Tag Archives: Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Hundreds Seek Pipeline Construction Jobs

Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction will create 7,200 temporary jobs.

Pipeline construction.

The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) is highly controversial in Augusta County, where property owners fear pipeline construction will jeopardize water supplies, create a safety hazard for nearby residents, and drive down property values. But hundreds of mechanics, welders, electricians and other blue-collar workers see the $5 billion project as a potential boon.

By noon Thursday, 157 people had signed up at the Augusta Expo put on by the ACP to inform local vendors and workers of opportunities to work on the 600-mile pipeline, according to the News Virginian.

At peak construction in 2018, said ACP spokesman Aaron Ruby, the pipeline will employ 7,220 workers.

Wrote the News Virginian:

Scott Bazzarre, the founder and president of Budget Electrical & Mechanical in Palmyra, wants to be considered for electrical work on the pipeline. He calls the pipeline a boon for workers like him and for the economy. “It’s a no-brainer, not just for the tax base but for a struggling economy.”

Unlike landowners, who will have to live with the pipeline as a permanent fixture on their property, construction workers will benefit only for the duration of the construction project. But there are undoubtedly thousands of workers who think like Bazarre: “We have to have good-paying jobs for my kids and grandkids.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Is it a stretch to suggest that the ACP pipeline controversy reflects the same societal schisms as the 2016 election: the propertied, educated class versus blue collar workers struggling to survive economically? Such a framework over-simplifies a complex reality, but I think there’s something to it. Even though Virginia’s unemployment rate stands at 3.7%, theoretically full employment, rural/small town Virginia has a higher jobless rate, and the “unemployment” figures don’t take into account discouraged workers who have dropped out of the workforce. Pipeline construction would throw construction workers a lifeline.

On the other hand, property owners can’t be blamed for wanting to be left alone. The value of land in the Shenandoah Valley is determined increasingly by aesthetics — bucolic rural landscapes, mountain views, wildlife habitats — not by farming/timbering income streams that traditionally determine compensation for land taken by eminent domain. One can argue that Virginia’s eminent-domain laws do not provide fair compensation for lost value.

In any case, Virginia’s blue collar workers have been largely invisible in the pipeline debate until now. Don’t be surprised to see ACP maximize their exposure.

Pipelines Offer Hope, Provoke Despair

Fern and Earl Echols stand near a pipeline marker on their property in Giles County. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Fern and Earl Echols stand near a pipeline market on their property in Giles County. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Recent articles have highlighted rural communities that stand to win and lose from proposed natural gas pipeline mega-projects crossing the state.

On the hopeful side, the Daily Press reports that Isle of Wight County economic development director Tom Elder would like to build a lateral line off the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to supply gas to the county’s intermodal industrial park. Gas from the interstate pipeline would supplement supplies made available by local gas distributor Columbia Natural Gas.

“If we had a heavy user, there’s some stipulations that Columbia couldn’t provide at this point,” Elder told the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors.

Said County spokesman Don Robertson: “We’d love to have a gas line at the intermodal park — it’s going to make that park more marketable. … How and when that happens is obviously going to be determined by the amount of funding and the board’s willingness to do that.”

Isle of Wight joins Brunswick County, Buckingham County and others that view natural gas as a potential boon to their industrial development efforts.

By contrast, residents of Newport in Giles County worry that the economy of their small town will suffer from the Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Newport, more than any community in the pipeline’s proposed path, is potentially going to take a direct hit in the heart of our historic district, while avoiding more affluent communities and homes,” lifelong resident Perry Martin told the Roanoke Times.

Initially, Newport residents expressed concerns that the MVP route would run close to a school, recreation center and rescue squad building. When the pipeline company adjusted the route closer to the center of the town, foes said it threatened other assets such as an ante-bellum church and the historic C.A. Hardwick house. If the pipeline exploded — admittedly, an unlikely event — the potential impact zone would encompass those buildings and several others.

Pipeline companies attempt to negotiate with landowners to obtain the right to cross their land, and often adjust their routes if they can’t reach agreement. But sometimes altering the route is impractical, in which case they can invoke the power of eminent domain on the grounds that their projects are a public necessity. Communities along the route of the ACP in Augusta, Nelson and neighboring counties voice similar fears to the residents of Newport.

“I just don’t understand how people can come in and just take what you’ve worked your whole life for,” said resident Earl Echols. “Where’s 80-year-old people going to go and start over?”

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

gas_pipeline

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