The Exponent Telegram
by Kailee E. Gallahan
CLARKSBURG — Dominion Energy officials are pleased with progress on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, with the start of construction about five months away.
“The project continues to move forward on all fronts, and we are confident of a successful outcome,” Dominion Energy President and CEO Diane Leopold said. “Developing infrastructure to meet the developing needs of millions of people is a major undertaking involving years of preparation, millions of dollars in private capital and dozens of government approvals.”
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a 600-mile, $5 billion infrastructure project that will allow the transmission of nearly 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Appalachian Basin to outside markets.
The project will bring new supplies of natural gas to generate cleaner electricity, provide home heating for growing populations and power new manufacturing plants and other industries. Leopold said public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina are depending on the project.
“The region’s existing pipeline infrastructure is fully tapped and unable to meet these growing needs. That is why new infrastructure is required and why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is so important,” Leopold said. “While the status of the Clean Power Plan may be up in the air, there is no doubt of the increasing role natural gas will play in power generation.”
The environmental benefits, abundance and low cost of natural gas are making it a core component of the new 24/7 power generation, as well as a partner in renewable energy resources, Leopold said.
By bringing new and lower-cost supplies of natural gas into the Mid-Atlantic region, the pipeline will lower energy costs for all consumers, Leopold said. By providing the natural gas supplies that utilities need to support new industries, the project will help to stimulate economic growth and create thousands of jobs, she said.
In December, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a “favorable draft environmental statement” for the project, concluding that the pipeline’s planners have adopted all the necessary measures to minimize environmental impact and protect public safety.
“The draft stated that the mitigation measures we have adopted minimize impacts on air quality, land use, aquatics, groundwater, soil, surface water, wetlands and noise,” Leopold said. “The report also concluded that the project provides benefits from using natural gas at power plants to produce electricity by reducing air emissions through reduced use of coal and fuel oil.”
The next step in the regulatory process is for the FERC to release a final environmental impact statement on June 30, Leopold said.
“We have every reason to believe that the favorable draft statement and the final environmental impact statement will provide a strong foundation for final approval of the project later this summer or in the early fall,” she said.
Recently, the project got approval to build compressor stations in Buckingham County, Virginia, and Northampton County, North Carolina. Leopold said these permits were received through unanimous support of the zoning commission and elected boards in both counties.
Other milestones for project include the following:
— The U.S. Forest Service gave preliminary approval of the pipeline to run under the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail, where the project will need to cross 20 miles of national forest;
— More than 98 percent of surveys have been completed and more than 300 route adjustments have been made to avoid environmentally sensitive areas;
— Construction on more than 65 percent of the steel pipe to be used in building the pipeline has been completed;
— Nearly 80 percent of land, materials and services needed to complete the project have been procured.
To date, project planners have signed mutual easement agreements with more than 60 percent of landowners, in addition to providing them compensation, Leopold said.
Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy vice president of pipeline construction, said that because project planners have been sensitive to residents whose communities and properties will be affected by the construction, officials predict they will see continued agreement among landowners in upcoming months.
“While mutual agreement is our first priority, there has been some opposition,” Hartz said. “Eminent domain is an absolute last right, and it only occurs after the FERC issues an order stating that there is a public need for the project. It is then that public need that grants us the eminent domain.”
Leopold said the majority of people believe the pipeline “should and must be built,” and more than 25 city, town and county governments along the route have publicly endorsed the pipeline. Government officials have spoken about the need to provide cleaner energy and affordable home heating, rebuild local economies and strengthen the region’s energy security.
Hartz said that although eminent domain isn’t the preferred way to secure right of way, project planners will use that option to complete a pipeline that is determined to be a public need.
To continue moving forward with the project, federal permits are required, Hartz said. Permits from the Forest Service, Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers must be obtained, in addition to a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The project also is waiting on permits at the state levels for water quality certifications.
Staff writer Kailee E. Gallahan can be reached at (304)626-1446 or email@example.com
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