Atlantic Coast Pipeline work halted

BUCKHANNON — While the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been issued a “Stop Work Order” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), pipeline workers have been encouraged to stay in the area and be ready to return to work at a moment’s notice.

On Friday afternoon, Samantha Norris, communications specialist for Dominion Energy — the company leading the construction and operation — said, “We remain totally committed to building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in its entirety so we can fully deliver the project’s substantial economic and environmental benefits to communities across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.”

“We’re confident the agencies can reissue the authorizations quickly and without causing unnecessary delay to the project,” she said in an email to The Inter-Mountain.

On Aug. 10, federal officials ordered that construction come to a halt on the 600-mile natural gas pipeline proposed to stretch across portions of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, according to reports from the Associated Press.

The proposed pipeline route will include about 23 miles in Upshur County, running south of Buckhannon and Tallmansville; about 30 miles in southwestern Randolph County; and about 25 miles in Pocahontas County near Slatyfork and Dunmore. The pipeline will be 42 inches running underground.

In a letter addressed to pipeline officials, the FERC states, “On Aug. 6, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an order vacating a right-of-way-permit by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) authorizing the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) across the Blue Ridge Parkway and providing detailed reasoning for its May 15, 2018 order vacating the Incidental Take Statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) with respect to the project.

“In light of this development, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic) has not obtained the rights-of-way and temporary use permits from the NPS needed for ACP to cross certain federally owned lands and lacks an Incidental Take Statement for the project.”

The order followed after the federal appeals court threw out two key permits for the construction of the pipeline.

The AP reports that on Aug. 13, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit was “arbitrary and capricious” regarding its effect on five threatened or endangered species. The judges also vacated a right-of-way permit for the pipeline to pass underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway.

April Keating, a member of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance — an area local environmental group that has expressed concern regarding the stalled pipeline — said. “We are gratified that the FERC decided to make ACP go back to the drawing board. These permits should never been have been issued in the first place. The project never qualified for the use of eminent domain. And a project like this, no matter how well done, will not last on this type of terrain. We don’t need to be using fossil fuels; renewables are the future. This is the only way to protect our water and climate, and provide safe, sustainable jobs.”

According to Norris, Dominion is already working with the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to “resolve the issues in FERC’s order and resume construction as soon as possible.”

At the time of the FERC’s temporary stop work order, construction of project facilities was in various stages, Norris advised. The Interim Right-Of-Way and Work Area Stabilization Plans for Supply Header and ACP submitted to the FERC describe the measures Dominion will take to stabilize the work areas for each construction stage until construction is approved to start again.

“Our priority is to safely implement this Stabilization Plan to minimize impacts. This stabilization work needs to be completed as it is in the best interest of public safety and the environment,” she said.

Norris advised that contractors have been encouraged to stay in the area and “be ready to return to work at a moment’s notice.”

“The local community should not see a significant impact to local businesses as long as the SWO is not unreasonably extended,” she said. “We are confident these issues can be resolved quickly without causing unnecessary delay to the project.”

In the meantime, Norris stated FERC has asked if there are portions of the project that should “proceed immediately because they are not impacted by recent court rulings and could serve the public independently from other portions of the project.”

“We have responded by showing that substantial portions of the Supply Header project, and ACP in North Carolina — all areas not impacted by recent court rulings — could serve home heating and manufacturing needs independently from other portions temporarily impacted by the court ruling,” she said. “However, this is not a substitute for building the entire project, which will provide the full benefit of access to lower-cost Appalachian supplies.”