CHARLESTON — Since December of 2018, work to complete the 600 mile Atlantic Coastal Pipeline has been halted, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in revenue across the state.
On Feb. 23, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready to remove an obstacle to construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, with a majority of justices expressing skepticism about a lower court ruling that tossed out a key permit needed for the natural gas pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail.
Thanks to that skepticism, Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said he was optimistic the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to grant a right of way allowing the pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.
“These pipelines are vitally important, not only to West Virginia oil and gas, but to end users where gas is being transported, and it’s [needed] to make sure we have adequate national security and are able to produce energy within our country,” he said.
Burd said Dominion stopped the progress on the pipeline in December of 2018, and “pipeliners in the hundreds went to work on other pipelines in other parts of the country” while Dominion did its best to retain as many as possible in the area.
Due to the stoppage, Burd said hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost by local vendors in taxes, groceries, leasing spaces, camping areas and more.
Burd said he hopes to see the pipeline continue, which would provide benefits to well beyond just the oil and gas industry.
Steven Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the adverse effects the pipeline stoppage has had on the workers and economy of the Mountain State.
“The economic impact on West Virginia is substantial. It has caused many, many construction workers to go without work this winter and a great deal of lost tax revenue. We have a lot of natural gas in West Virginia, way more than previously thought, (but) the markets for the gas are larger outside of West Virginia. Our ability to produce and collect severance tax is impeded if we can’t sell the gas out of state.,” he said.
With West Virginia being a large supplier to communities outside of the state, the pipeline stoppage and the hardship it has created has been a strain, he said.
West Virginia is not a “population center,” and in order for the gas to be valuable, it must be taken to those population centers, officials said.
Roberts said now that the U.S. Supreme Court has heard the case, he, too, is optimistic of the court will allow the construction of the pipeline to continue.
As far as the industry in general goes, Burd said wells today are being drilled “much more efficiently than they were three and four years ago.” The number of subcontractors on the well sites don’t diminish too much, he said.
Burd said when he sees companies laying workers off, it’s on the downstream production side of things.
Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, agreed with Burd that efficiency in production has made those in the industry able to produce more product for less cost, but the industry as a whole is at a low commodity price environment.
“It’s going to be that way for a while,” she said.
There have been several budget cuts made, and some in the industry have moved to sell their assets in the state.
“I think it’s really important for folks to understand we are at a critical point for industry,” she said.
The state must focus on policies that encourage investment to increase demand and get the price where it needs to be, she said.
As far as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is concerned, she said she and “WVONGA are optimistic and very supportive of the pipeline and project. We think the U.S. Supreme Court will side in favor of issuing the permit,” she said.
If the U.S. Supreme Court does allow for the continuation of the Atlantic Coastal Pipeline, the structure will originate in the Mountain State, traveling 600 miles underground through Virginia, with a lateral extending to Chesapeake, Virginia, and then continue south into eastern North Carolina, ending in Robeson County, according to the pipeline’s web page.
Two additional, shorter laterals will connect to two Dominion Energy electric-generating facilities in Brunswick and Greensville counties in North Carolina
According to the pipeline’s web page, the pipeline will transport American energy to millions of consumers in Virginia and North Carolina.
The pipeline’s customers are five of the largest public utilities in the region: Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Virginia Natural Gas and Public Service Company of North Carolina.
Together, these public utilities provide home heating, electricity and industrial power to millions of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals across Virginia and North Carolina.
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