Atlantic Coast Pipeline Stirring Controversy in West Virginia
By Eliza Bikvan, Staff Contributor
With all the focus on the Keystone Pipeline Project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has barely made national headlines, but the potential negative environmental and public safety effects are a major concern for West Virginian residents.
While many Americans are familiar with the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, a proposed 1,179-mile crude oil pipeline extending from Alberta to Nebraska, several smaller natural gas pipelines are making waves in communities across the country. As of June 15, 2014, there were 29 major onshore pipeline projects pending and dozens more are in the pre-filing stage. In the state of West Virginia alone there are five proposed natural gas pipelines: Rover Pipeline, Leach XPress, Supply Header Project, Mountain Valley Pipeline, and Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Of these, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is one of the largest and most controversial in West Virginia.
Background on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
The ACP is a proposed joint venture between Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources, and would be constructed and operated by Dominion on behalf of the venture. The purpose of the ACP is to move Marcellus Shale natural gas from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline will be approximately 550 miles long, spanning three states – West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina – passing through the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests and crossing the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. In West Virginia the pipeline would be 42 inches in diameter, require excavation of an 8 to 12 foot-deep trench and a right of way of 125 to 200 feet during construction. Dominion states that the rights of way will be approximately 75 feet after construction and can be used for farming, livestock grazing, recreation, and many other activities.
According to a study of the proposed ACP by Chmura Economics and Analytics prepared for Dominion Resources, over the six-year construction phase the project would produce approximately $479 million in additional economic activity in West Virginia, support almost 3,100 jobs, and generate almost $4 million in additional tax revenues for the state. Furthermore, beginning in 2019, the operation of the pipeline would generate a total of $15.6 million per year in economic activity in the state, support a total of 74 jobs annually, and produce almost $114,000 in additional tax revenues.
Despite these predicted economic benefits, there has been significant pushback from community members across the region against natural gas pipelines. The Mid-Atlantic Responsible Energy Project (MARE Project), partnering with fifteen environmental advocacy organizations including the Greenbrier River Watershed Association, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and West Virginia Highland Conservancy, has set out to bring these proposed pipeline projects to the public’s attention through its website and town hall meetings. According to an article published in The State Journal, West Virginia’s business newspaper, most residents who attend MARE Project meetings are overwhelmingly opposed to the pipelines once they learn about the safety and environmental hazards pipelines may pose. Some of these concerns are laid out below.
According to a presentation created by Rick Webb, a senior scientist with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, the ACP would cross some of the most bio-diverse areas in the northeastern United States. In doing so, it would cause forest fragmentation, almost certain degradation of aquatic habitat and water resources, and damage to springs and water supplies. The forest fragmentation would reduce habitat suitability for interior species and possibly introduce invasive species, causing direct harm to sensitive species. Loss of interior forest creates edge conditions, which are favored by species that prey on birds that nest on the forest floor. Open forest areas are also barriers to movement of many creatures who live on the forest floor, including the threatened Cheat Mountain Salamander.
The proposed ACP route will also cross several river headwaters and many high-quality native brook trout streams, including the Laurel Fork watershed, which is known for the documented presence of ninety state-rare species. For many of the larger streams it is likely that the pipeline crossing will be achieved through direct excavation and possible blasting of the streambed. Because much of the ACP route in West Virginia is through steep mountainsides, soil erosion and sedimentation of streams would be extremely difficult to avoid.
In its FAQ, Dominion claims that it is not dangerous to live near a natural gas pipeline because “[n]atural gas pipelines have an excellent safety record . . . the number of incidents nationally is very small given the more than 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in the country.” However in January 2015 alone, there were four major mishaps involving natural gas pipelines in the U.S., including one in Brooke County, West Virginia. In December 2012, a gas pipeline exploded in Sissonville, destroying four homes and melting part of nearby Interstate 77. While there were luckily no fatalities from either of these explosions, citizens in West Virginia certainly have reason to be skeptical about Dominion’s safety claims.
In addition to local environmental advocacy groups, ordinary citizens in West Virginia are joining the pushback against the pipeline. Small business owners in surrounding towns dependent on the tourist industry have expressed concerns about the impact pipeline construction would have on visitors to the national forests.
If you would like to get involved or want to learn more about the pipeline proposals, pre-filing requests and updates can be found at ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp by searching for the proposed projects by their individual docket numbers, which are as follows:
- Atlantic Coast Pipeline: PF15-6
- Supply Header Project: PF15-5
- Mountain Valley Pipeline: PF15-3
- Leach XPress: PF14-23
- Rover Pipeline: PF14-14