By Brian Sewell
A decision by federal regulators to forgo a comprehensive review of large natural gas pipelines proposed in Appalachia has not diminished opponents’ doubts about the projects, including whether they are needed at all.
In August, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made clear it would not conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement to consider the cumulative impacts of the region’s proposed pipelines, particularly the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite months of requests from landowners and citizen groups.
Yet a new study published by Synapse Energy Economics does examine the need for the projects — and concluded that there is none. Based on existing capacity and projected electricity demand, minor pipeline upgrades would be sufficient to meet demand through at least 2030, the study found. In April, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis similarly concluded that the industry tends toward overbuilding, benefitting gas companies and electric utilities but putting ratepayers at risk.
A draft impact statement for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will arrive in December, with a final statement expected next June. The final statement for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline will come in March. Citizen groups argue that the draft review released in September fails to fully assess the public need, and likely impacts to water quality and the climate. The release of the draft on Sept. 16 initiated a 90-day public comment period.
“FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” says Anne Havemann of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, referring to widespread use of fracking to extract natural gas in Northern Appalachia, where the pipelines would begin. Havemann faults the review for acting as if the gas that would be transported by the pipeline “comes from nowhere.”
Opponents argue that both projects pose risks to the mountainous terrain, watersheds and ecosystems they would cross, including in the national forests that span Virginia’s border with West Virginia. The U.S. Forest Service detailed its concerns about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route through the George Washington National Forest in a September letter to regulators, warning of threats to wild trout streams.
In order to protect the silt-free gravel stream beds where trout spawn, the forest plan for the George Washington National Forest restricts activities that could disrupt the streams between Oct. 1 and April 1. But the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition reports that the utility intends to request waivers for time-of-year restrictions and other important environmental requirements.
Dominion CEO Tom Farrell says the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s scheduled environmental review means that “FERC believes that the route is essentially complete.” But opposition has significantly delayed construction and the project’s expected in-service date.
Read about Appalachian Voices’ involvement here.