Tag Archives: Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Pipeline Creates Opportunities in Buckingham

Kyanite Mining Corp. , one of the largest employers in Buckingham County, has entered into an agreement to access a natural gas tap off a lateral line from the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). And now the county is exploring the possibility of acquiring 200 acres of land along the tap line for industrial development. The line would have enough capacity to supply Kyanite Mining as well as three or four companies of comparable size, reports the Farmville Herald.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline opens up economic opportunities in Buckingham County.

Blue Kyanite crystal

Kyanite Mining, which mines and processes Kyanite ore, runs the mineral through a rotary kiln in which the temperature exceeds 1450° Centigrade. The operation can produce more than 150,000 tons of commercial grade Kyanite concentrate every year. Kyanite is used in products as diverse as dishware, porcelain plumbing fixtures, electronics, electrical insulators and abrasives.

According to County Attorney E.M. Wright Jr., the 200 acres would be available to be marketed  as a site that would have gas and other amenities. Two non-binding memorandums of understanding are needed from the county, he said, “so definitive agreements can be made.”

While the pipeline has inspired stiff opposition in the mountainous Augusta-Nelson-Bath county area, partially on the grounds that it would negatively impact views, property values and economic development, the project has garnered support in other localities along the route. The availability of natural gas puts numerous counties into the running for new categories of industrial investment.

“This is a great example of how the Atlantic Coast Pipeline can serve as an economic development tool for counties to support their local businesses and even attract new industries to help grow their economies,” said ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby.

“For more than two years, we’ve worked very hard to find opportunities across the region to expand access to natural gas in under-served communities, including Buckingham County,” he said. “We’re pleased that after more than two years of discussions with Buckingham County, Columbia Gas and Kyanite Mining Corporation, we’ve reached an agreement in principle that will help facilitate natural gas service to the county. More work remains to be done to finalize the agreement, but we’re very pleased with the progress that has been made.”

Update: Michael Martz with the Richmond Times-Dispatch delves into this story, including the local politics, here.

Trenches, Sinkholes and Slippery Slopes

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would traverse this ridge in Highland County.

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would traverse this ridge in Highland County, according to the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

Building gas pipelines over steep mountains and sinkhole-prone terrain risks erosion, sedimentation and drinking-water pollution. Are state regulators on top of the situation?

by James A. Bacon

Early this year James Golden and Melanie Davenport, senior managers with Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), were hearing increasingly vocal concerns about the environmental problems posed by the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), especially where routes crossed steep terrain riddled with sinkholes and underground rivers. Pipeline foes doubted it was possible to build pipelines in such adverse conditions without putting water quality at risk. Golden and Davenport wanted to see for themselves.

The two DEQ officials got their chance when their West Virginia counterparts arranged a tour of a major construction project, the Ohio Valley Connector, which runs 37 miles through rugged terrain. EQT, a principal partner of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, was managing the project. Golden, DEQ’s director of operations, and Davenport, director of DEQ’s water division, especially wanted to see how the pipeline diggers handled the challenge of steep slope construction.

The tour took them through several phases of construction on the West Virginia side of the border where IQT was clearing trees, digging trenches, and stabilizing the site. Although some mountain slopes in Virginia are steeper, the environmental and topographic conditions are comparable to much of what pipeline companies would experience in the Old Dominion.

“We saw clearing on a slope that was so steep it gave me vertigo,” Davenport told Bacon’s Rebellion. “A backhoe was rocking like it was going to slip down the hill. Sometimes its tracks started slipping. It looked so dangerous, but the driver was nonplussed. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.”

Despite the challenges of laying pipe in steep terrain, says Golden, “We came away with the impression that [construction] can be done that seemed acceptable under the regulations.”

Golden’s reassurances are scarce comfort to Rick Webb, program coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. “We’re dealing with pipeline construction [in Virginia] on an unprecedented scale,” he says. While ACP and MVP have redrawn routes around the most sensitive environmental habitat, there is no avoiding the steep mountain slopes, which are prone to landslides and erosion, and karst limestone geology, with its easily contaminated caves and underground streams.

Governor Terry McAuliffe, who supports both pipelines, has said he has no authority to deny air or water quality permits. But Webb says that’s a cop-out. He is particularly concerned about the approach taken by DEQ, which plays a key role in regulating storm water runoff and protecting the quality of water in rivers, streams and aquifers. “I have a profound lack of faith in the process,” he says. “It is a fundamentally broken regulatory system. Virginia’s largest construction projects in the last 50 years are basically operating without state oversight.”

Environmental regulation of pipelines is a patchwork of federal and state rules. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) takes the lead role, conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has a say-so in activities that might impact rivers and streams. And DEQ regulates the erosion and sediment runoff resulting from pipeline construction.

There are two clusters of issues relevant to state oversight of pipeline construction: regulating how pipelines cross rivers and streams, and regulating the length of trenches that construction contractors can dig. In both instances, Webb says, DEQ is taking less forceful action than it could. But Golden and Davenport say there are safeguards are in place to provide ample protection of fragile terrain.

Slippery soil on steep slopes

DEQ maintains the Annual Standards and Specifications, a framework detailing how contractors address erosion & sediment control in major construction projects. The standards cover 19 best management practices such as silt fences, detention basins, and setback requirements. Like anyone else undertaking a big construction project, like the Virginia Department of Transportation, pipeline companies must submit a plan describing how they intend to meet these standards. They must give particular attention given to how they will manage disruption to stream beds they cross. And DEQ must approve the plan.

The problem with a standard framework, says David Sligh, senior regulatory system investigator with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, is that the proposed pipelines cross four separate physiographic provinces, each with different habitats, geologies, soils and species. “To think that you can come up with an overall plan that is appropriate for each of these areas is dreaming.”

Webb says he would like to see plans tailored for each of dozens of streams, river crossings and steep mountainsides. Continue reading

Dueling Polls on the Pipeline Issue

pollsA month ago, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) published the results of a poll that found that 55% of Virginians opposed Governor Terry McAuliffe in his backing of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Only 28% of respondents endorsed the pipeline plans.

Yesterday the Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a poll showing almost diametrically opposite results; Virginians backed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (making no mention of the MVP) by 55% and opposing it by 29%.

Has popular sentiment toward the controversial pipelines shifted dramatically in the last month? Or did the pollsters just ask different questions?

Here’s what the CCAN asked:

Governor McAuliffe supports building two long pipelines that would bring gas from West Virginia into Virginia and send it across the state. He says the pipelines will create jobs, lower bills, help manufacturing, and help the environment. This gas would be extracted through hydraulic fracturing drilling, or fracking. Opponents say these pipelines will allow energy corporations to take hundreds of miles of privately owned land from citizens for private corporate gain. Opponents also say the pipelines will harm Virginia farms, worsen pollution, and damage drinking water and local wells. Weighing the pros and cons, do you support the Governor’s efforts to build these pipelines for fracked gas across Virginia, or no?

Here’s what the Chamber asked:

There is a proposal to build an underground natural gas pipeline called the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline would bring domestically produced natural gas to families and businesses in Virginia and North Carolina to meet energy and electricity needs. The pipeline would begin in West Virginia, travel across Virginia, and end in Eastern North Carolina.

Neither poll is entirely bias-free. The CCAN did mention positive aspects of the pipelines but heavily emphasized the negatives while using loaded language such as “fracking” and “private corporate gain”; the poll also dragged Governor McAuliffe into the picture, inviting partisan reactions. The Chamber avoided the use of loaded language but reminded respondents of a positive aspect of the pipeline — bringing gas to “families and businesses in Virginia” — without noting any of the controversy.

If I were constructing a poll, I would have asked first if respondents had heard of the pipeline proposals. Only if they had would I ask them, without any leading information, if they supported or opposed the projects, forcing them to rely upon their own knowledge.

Even then, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the results. The economic, environmental and legal issues swirling around the pipeline are so complex and nuanced that only a tiny fraction of the electorate — less than 1%, I’d guess — has an informed opinion on the subject. Hell, I’ve been writing about the pipelines for more than a year, and there are layers of the controversy that I have yet to peel back.

That’s why the United States is a representative form of government, not a pure democracy. We put very few issues to a popular vote. We elect politicians and appoint bureaucrats to study complex issues and make difficult trade-offs. It’s an imperfect system at best, but it’s less odious than the alternatives. I don’t see the polls adding anything to the useful store of knowledge.

Gas Pipeline Approvals Out of His Hands, Guv Says

the_macksterGovernor Terry McAuliffe says he can’t stop the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline even if he wanted to — and he really doesn’t want to. Responding to a question on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor,” McAuliffe said he supports the project as a boon to manufacturing jobs and as an alternative to transporting natural gas over roads or rails, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Whether he likes it or not, McAuliffe said the matter is largely out of his hands. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decides whether to approve or deny interstate gas pipelines. The state plays a secondary regulatory role, and state air and water permits are decided “statutorily.”

Said the governor: “I cannot deny an air and water permit as governor. I don’t have the authority. It’s done by statute. If you don’t like the regs and they get approved, then you need to talk to the legislature to change the law.”

Pipeline foes have pressed Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take a more forceful stance in the regulation of pipeline construction over steep mountains and in karst areas with sinkholes, underground streams and other complex geological phenomena. They are particularly concerned that DEQ will issue ACP and the Mountain Valley Pipeline permits for blanket plans to prevent erosion and sedimentation while crossing rivers and streams instead of permits for plans that address the specific characteristics of each water body. Also, they worry that DEQ will allow pipeline contractors to dig trenches longer than the regulatory standard of 500 feet.

The pipeline companies say they have ample experience digging pipeline trenches in rough terrain in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, and that any disturbance is temporary, occurring only while construction is underway.

— JAB

A Matter of Public Necessity

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Eastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina need more natural gas, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is the most cost-effective way to to deliver it, say the four pipeline partners.

by James A. Bacon

Two years ago, four electric and gas utilities announced the formation of a joint venture, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The 600-mile project, the partners said, would connect Virginia and North Carolina with the Marcellus and Utica shale basins, tapping abundant natural gas supplies to benefit residential customers, spur economic development, and enable power companies to shift generation from dirty coal to cleaner-burning gas. If all went according to schedule, the pipeline would receive a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the summer of 2016.

The project is rolling forward but it has encountered delays: A FERC ruling is not expected until next year. Intense opposition has arisen in Virginia mountain communities through which the pipeline would cross. Foes have raised concerns about the threat of gas explosions, harm to rare species, disruption to viewsheds, and pollution of rivers, streams and water supplies.

There is no legitimate public need to build the pipeline, opponents argue. Virginia and North Carolina can get plenty of natural gas through existing gas infrastructure. In their view, the ACP represents a bold play by four monopoly utilities — Dominion Virginia Power, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, owner of Virginia Natural Gas — to leverage their buying power to create a captive pipeline that will generate higher investment returns than they could get from their own regulated businesses.

FERC cannot approve any pipeline project “unless it is absolutely necessary,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates in a press release issued last week in conjunction with a study disputing the need for the pipeline. “In cases like this, where the government allows for-profit companies to take private property — family farms, people’s homes — that protection is especially crucial. … The pipelines are not needed, so there should be no eminent domain for private gain.”

Pipeline foes have been hammering home this message to regulators and the public. ACP officials counter that the argument is based upon a profound misunderstanding of pipeline economics and how the project originated. The four partner companies issued Requests for Proposal in 2014 and compared the proposals — real submissions, not theoretical alternatives thrown out by pipeline foes. Plain and simple, company spokesmen say, the ACP best met the utilities’ needs. The four partners backed the venture because it made the most economic sense.

The story of how the Atlantic Coast Pipeline came to be has never been told to the public. Given the way the debate was focusing increasingly on the pipeline’s public necessity, I thought the public could benefit from a clearer understanding of the thinking behind the enterprise. At my request, Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for Dominion Transmission, managing partner of the ACP, set up a phone-conference interview with executives from the four partner companies. During a 45-minute interview, they made several key points:

  • Duke and Piedmont foresaw an increasing demand for natural gas. Totally dependent upon the Transco pipeline, they wanted to diversify their sources of gas supply and transport. In 2014 they issued an Request for Proposal.
  • Thinking along parallel lines, Dominion Virginia Power issued its own RFP around the same time.
  • Instead of building separate pipelines, Duke, Piedmont and Dominion agreed that joining forces in a single pipeline would be far more economical than any other alternative. By signing up Virginia Natural Gas and Public Service of North Carolina as customers as well, the proposed pipeline would enjoy economies of scale that no one else could match.

The natural gas revolution

The Obama administration has presided over a regulatory makeover of the electric power industry. In March 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  proposed regulations designed to reduce electric utility emissions of mercury and other toxic chemicals. The so-called Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) compelled many power companies to shut down their oldest and dirtiest coal- and oil-fired plants and replace them with generators powered by cleaner-burning gas. By 2014, electric utilities were in the midst of implementing MATS when the EPA rolled out its Clean Power Plan (CPP), which aimed to achieve a major reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. The CPP gave state regulators leeway in how to achieve the cuts by means of such strategies as energy conservation and efficiency and switching to natural gas and renewable fuels.

Meanwhile, thanks to the fracking revolution, natural gas production was booming in the Ohio-West Virginia-Pennsylvania area where the Marcellus and Utica shale fields were concentrated. The price of gas had plummeted, and it looked like supplies would stay abundant and relatively cheap for a long time. East Coast markets were served by a relatively small number of gas pipelines, most notably the massive Transco pipeline system that delivered gas from the Gulf Coast to markets as far north as New York. Connecting the Marcellus fields to East Coast populations centers was shaping up as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity for the gas industry, and by 2014 FERC was fielding an unprecedented number of pipeline proposals.

As utility planners in Virginia and North Carolina looked into the future, they had to figure out how to do two things: replace the old coal-fired power plants and accommodate economic growth in one of the faster-growing regions of the country. While they saw a role for solar and wind power, electric utilities also were responsible for maintaining the reliability of the electric grid. Because renewable energy sources are intermittent, not always generating electricity to match demand, planners leaned toward natural gas, whose production they could dial up and down as needed.

In the winter of 2013-2014, a North American cold wave known as the polar vortex drove home the urgent need for more gas. A change in the jet stream sent temperatures plunging and natural gas consumption soaring in the East Coast. “We saw winter peaks that were eye-popping to us,” said Greg Workman, Dominion’s director of fuels. “The winter peak eclipsed our previous winter and summer peaks.” Continue reading

Should Terry McAuliffe Heed This Poll?

poll_results

by James A. Bacon

A poll commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network shows strong public opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and strong support for tougher restrictions on the disposal of coal ash.

Twenty-eight percent of Virginia voters support Governor Terry McAuliffe’s backing of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline while 44% oppose it, found a poll conducted by the Cromer Group in a run-up to a planned picketing of the governor’s office in October.

Meanwhile, 71% of voters polled said McAuliffe should follow the example of other southern states by requiring coal ash to be deposited in lined landfills rather than buried in place near rivers.

“This poll shows that Governor McAuliffe’s cheerleading for fracked-gas pipelines is not only dangerous for communities and the climate, but decidedly unpopular in Virginia,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in a press release. “The Governor likes to dismiss both the pipelines and coal ash as ‘federal issues’ beyond his influence, but that’s untrue. He has direct executive power to act on behalf of Virginians facing direct harm now. Governor McAuliffe has the means and the moral responsibility to reject the pipelines and to reform coal ash disposal, and his legacy depends on it.”

Bacon’s bottom line: This poll of 732 registered Virginia voters asked two questions. The questions were not laughably slanted, as in some push polls I’ve seen.

(A great example is a American Civil Liberties Union poll sitting on my desk that I actually may respond to, just for yuks. Sample question: “Across the country, we’re seeing efforts to twist the meaning of religious liberty to allow people and businesses to use religion as a license to discriminate and a means to impose their religious beliefs on others. How serious a problem do you think the use of religion to discriminate is in our country today?”)

Though the Cromer Group questions don’t sink to the level of the ACLU’s risible push poll, that’s not to say the phrasing of the questions didn’t nudge respondents toward the desired answers. The first question reads as follows:

Governor McAuliffe supports building two long pipelines that would bring gas from West Virginia into Virginia and send it across the state. He says the pipelines will create jobs, lower bills, help manufacturing, and help the environment. This gas would be extracted through hydraulic fracturing drilling, or fracking. Opponents say these pipelines will allow energy corporations to take hundreds of miles of privately owned land from citizens for private corporate gain. Opponents also say the pipelines will harm Virginia farms, worsen pollution, and damage drinking water and local wells. Weighing the pros and cons, do you support the Governor’s efforts to build these pipelines for fracked gas across Virginia, or not?

The statements within the question are accurate, or at least arguably so. The questions do not contain obviously biased language. They mention reasons to both support and oppose the pipeline. However, the question devotes only 14 words to the “pro” side while giving 41 words to the “con” side. In addition, it refers twice to “fracking” and “fracked gas,” which one could argue are loaded phrases.

Here is the second question:

For decades, Dominion Power has burned coal to create electricity, resulting in an accumulation of millions of tons of coal ash waste near the banks of the Potomac, James, and other rivers. This waste must now be disposed of. Dominion wants to leave its coal ash waste in the ground, covering the top of the ash and not placing protective barriers or linings along the bottom. Dominion says this is safe. North and South Carolina and Georgia have rejected this method as unsafe. They have required the coal ash be moved away from rivers and drinking water into protected, lined landfills. Do you think the Governor should support Dominion’s approach, OR, follow the example of other Southern States to remove the ash to modern landfills?

Again, the statement is accurate and it contains no loaded language. Yet it frames the issue in such a way as to ask the respondent, who likely has no independent knowledge to draw from, to choose between believing Dominion or believing three state governments regarding the best way to dispose of coal ash. The question clearly leads the respondent to group’s preferred answer.

That’s not to say that the question is illegitimate. Virginians should take into consideration the regulatory approaches of other states when pondering how best to regulate coal ash in Virginia. But that is only one way to frame the question. Alternatively, the poll could have focused respondents on the cost of the coal ash disposal. Dominion has estimated the bill could total $3 billion. Environmentalists say it would cost less. I dare say that a question focusing on cost would have yielded different results.

Are those biases in the questions sufficient to skew the findings? Is this a poll that Governor McAuliffe should take seriously? Now that I’ve biased you with my analysis, you tell me. Please respond in the comments section.

Update: Dominion spokesman David Botkins has issued the following statement: “Dominion’s plans for closing coal ash ponds as well as building the ACP protect the environment. To say otherwise is untrue. Over the last many months Dominion has developed plans to close our ponds by consolidating the ash on station property.  EPA endorses that approach. The poll is an obvious effort to use biased questions based on incorrect information to slant the results.”

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Hires Construction Contractor

pipelineA decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline isn’t expected until next year. But Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, a joint venture whose managing partner is Richmond-based Dominion, announced today that it has signed a construction contract with Spring Ridge Constructors International (SRC) to build the 600-mile project.

SRC, a joint venture comprised of four companies with extensive natural gas construction experience, was selected after an extensive competitive bidding process, ACP said.

“The members of SRC are aligned in purpose with the common goals of safe construction practices, a commitment to environmental stewardship and quality construction,” said project director Dam Plume.

The project has aroused furious opposition among environmentalists opposed to the expansion of natural gas-generated electricity and landowners along the route of the pipeline concerned about safety, environmental damage and loss of property values. Foes have contested the public necessity for the pipeline, claiming that a combination of solar, wind, energy efficiency and gas delivered by existing pipelines can meet the energy needs of Virginia and North Carolina.

Showing every outward sign of confidence that it will win regulatory approval, ACP has made significant financial commitments. It has contracted with a Pennsylvania manufacturer to deliver high-quality steel pipe, and now it is contracting with a construction enterprise. In early August, FERC issued a Notice of Schedule, which established a timeline for the remainder of the project’s federal environmental review process. Based on that schedule, ACP expects to receive a FERC certificate in the late summer or fall of 2017, with construction beginning shortly thereafter.

— JAB

In Hampton Roads, Life Is Not a Gas

natural_gas

Hampton Roads and other Tidewater communities see proposed natural gas pipelines in Virginia as a boon to economic development.

by James A. Bacon

While debate rages in western Virginia over the economic impact of natural gas pipelines on property values and local economies, we hardly hear a peep from the low country areas of Virginia and North Carolina that would benefit from an expanded supply of gas.

Elected officials claim, and economic developers confirm, that inadequate supplies of gas to Hampton Roads and outlying communities prevent them from competing for energy-intensive industrial customers, crimping efforts to grow their economies and create jobs.

“I’ve heard from cities and developers and builders. … We’ve got to get more capacity here,” says Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, chair of the Hampton Roads Caucus, who persuaded the region’s 33 state senators and delegates to sign a March letter supporting the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Voices from Hampton Roads and places like Brunswick and Greensville counties, where new gas-fired power plants are being built, have been quiet during the pipeline controversy. The impact of pipeline construction is less tangible and immediate than it is for, say, landowners in the path of the ACP and the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. And the benefits are more theoretical — fresh gas supplies would put their communities in the running for manufacturing projects they can’t compete for now, but it’s not as if there’s a big job-creating project waiting in the wings. Natural gas proponents aren’t barraging the media with press releases, filing lawsuits or marching on the state capitol.

Still, economic developers and political leaders have quietly lined up behind pipeline development, especially the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. For DeSteph, the aha! moment occurred about two-and-a-half years ago when demand from a severe cold snap swamped the local gas distributor, Virginia National Gas. The utility had to tell some of its largest customers to curtail their use of the fuel, as called for under contract. “I was shocked that we shut down the gas supply,” says DeSteph. “In my opinion that’s something we should never do.”

While big industrial customers usually can manage such outages, supply curtailments send a signal that gas supplies are limited. No energy-intensive manufacturer would want to locate or expand in Hampton Roads when they could locate worry-free in other communities. Noting that the Norfolk Naval Station was one of the entities that curtailed its gas use, DeSteph even fears that the capped gas supply could undermine the region’s status as a military hub.

The decline in natural gas prices made possible by fracking and the exploitation of the Marcellus/Utica gas fields has driven the re-shoring of energy-intensive manufacturing back to the United States, says Rick Weddle, president of the Hampton Roads Economic Development Partnership. But the areas benefiting from the trend have been those with access to the abundant gas supplies. Hampton Roads isn’t in the running.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, designed to carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day, could change that. The pipeline would run from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. A spur would split off from the main pipeline to deliver gas to Virginia Natural Gas, which has signed a 20-year customer agreement, and whose parent company AGL Resources is one of the partners in the project. The pipeline also would serve Piedmont Natural Gas serving the North Carolina market, which is a partner, too. (Dominion Resources, a sponsor of this blog, is the managing partner.)

A bigger supply of natural gas to the region would expand the prospects that Hampton Roads could compete for. “We would target new industries,” Weddle says.

The same logic applies to smaller communities in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, which also sit at the end of the existing pipeline distribution system.

The big five utilities in the industrial recruitment game are wastewater, electricity, fiber-optic cable and natural gas, says Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. “Most companies want gas, whether they’re using it for heating or as part of the manufacturing process. Not one hundred percent need it, but most do. It’s really hard for a community to make the case to recruit a manufacturer if it doesn’t have natural gas. Not impossible. But so many locations do have it that you’re at a major competitive disadvantage if you don’t.” Continue reading

Activists Pressure McAuliffe on Environmental Agenda

gas_pipelineby James A. Bacon

Governor Terry McAuliffe is getting heat from his far left flank for endorsing the construction of natural gas pipelines in Virginia, supporting offshore drilling and supporting Dominion Virginia Power’s plans for disposing of coal ash. While crediting McAuliffe for “small steps” in supporting solar power, energy efficiency and coastline resiliency in the face of rising sea levels, a coalition of mostly left-leaning environmentalists is calling for stronger measures.

“On the biggest, most polluting issues of our time, the Governor simply has not shown he has heard the voices of affected communities or joined the growing statewide call for justice,” states an open letter signed by more than sixty environmental, social justice and property rights groups.

Notably absent from the signatories were mainstream environmental organizations such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. The mainstream groups support the same positions but have worked within the system by lobbying, filing lawsuits and participating in gubernatorial stakeholder groups. 

The McAuliffe administration responded forcefully with a defense of the governor’s record on clean energy, solar power, water quality and preparing for climate change. “The governor recognizes that clean energy is the lifeblood of the new Virginia economy, and a majority of Virginians support his work to create jobs while protecting the natural resources that are so important to the commonwealth’s quality of life,” spokesman Christina Nuckols told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Arrayed against the environmental and social justice activists are a coalition of manufacturers, chambers of commerce, labor unions and economic development groups that support the pipeline. These groups have been far less active and less visible.

Specifically, the open letter calls for McAuliffe to:

  • Discontinue his support of offshore drilling.
  • Reconsider his support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and use his legal authority to review and challenge water permits under the Clean Water Act.
  • Immediately stop the plans of Dominion Virginia Power and other companies to “dump millions of additional tons of toxic coal ash liquid” into Virginia rivers or to otherwise improperly store the ash.
  • Support strong policy solutions to combat coastal flooding while capping carbon pollution.
  • Commit to a “mass-based” plan under the Clean Power Plan that would set stricter limits on CO2 emissions from electric power plants and “create thousands of new renewable energy jobs.”

Casting itself as a “multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-regional” movement for social change, the group is organizing a “march on the mansion” in Richmond on July 23.

Bacon’s bottom line: As a moderate Democrat, McAuliffe walks a fine line between his number one priority, creating jobs, and supporting environmentalists’ goals. While the mainstream environmental groups push their agenda from the inside — former SELC attorney Angela Navarro now works as Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, for instance — the activist groups are pushing from the outside.

McAuliffe has supported the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to curtail CO2 emissions, implicated in global warming, but he has not yet committed to any of the four broad options available to states for meeting the federal goals. The “mass-based” plan favored by environmentalists, critics argue, would cost ratepayers billions of dollars.

The governor also has supported the pipeline projects, arguing that greater use of natural gas would allow Virginia to transition away from coal, reduce CO2 emissions, and compete for industry that uses natural gas as a feedstock or energy source. The pipelines have stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition among Virginia mountain communities along the route, where people fear, among other things, that construction and operation of the pipelines will cause erosion that releases sediment into streams, rivers and water supplies. They argue that the regulatory apparatus, divided between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and DEQ, is broken. In particular, they fear that DEQ is being constrained by pressure from the governor’s office to not move more aggressively to regulate the impact of the pipelines upon water quality.

The coal ash issue has been contentious, too. While DEQ has issued Dominion permits for treating and disposing of the water in coal ash ponds, it has not yet issued permits for disposing of the mineral residue itself. Environmentalists want to put the material into lined landfills to prevent any possibility of groundwater contamination. Dominion says that option could cost $3 billion, which would be passed on to rate payers. The McAuliffe administration has not indicated which way it leans.

Swapping Easements

This Dominion map submitted to the VOF shows the location of conservation easements in the Augusta-Bath-Highland area (parcels outlined in red), and the location of the Hayfield Farm where Dominion would create an easement and turn over to the VOF. (Click for larger image.)

This Dominion map submitted to the VOF shows the location of conservation easements in the Augusta-Bath-Highland area (parcels outlined in red), and the location of the Hayfield Farm where Dominion would create an easement and turn over to the VOF. (Click for larger image.)

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Transmission, managing partner of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, has proposed to donate two parcels totaling nearly 1,200 acres to offset the intrusion of its proposed 600-mile pipeline onto lands protected by conservation easements.

In a proposal made to the Virginia Outdoor Foundation (VOF), which holds the conservation easements, Dominion would donate the land and easements for a 1,100-acre parcel and and 85-acre parcel to offset the conversion of 68 acres of protected open space on ten different easement-protected parcels in Bath, Highland and Nelson Counties. The donations would create a “mitigation ratio” of 16 to 1 in one case and 20 to in the other, according to Robert Hare, senior business development manager with Dominion.

Dominion presented its proposals Thursday to VOF’s Energy & Infrastructure Committee. The Mountain Valley Pipeline, which proposes to build an interstate transmission line through Virginia, also described a plan to offset an easement in Montgomery County that it wants to route its pipeline through. The ACP proposals are expected to be reviewed by the full VOF board next month.

The stakes are potentially momentous for the governance of conservation easements in Virginia. In its entire 50-year history, VOF has received only 14 “conversion-diversion” requests to alter easements, which landowners grant in order to protect scenic, environmental, cultural or historical resources on their property in perpetuity. Most conversions involved slivers of land needed for public purposes such as widening a road, adding a turning lane for a school or extending water-sewer lines. In every case, the requests were supported by the local governments involved. The pipeline cases are very different. They are proposed by for-profit utilities, they would be far more intrusive, and they are all opposed by the respective local governments.

Conservation easements are protected by state law, and they are hard to bust using eminent domain under state law. But Dominion’s interstate pipeline is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In the event of a conflict, it is unknown whether federal or state law would prevail because no case has been tested in the courts.

VOF board members find themselves between a rock and a hard place, said Tom Slater, chairman of the energy and infrastructure committee. A Richmond attorney, he spends weekends tending to 110 Angus cows on a Loudoun County farm that his family has owned since the 1840s. Board members are passionate about conservation and sympathetic to landowners who entrusted their easements to the VOF, he said. “We want to enforce state law.” At the same time, he added, they are cognizant that state law could be “pre-empted” by federal law.

Under FERC guidelines, pipeline companies must go through an exhaustive process of working with state agencies to avoid or mitigate intrusions upon historical, cultural and environmental resources. Virginia is unique in having an entity like the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which holds 3,835 easements totaling more than 750,000 acres. While VOF’s mission is to conserve viewsheds, wildlife habitat and other resources, it is also enjoined by state law to work with railroads, utilities, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other entities citing a public-need justification for infringing on the easements.

Dominion has made literally hundreds of adjustments to its proposed route. The resulting zigs and zags around residential areas and land with historical, cultural or environmental value have increased the pipeline length from an estimated 550 miles to 600 miles.

An early version of the route had managed to avoid 23 VOF easements, Hare told the VOF committee. However, when the U.S. Forest Service wrote a letter to FERC in January stating that the pipeline would be “incompatible” with the protection of rare salamanders and other species in Virginia and West Virginia national forests, Dominion had to re-route 95 miles of the line. With severely constrained options, the new route ran through 10 VOF-protected parcels.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) hasn’t faced the same routing challenges as ACP, but it still found itself unable to avoid one easement. The company has asked the VOF if it could mitigate the impact of crossing that parcel, as well as allowing a temporary construction-access road, by purchasing land elsewhere and turning over the easement to VOF. In the meantime, MVP is working on a work-around that may allow it to withdraw its request, said Lindsey Hesch, senior environmental specialist.

Dominion and MVP have shown “good faith” in trying to route their pipelines around conservation easements, said Slater, the committee chair. “But these land swaps are a first — on a scale way beyond anything we’ve experienced before.” Continue reading