Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic Coast Pipeline’

In the Pipelines’ Paths: Environmental damages to special places

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Dan Radmacher

Peters Mountain

This photo was taken on Peters Mountain, close to where the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail. A hiker standing here would see the pipeline right-of-way traversing a ridge to the left. Photo courtesy of Roanoake Appalachian Trail Club

It’s not an easy hike up to the top of Peters Mountain, which straddles West Virginia and Virginia. Unlike some Appalachian mountains, there aren’t roads that can get you part of the way up. But the hike is worth it, say those who spend a lot of time on the mountain.

“It is a special, beautiful transitional zone between Virginia and West Virginia,” says Kim Kirkbride, a self-employed bookkeeper who lives in Giles County, Va. “By the time you get there, it feels like you’re in another place, in a different realm. It makes me realize all the things that aren’t important. It’s so magnificently beautiful.”

Dana Olson, a physician who lives at the base of the mountain on the West Virginia side with his wife and mother-in-law, agrees. “It’s incredible, a wonderful, magical place,” he says. Getting to the top is a steep hike that takes maybe an hour. “It’s an ‘Almost Heaven’ kind of place, for sure.”

It’s a huge mountain for this region, 52 miles long with elevations above 4,000 feet. The Appalachian Trail follows its ridgeline for several miles between the Celanese Corporation’s industrial plant in Narrows, Va., and the Peters Mountain Wilderness Area.

That stretch of mountain is also where the Mountain Valley Pipeline company wants to cross with its 42-inch natural gas pipeline — a possibility that has many outraged.

“This pipeline will transform ‘Almost Heaven’ into ‘Almost Hell,’” says Olson. “Now, hikers along the AT stop and ponder life. They can camp in a meadow up there where you can see five or six counties in Virginia and West Virginia. Instead of that, this will be a place to just get through. It will turn into something that’s a threat and a danger.”

The pipeline crossing will harm both views and water quality, opponents say. “The mountain is just alive with water,” says Olson, who recently found a spring by the Appalachian Trail near the top of the mountain. The draft environmental impact statement tends to gloss over such concerns, saying Mountain Valley has planned mitigation measures such as set-backs and vegetation screens to resolve such issues.

“Like all of our mountains the pipeline is proposing to cut through, Peters Mountain is full of water and layers of rock that filter that water,” Kirkbride says. Multiple springs bubble up out of the mountain, and one even serves as the municipal water source for Lindside, W.Va.

“Even if that spring isn’t right next to the pipeline, we don’t know how everything flows in the mountain,” says Kirkbride. “It’s hard to say who’s going to suffer damage when the pipeline leaks.”

Even without a leak, the pipeline construction and maintenance will impact water quality. The pipeline will traverse the mountain’s steep slopes, and the permanent 50-foot right-of-way will be stripped of most vegetation. This will lead to sedimentation issues, according to geologist Pamela Dodds. She wrote a report on the problem submitted to FERC by Roanoke County. Opponents also worry about what the pipeline will do to viewsheds.

“Views of Peters Mountain will be affected, and views from Peters Mountain will be affected,” says Kirkbride. “The Columbia Gas pipeline is only 8 inches in diameter and cuts over and down Peters Mountain near Narrows. It’s a huge scar. It’s hard imagining something that’s almost six times that size.”

Crossing Landscapes and Waterways

These two major pipelines proposed to pump natural gas from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to the East Coast would be huge construction projects, stretching for hundreds of miles and carving a swath through national forests, wetlands, over and down steep ridges, through private property and public attractions, and across both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

Poor Mountain

The Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right-of-way on Poor Mountain would be visible from this Blue Ridge Parkway overlook. Photo courtesy of Roberta Bondurant

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would start in Wetzel County, W.Va., and snake down through the Mountain State before crossing Peters Mountain into Virginia, where it would join the Transcontinental Pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would start in Harrison County, W.Va., and wind through the state, cutting through the Monongahela National Forest before crossing into Virginia. From there, it would slice southeast through Virginia before dividing, with one arm headed to Norfolk, Va., and the other headed southwest across the North Carolina Coastal Plain.

Both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline will cross West Virginia’s Greenbrier River and several of its tributaries. That concerns many people, including Lew Freeman, chairman and executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a coalition of organizations that came together to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“Several of the Greenbrier River tributaries the Atlantic Coast would cross are native brook trout streams,” he says. “Native trout are a little bit like a canary in the coal mine for the mountains. If they cannot breed successfully in a location, that tells you there’s something wrong with the water quality and that maybe you have sediment issues.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will also impact the James River in Virginia, crossing under the river near James River State Park. Many of its tributaries are also in the pipeline’s path. “Virtually all of the major rivers that form the James are affected,” says Freeman. “We’re talking the potential for serious water quality problems.”

This is exacerbated by the karst topography in Bath, Highland, Augusta and Pocahontas counties, according to Freeman. Karst topography is landscape made up by limestone and other soluble rocks, which creates a network of underground drainage systems and caves. “The water recharge areas for wells and springs, including the springs that form the headwaters of the James and Cow Pasture rivers, are susceptible to disturbance underground,” he says. “Groundwater and the water sources for hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who depend on well and spring water will be put at risk.”

Freeman is also concerned about the miles of ridgeline the pipeline will run along. In order to achieve the necessary 125-foot construction right-of-way on these narrow ridgelines, Freeman says that for half a mile, the pipeline company will have to cut 25 to 50 feet of elevation from the top of the mountain.

“It would become a very visible scar, and then there’s the challenge of what to do with all the rubble. This would destroy the vistas that are so significant for this area, harming the tourist attraction and inviting serious erosion and sediment into nearby waters.”

Bent Mountain At Risk

Unlike Peters Mountain, Bent Mountain, Va., is not remote or isolated. It’s a small community of about 800, scattered across an upland plateau bisected by U.S. Route 221. When the Mountain Valley Pipeline shifted its route away from Floyd, Va., Bent Mountain came into its crosshairs.

The pipeline would come up over the steep Poor Mountain and cut through Bent Mountain’s forests, springs, wetlands and headwaters before crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading south into Franklin County.

Life on Bent Mountain

Family photos of life on Bent Mountain include images of harvests and orchards. Courtesy Marie Henry

There are a lot of “No Pipeline” signs in yards around Bent Mountain, but Kathy Chandler may be one of the most fired-up opponents. The pipeline would cut right across the property where she and her husband make their home, and a narrow private road she and others use to get to their homes would become an access road to the pipeline during and after construction.

She has even found the survey process upsetting. “It is an invasion of privacy,” she says. “These surveyors don’t seem to realize they’re in someone’s home, in someone’s yard. We just have bigger yards around here.”

Her big yard includes three springs that flow together to join Mill Creek, which flows into Bottom Creek and then into the Spring Hollow Reservoir, one of the main sources of drinking water for Roanoke County. Chandler worries about the impact to the springs from the pipeline and the access road. “Our water is your water,” Chandler says.

She and local activist Roberta “Bert” Bondurant worry about the pipeline’s impact on Bent Mountain’s many wetlands, including forested wetlands, in its path. They also worry about the people.

Bondurant — a board member of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), a grassroots coalition fighting the pipeline — has gotten to know many of the elderly residents of Bent Mountain, many of whom grew up in the community when thriving orchards provided its economic lifeblood. Several of these residents have property in the pipeline’s path, Bondurant said. “Somehow, they managed to go around the expensive subdivision, though,” she says.

Bondurant and Chandler studied the area’s history, and Chandler became friends with Jack Hale, an 85-year-old retired pilot whose grandfather owned 200 acres along Mill Creek and Green Hollow. They used what they’ve learned to submit arguments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has permitting approval authority for the pipelines and conducted a public comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late 2016.

Olson, the Monroe County physician, doesn’t hold out much hope for FERC denying the project, though. “The public is spending thousands and thousands of hours reading through these applications and asking questions and trying to get clarifications,” he says. “But FERC is funded by the people it regulates, and as far as I’m concerned, the gas industry is a ventriloquist and FERC is Charlie McCarthy [the ventriloquist dummy]. It’s like we the people who live nearby are just in the way. We’re nothing but noise to them.”

The Problems with Pipelines

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by molly

This map shows a sampling of the types of sites that would be affected by the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline. View the print centerspread here while we transfer it to a web-friendly version.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Pipeline Construction Would Scar Appalachian Trail Vistas

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Kevin Ridder

View from Angels Rest

This visual simulation of the view from Angels Rest, an overlook along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, shows the view without (above) and with (below) the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Simulation prepared by Hill Studio for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy


For generations, thru-hikers have come from far and wide to view the Appalachian Trail’s grand vistas. Many of those views, however, could be marred for future hikers.

The 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, two proposed natural gas pipelines that are scheduled to begin construction later this year if approved, would bore underneath the Appalachian Trail and require temporarily clearing as much as a 200-foot-wide right-of-way in some areas.

The proposed routes for both 42-inch pipelines would also cut through national forests. For the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve these routes, the U.S. Forest Service would need to make fundamental changes to each forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan.

Andrew Downs, regional director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, worries this would start a nationwide trend of tweaking forest protection plans for every new development.

“Changing or undermining that level of protection unnecessarily affects the entire national trail system,” Downs says. “That would allow for all sorts of future projects to come in and have a negative impact. It’s a slippery slope.”

“There is also a suite of a dozen or more prominent vistas along the trail where [the Mountain Valley Pipeline] would negatively affect the landscape,” Downs continues. “It would affect the experience of a hike along the Appalachian Trail for a long time.”

Affected vistas include Angel’s Rest, Dragon’s Tooth, Wilburn Valley Overlook, Kelly’s Knob and the Audie Murphy Monument.

Maury Johnson, a member of several Mountain Valley Pipeline opposition groups in Monroe County, W.Va., whose land would be crossed by the pipeline, is particularly worried about how the construction will affect Peters Mountain (read more here).

“When they were building the Appalachian Trail in the ‘20s, they literally took a 22-mile detour to the top of Peter’s Mountain so they could see the vista to the west,” Johnson says. “If this project gets approved, you’d be able to see the pipeline for about 30 miles snaking toward you, coming across this wonderful view.”

Visual and environmental impacts like these only get worse when combined with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Downs says. If approved, the project would cross the Appalachian Trail near the border of Virginia’s Augusta and Nelson counties.

“No effective cumulative impact analysis has taken into account both of these projects in terms of the Appalachian Trail,” Downs says. “Both pipelines in their draft environmental impact statement said that the other pipeline was going to contribute to cumulative impacts, but they refuse to analyze those impacts.”

According to Downs, the planning process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed route through Virginia and West Virginia hardly followed best practices, which he said was unusual behavior compared to other large-scale energy projects he’s worked with.

“At no time in their analysis have they utilized a correct centerline for the trail,” Downs says, referring to the path of the Appalachian Trail, which regularly shifts to more sustainable and scenic locations. “As a result they’ve got a pretty terrible route that includes significantly avoidable impacts to the Appalachian Trail. Not only is that ridiculous, it was also completely preventable. They could’ve just sat down with us in September like [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] told them to and gotten that information.”

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, has not responded to a request for comment.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal raises questions that beg for answers

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 - posted by guestbloggers

Special to the Front Porch: Our guest today is April Keating of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a local group of citizen advocates working to protect West Virginia’s environment, culture and heritage for future generations.

construction of the Stonewall Gathering Line

The organization Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance documented construction of the Stonewall Gathering Line in West Virginia in 2015. The Stonewall line is 24 inches in diameter, much smaller than the proposed 42-inch diameter Atlantic Coast Pipeline. View more photos here: http://www.mountainlakespreservation.org/gallery.html
Photo courtesy Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance

The deadline to submit comments on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is April 6 at 4:59 p.m. For information on how to submit your comment directly to FERC, scroll to the end of this post.

The comment period on the 42-inch Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property along the pipeline route). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, public health or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC. Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property — water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3,600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.

The evacuation zone for a pipeline this size is two miles. If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS-layered maps at www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions of dollars in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property values (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will run off into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42-inch monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and its tributaries nine times and it will cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the streambed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the draft environmental impact statement for this project (bear in mind this is info given to FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The draft impact statement says the work tours will be six to 12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety and public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be hired locally? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5 billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy costs. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the draft impact statement yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other forms of energy — clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Groups like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the POWER Initiative to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted electronically at www.ferc.gov

Click on the link for the eComment portal at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp, and fill out your information. You’ll then receive an email with a link to the FERC comment portal, which will ask you to enter the docket number for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge is also part of the picture (CP15-555).

Students speak out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Why collaborative resistance matters

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 - posted by guestbloggers

By Cassidy Quillen and Olivia Nelson

Photos by Greg Yost.

Photos by Greg Yost.

We arrived in the early evening, three days before the Walk to Protect our People and the Places we Live finished. The walkers were circled up, weary yet excited, going over highlights from the day’s route and the breakdown for the evening. That night we were sleeping in a church community center, sleeping bags already lined up on the floor and Seeds of Peace East preparing dinner for the 40 or so people staying that night. Not many people are even sure what day it is or how long they’ve been walking – we found out later most stayed six or more days – but they’re excited about vegan shepherd’s pie and attending the teaching event hosted by the Lumberton community that evening.

On a broad level, Divest Appalachian traveled to Robeson County, N.C., and walked because we know that we need everyone mobilizing in this political movement to halt the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. With President Trump’s push to expedite oil and gas pipelines, and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline listed as a top priority infrastructure project, there is no room for neutrality or complacency. Everyone at the action reflected similar values. The walkers came from across North Carolina, and ranged from students to retirees, united to get the message across that this pipeline is not wanted by the people of North Carolina.

Zooming in a bit more, it’s not hard to recognize that the people who would be impacted most by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have faced a long history of exploitation by extractive industries: African-Americans, Native Americans and low-income citizens. Lumberton has historically been home to people of color and is considered tribal land to the Lumbee — a Native American tribe not federally recognized, overriding their sovereignty and ability to block the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. To walk for someone else’s rights is to listen to and represent their community’s values, as well as their history. One of the foundations of the walk was getting involved with local organizers such as Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action.

Legerton led events that got both the walkers and local people involved in speaking out against the pipeline from a mutual point of understanding. One such event was a community teach-in. A series of speakers, including academics and representatives of the Lumbee American Indian Nation, spoke on how the natural gas will not be used in the counties the pipeline runs through, is not needed to meet demand, and how to stay involved once the walkers went home. We know, as students of sustainability, that the gas that would flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed and would not be coming from North Carolina, nor would it serve those along the route. This teach-in brought valuable information and examples of the dangerous effects of pipelines on the communities they divide. Once we peel back that layer, we are left with racist, profit-driven industry policies that are wholly unacceptable.

Focusing in on western North Carolina highlights Duke Energy’s monopolizing power across the state; the proposed pipeline would cause utility rate hikes statewide. Several of the students who traveled from Boone have families and homes in proximity to the route of the proposed pipeline. As Divest Appalachian and Boone Rising handed out information about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at Appalachian State University leading up to the walk, we discovered that many students on campus did not even know that the pipeline proposal exists, nor that it would impact their families in a variety of environmental and economic ways. How many people have connections to the land, history and loved ones that live along the proposed pipeline route, yet do not even know what’s coming their way?

Finally, we look at the place Divest Appalachian’s students call home: Appalachian State University. According to the UNCMC 2015 Annual Report, our school system has $236.8 million of assets invested in energy and natural resources — an “asset class comprised of investment managers that purchase oil, natural gas, power, and other commodity-related investments.” What this means is that Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina school system are actively promoting and profiting off of the struggle and oppression in Standing Rock. It means that our institutions are advancing the move to put communities in eastern North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia in danger from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In the face of a Trump presidency that threatens the stability of life on this planet, there is no room for neutrality in leadership at this university on the issue of climate change.

Divest Appalachian will continue building power on our campus this spring to show our school’s administration that it too can lead alongside universities, colleges and entire cities that have divested from fossil fuel industries and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be on our home soil, and we will not stand for an institution that touts an ideology of sustainability while profiting off industries driving climate change. We do this to protect our water, our air, our soil and our people right now. This pipeline is messy, it’s dangerous and it’s unnecessary. By laying these pipes, our state and our nation are telling us whose lives are more valuable, and who they can afford to lose. Watching extractive industries divide and conquer the communities we call home is not acceptable. From Standing Rock to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, people are standing up against injustice and destruction, but we need everyone to rise up from the trajectory we’re currently on.

There are many ways to get involved in blocking pipelines; call your elected officials, and learn more about pipelines and development projects in your state. It can even be as easy as finding local organizers to step into your community, such as Divest Appalachian, Boone Rising and Appalachian Voices.

Links to more resources:
Boone Rising on Facebook
Divest Appalachian
Divest Appalachian on Facebook
The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition on Facebook

Unnecessary and unwanted: Opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline grows

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 - posted by Lara Mack
There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Click here to submit a comment.

Despite a faulty format, the public has taken every opportunity to tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. At the start of 2017, Appalachian Voices and our partners criticized the many flaws in FERC’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Now, as the 90-day public comment period nears its conclusion, thousands of people have told FERC that the DEIS is insufficient and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline poses significant threats to the environment and public safety.

FERC is required to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, and communities have taken every opportunity to tell the commission to reject the pipeline. In February and March, FERC visited communities in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia to receive spoken and written comments.

Community members turned up at every Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS listening session along the pipeline route to share their concerns. Turnout at the events varied from roughly 40 to more than 150 people, with the Nelson County listening session in Lovingston, Va., topping out at 157. Commenters at every listening session sent a clear message to FERC — nearly all spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

Groups not only found fault with the DEIS itself, but also with the FERC listening session format. Unlike the public hearing procedure that most of us are familiar with, FERC sequestered commenters one at a time into a separate room or private space to record their comments. The Society of Environmental Journalists, a professional association of more than 1,200 journalists, objected to FERC’s public listening session process.

In a letter to FERC, SEJ President Bobby Magill wrote:

“The ‘listening’ format, which may be an effort to encourage commenters to speak freely, bars the public and the media from bearing witness to the event, much less hearing the information and arguments presented by other citizens.

“We understand that comments taken at such sessions are recorded, and that transcripts are posted in the online docket for the project in question, and that they are generally available for review there within a couple of weeks. But that effectively suppresses the news about the content of the meeting by divorcing it from the immediacy of the event itself. The public is left to wonder what transpired, when there is no reason to make them wait.”

The DEIS comment period has proved to be a rallying point for organizations to connect with new folks concerned about pipelines. A number of grassroots groups along the pipeline route are hosting comment-writing parties and encouraging pipeline opponents to submit their concerns using FERC’s online system or via good ol’ snail mail. Comment-writing parties have popped up in Charlottesville, Staunton and Buckingham, among other places.

But you don’t need to attend a party to learn more about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or to send comments to FERC. A number of useful documents exist to help people navigate FERC’s website and comment submission process. And, if none of those are quite what you need, you can always call the FERC help desk to walk you through the online submission process or click here to sign on to Appalachian Voices’ grassroots comments.

As we dive into the final two weeks of FERC’s public comment period for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, don’t forget to tell FERC why the pipeline is unnecessary and unwanted! Click here to send your comment to FERC.

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

Public Pushback Against Appalachian Natural Gas Pipelines

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

Critics cite flaws in Mountain Valley Pipeline’s environmental review process

By Molly Moore

pipeline easement illustration

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC is seeking an amendment to the Jefferson National Forest Plan that would reclassify 186 acres of old growth forest as a 500-foot-wide “utility corridor.” This image simulates a such a corridor from the perspective of Giles High School in Giles County, Va. Illustration courtesy Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition.

On a quiet Tuesday evening, nine individuals gathered in the small town of Elliston, Va., for a meeting of the eastern chapter of Preserve Montgomery County VA, a grassroots group formed in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline. Some attendees had known each other for years, while others shook hands for the first time. But these individuals shared at least two things in common: all lived along the steep slopes and rolling ridgelines that distinguish Central Appalachia, and all were opposed to a new natural gas pipeline slicing through their home county.

Dozens of major new gas transmission pipelines are proposed for construction across the eastern United States. Two of these, each 42 inches in diameter, are slated to cross the steep slopes and abundant streams of the Appalachian Mountains while carrying high-pressure natural gas from fracking wells in West Virginia to companies in Virginia and North Carolina. Since applications for the projects were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — in September 2015 by the public utilities backing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and in October 2015 by the private companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline — communities along the route have raised the alarm.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would stretch from Wetzel County in northern West Virginia to Pittsylvania County along Virginia’s southern border, while the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from Harrison and Lewis Counties, also in northern West Virginia, across Virginia to Robeson County on the southeastern edge of North Carolina.

Both would tie in to the Transco Pipeline, which extends between Texas and New York. Transco also connects to a recently approved natural gas export facility in Maryland, opening the possibility that this gas could go to overseas markets.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines would also each require the construction of between three and four compressor stations — industrial facilities that maintain pressure throughout the system but pose concentrated health and environmental risks to nearby communities.

Common Cause

In places like Montgomery County, Va., some residents who might have different perspectives on other issues are united in their opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Community member Ellen Darden serves as the volunteer co-chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights — a coalition of local groups along the proposed route of the MVP. “[It’s] totally nonpartisan,” she says of the group’s name. “It’s really all about water, heritage and rights because those were the elements that were important to different groups and we wanted that represented.”

The coalition is working alongside environmental organizations, including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

Many of the residents are outraged at the prospect of losing the use of their land to gas companies or utilities while facing the likelihood of diminishing property values.

“The thing about going through properties, in addition to environmental destruction, is we’re in hollers. The only flat land you have is down by the creek,” says Anita Puckett, a member of Preserve Montgomery County VA. “They want to run it down by the creek because it’s easier to build, so they’re leasing prime farmland, garden land, house-building land.”

In eastern Montgomery County, the MVP would claim a right-of-way through a flat portion of resident Jim Law’s land that he intends to use as a future homesite for his granddaughters. Roughly 100 miles further east, the ACP would bisect a pasture on Carlos Arostegui’s dairy farm.

Other nearby citizens cite worries about the risks that high-pressure gas poses to their homes, farms and lives. Natural gas transmission pipelines can be constructed with thinner walls and with shutoff valves spaced further apart in more sparsely populated areas, increasing the safety risk to nearby landowners.

Environmental impacts are also of concern to many. The construction process involves heavy truck traffic, clear-cutting, and crossing and tunneling beneath waterways, which leads to sedimentation and stream disturbances. Both the MVP and ACP would also traverse fragile karst topography, a porous limestone bedrock that amplifies the risk that groundwater would be affected.

New pipelines also have implications for global climate change. Methane is released during natural gas drilling and transmission and has a climate-altering potential 86 times greater than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after emission.

Locally, the projects would negatively affect viewsheds and tourism, according to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Appalachian Trail Conservancy. After months of attempting to collaborate with pipeline officials and other stakeholders to minimize risks, in November 2016 the Appalachian Trail Conservancy concluded that it is “strongly opposed to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.”

In contrast, pipeline backers emphasize potential for construction jobs and tax revenue — a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by MVP anticipated that a four-year construction phase would contribute to roughly 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

According to the ACP’s website, that pipeline would generate $8.3 million in property tax revenue in 2018, a figure that would rise and top $30 million each year by 2025, when considering all three states. But different projections were reached in a 2016 study by Key-Log Economics, LLC, which predicted the pipeline would result in a net loss of property taxes.

The ACP has the explicit support of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and President-Elect Donald Trump’s First 100 Days platform calls for removing barriers to new energy infrastructure projects. But even with such high-profile support, the pipelines still face regulatory and potential legal hurdles.

Federal Procedure

Before breaking ground, interstate pipeline projects must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency is designed to be nonpartisan and independent, so instead of relying on financial support from taxpayers, it is funded by fees from the companies it regulates. Pipeline opponents nationwide have alleged that this is a conflict of interest that favors industry.

Since 2009, FERC has approved 170 major natural gas pipelines, though the commission isn’t obligated to review whether or not these pipelines are needed.

Yet even if FERC approves a pipeline, it’s not a done deal. Privately financed projects like the MVP still need to find and retain financial backing. Pipelines can also be denied at a state level even if they have federal approval — in April 2016, the state of New York halted construction on the Constitution Pipeline by denying a water-quality permit.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, FERC is required to prepare an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of significant projects like these and to assess alternatives, as well as consider public input before making a decision and issuing a final environmental review. At FERC, these documents are often prepared by contractors and subcontractors who are paid directly by the gas companies or utilities.

FERC has been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for repeatedly accepting environmental assessments for new pipelines that the EPA deems insufficient. In October, the EPA issued a letter charging that FERC’s review of the LeachXPress pipeline — which would carry natural gas through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — omitted significant information.

The environmental review process is intended to give the public a chance to be heard by submitting public comments or attending formal in-person FERC listening sessions. The draft environmental review for the MVP was released on Sept. 16 and the deadline for public comment set for Dec. 22. Release of the ACP’s draft environmental assessment is expected in December 2016. [Editor’s note: The ACP environmental review was released Dec. 30. Read the full draft here and environmental groups’ press statement here.]

Residents across the country can submit comments for interstate pipelines like MVP and ACP. But the effectiveness of public comments also depends on how thorough the initial assessment is — for instance, if the draft doesn’t describe how pipeline builders plan to mitigate landslides, it’s harder for local residents to weigh in on whether that plan is sufficient. Attendees at FERC’s seven public listening sessions held along the MVP route in November stated that the draft environmental statement was “woefully inadequate.”

Incomplete Review

In October, the nonprofit law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates submitted a letter to FERC outlining shortcomings in the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement. The 15-page letter, sent on behalf of 27 conservation and community groups, called on the agency to revise or supplement the draft and questioned whether the MVP was even necessary.

According to Ben Luckett, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, FERC published an incomplete review. “FERC even acknowledges it still needs information about impacts on drinking water sources, as well as important streams and wetlands,” he stated in a press release. “The public must have access to this crucial information if its review of FERC’s analysis is to have any meaning.”

In its application, Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, stated that it has secured contracts for the two billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas it would transport each day. Yet separate studies by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commissioned by Appalachian Voices, and by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., both concluded that pipelines carrying gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are being overbuilt and that there is enough pipeline capacity to meet demand until 2030.

The Appalachian Mountain Advocates letter also points out that some information — such as surveys for a proposed route change — can be omitted until the end of the comment period, and even more information can be withheld until after FERC grants a certificate of approval. These components include plans for avoiding active mines, mitigating landslides, installing permanent culverts and permanently filling waterbodies and wetlands along the route.

There are many organizations resisting the pipelines, and those listed below can also help identify local groups in your area. Learn more or submit a comment asking FERC to reject the MVP at appvoices.org/no-mvp-pipeline

  • Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance: Coalition of local groups opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: abralliance.org
  • Appalachian Voices: Advocacy organization fighting against the ACP and MVP
    Visit: Appvoices.org Call: (434) 293-6373
  • NC WARN: N.C. organization working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
    Visit: ncwarn.org Call: (919) 416-5077
  • Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: Coalition of local groups resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline
    Visit: powhr.org
  • Speaking Out

    FERC’s seven listening sessions on the MVP were held in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania during the first part of November. Some were sparsely attended, while others had high turnout, including more than 150 attendees in Roanoke, Va.

    Instead of speaking publicly before attendees and the commission as is the custom for public forums, individuals were led into a room with just a FERC official and a stenographer, an atmosphere that Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer with Appalachian Voices, calls “sterile and disempowering.”

    Yet as attendees met with FERC individually, community groups and the Sierra Club Virginia hosted alternative meeting spaces in the same building for people to share their comments with one another and learn more about the pipeline. In Weston, W. Va., local organizations also held their own forum with a stenographer taking comments in a public space so that residents could hear each other’s concerns.

    In the face of proposals like the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, building connections — whether between organizations or between neighbors — is key.

    “This is not just a local fight,” says Darden, noting that if one proposal fails, companies will likely try another route. “The [pipelines] are coming. This is just the start. And the companies just all want their own profit, there’s no collaboration, no coordination.”

    Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline draft environmental assessment was expected December 2017. The draft was expected in December 2016, and was released Dec. 30. Read the response to the draft from Appalachian Voices and other citizens groups.

    Buckingham’s Battle: Residents oppose proposed gas compressor station

    Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

    By Molly Moore

    Buckingham resident

    Cora Perkins worries about the health impacts and accompanying medical bills if a compressor station is sited nearby. Photo by Molly Moore

    UPDATE: On Dec. 12, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors held its monthly meeting. WMRA reported that more than 150 citizens attended, with more than a dozen people speaking out against the compressor station during the general comment period. During that meeting, the board also set the date for a public hearing regarding the special use permit for the natural gas compressor station for Jan. 5, 2017. Click here for information about the public hearing.

    Ella Rose grew up in Nelson County, Va., across the James River from her current home in Buckingham County. From her dining room table, she enjoys the simple pleasure of looking out across the grassy yard, flanked by tall evergreens and watching the wildlife pass by.

    But lately Rose has been concerned about the potential for a natural gas compressor station to be built on the other side of those evergreens.

    Buckingham County, just east of the mountains and south of the James River, is the geographic center of Virginia. It’s also become a focus in the regional push against new natural gas infrastructure.

    To keep gas moving through the pipelines at sufficient pressure, the networks that transport fracked gas from the drill sites to the final destination require compressor stations. In this case, the 53,784-horsepower facility would also connect the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would extend from West Virginia to North Carolina, to the existing Transco Pipeline.

    Scores of local residents like Rose have publicly voiced their opposition to Dominion Resources’ plan to install a compressor station on a 68-acre parcel of land bordered by the largely African American Union Hill community.
    Compressor stations emit air pollutants such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, recent research notes consistent respiratory, neurological and cardiovascular symptoms in residents living near compressor stations. Residents have also complained of high levels of noise and offensive odors.

    Cora Perkins’ property also flanks the proposed site, and she says thoughts of the compressor station sometimes keep her up at night. A survivor of three open-heart surgeries, the dust kicked up by vacuuming is enough to bother her breathing.

    Her five-year-old great-grandson also has breathing difficulties, and Perkins says she’s concerned about whether he will be safe at her home on the family land if the compressor station is installed nearby.

    Chad Oba and her husband have lived near Perkins for 30 years. Oba is also a member of Friends of Buckingham, a grassroots group opposed to the pipeline and compressor station. “I really feel as though we’re getting the most polluting aspect of this pipeline,” she says.

    Planning Process

    In October, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held its first hearing regarding a special use permit to build the facility in an area zoned for agricultural use. So many citizens arrived to speak against the compressor station that the commission devoted another meeting to the topic — and still, enough concerned residents arrived that the commission scheduled yet another meeting to allow Dominion a chance to respond.

    Buckingham sign

    A sign near Dominion’s proposed facility. Photo by Molly Moore

    Days before the fourth planning commission meeting, news broke that Buckingham County had entered into an “agreement in principle” with one of the county’s largest employers, Kyanite Mining Co., along with Columbia Gas Virginia, that would allow Kyanite to tap into gas from the new pipeline to fuel industrial burners at the company’s plant. Until that point, none of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas was expected to go to local customers, a point of contention for many of the compressor station’s potential neighbors.

    At the next planning commission meeting on Nov. 21, the commissioners announced their decision to recommend the project along with a set of 40 conditions, eight more than in the original permit. These conditions include limits on overnight noise, additional safety measures and added consequences for any permit violations. The commission also recommended limiting the size of the compressor station to 55,000 horsepower and requiring that any increase in size undergo new permitting.

    In the public comment period following the commission’s announcement, more than a dozen community members shared their concerns.

    In the next step in the process, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision regarding the compressor station application in December or January. Although the board has supported the new gas infrastructure in the past, Friends of Buckingham and other concerned citizens intend to continue advocating against the facility.

    According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, as the commissioners and others left the Nov. 21 meeting, opponents of the compressor station began a chant: “People gonna rise like the water, gonna shut this pipeline down!”

    John Laury grew up in Buckingham County’s Union Hill neighborhood. After decades away, he returned in 2003 with his wife Ruby and step-grandson. They now raise cattle on a peaceful, quiet property near several of John’s siblings. But Ruby and John are concerned that the proposed nearby compressor station and new natural gas pipeline could threaten their well water and clean air.
    Buckingham_Laury

    “We have a family homesite and all of my siblings own property just about a mile away from the compressor station … So our concerns are what it’s doing to the property values — it’s devaluing it. There are people trying to sell their property in the area now and they’re not able to sell them.

    We’re being asked to trust Dominion, to put our lives on the line in so many cases. It may work fine for 20 years, but it only takes one eruption and then we got a major problem.


    With all the money that Dominion has to invest, they could very well have approached a farmer who had thousands of acres and bought him out and put that in the center so it wouldn’t be really close to residents. And here it is, it’s right in the backyard of quite a few residents. And that’s to me unimaginable. Even though we’re in rural Buckingham, it’s not that rural when you start looking at potential impacts.” — Adrian Jones

    Carlos Arostegui is a firm opponent of both the compressor station and the associated natural gas pipeline. At Whispering Creek Farm, Arostegui grazes 36 Jersey dairy cows on 134 acres. The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cut through his back pasture on its way to the proposed compressor station roughly a mile from his home. He and his wife just finished paying for perimeter fencing, but the pipeline right-of-way would cut through the pasture. “They’re taking half that field away from me because I’m not going to have my cows going across that pipeline right-of-way,” he says.
    “I was born in Cuba, I came when I was 12 years old. I’ve lived in Florida, Georgia, went to college in Tennessee, graduate school in Connecticut and then in Maryland, and all of that time I had never felt at home. It wasn’t until I came here that I felt like I’m not passing through any more. I’m home. So I’m going to fight to keep it.”

    “It’s highly likely the property would devalue, and it’s our sole life investment — it’s the only thing we really have that we can turn around if we needed to and move elsewhere. So to have it so severely devalued as we expect it to, that’s a real concern.

    We’ve given some really, really good economic projections and very well-substantiated health impact studies from Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Union of Concerned Scientists. These are real impacts, they’re not based on fear, they’re real. And I think that the way of the future is away from fossil fuels, it’s not building more gas infrastructure.”
    — Chad Oba

    “You don’t know how that [compressor station is] going to do. Your breathing could be bad from it … if people get sick or something at night and nobody around, and then it could be a big bill or something. I wonder why they decided to put it right here, in this community, of all the other places.”

    Consequences and Need for Natural Gas Pipelines Disputed

    Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

    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.