenging the constitutionality of the use of eminent domain — the taking of private land — by a private company for private gain.

One of FERC’s three commissioners, Cheryl LaFleur, dissented. She wrote that she couldn’t conclude either project was in the public interest, a determination she said was heavily influenced by similarities in their routes, impact and timing.

“Given the environmental impacts and possible superior alternatives, approving these two pipeline projects on this record is not a decision I can support,” LaFleur wrote.

FERC is composed of up to five commissioners who are appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. Currently serving along with LaFleur are Chairman Neil Chatterjee and Commissioner Robert F. Powelson.

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