Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic Coast Pipeline’

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.

    Community and conservation groups condemn FERC’s review of proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

    Friday, September 16th, 2016 - posted by cat

    Contact:
    Joe Lovett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-520-2324, jlovett@appalmad.org
    Laurie Ardison, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, 304-646-8339, ikeandash@yahoo.com
    Kirk Bowers, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 434-296-8673, kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org
    Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022, kelly@chesapeakeclimate.org
    Lara Mack, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373, lara@appvoices.org

    The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

    The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal regulators today released a draft environmental review for the proposed fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline that public interest advocates say fails to adequately assess the public need for the project and the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate.

    The controversial $3.2 billion pipeline, proposed by EQT and NextEra, would cut 301 miles through West Virginia and Virginia — crossing public lands and more than 1,000 waterways and wetlands — and require the construction of three large compressor stations. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of six major pipelines proposed for the same region of Virginia and West Virginia where experts warn the gas industry is overbuilding pipeline infrastructure.

    >> See below for a bulleted list of major impacts as defined by FERC.

    In preparing its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relied heavily on gas company data to assess the public need for the project, the groups say. A report released earlier this month concludes there is enough existing gas supply in Virginia and the Carolinas to meet demand through 2030. The groups also fault the agency for dismissing clean energy alternatives.

    In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC has extended the usual 45-day period for public comment to 90 days. Comments are due December 22.

    While legal and environmental experts are continuing to review the nearly 2,600-page document, they have identified major gaps in FERC’s analysis, including:

    • The core issue of whether the massive project is needed to meet electricity demand, and whether other alternatives including energy efficiency, solar and wind would be more environmentally responsible sources;
    • A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline;
    • Any accounting of other environmental and human health damage from the increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline; and
    • Thorough analysis of damage to water quality and natural resources throughout the pipeline route.

    “It’s shameful that FERC did not prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” said Joe Lovett, Executive Director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “It would allow a private pipeline company to take private property for private profit. Apparently FERC decided it didn’t have to do the hard work necessary to determine whether the MVP is necessary. Such a lack of diligence is remarkable because FERC has the extraordinary power to grant MVP the right to take property that has, in many cases, been in the same families for generations.”

    “The resource reports MVP has already submitted to FERC are the alleged backbone upon which the DEIS is created. These reports are, however, uncatalogued collections of partial surveys, studies and desktop engineering notions which are rife with omissions, and inadequate and incorrect data”, said Laurie Ardison, Co-Chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR). “The DEIS is fatally flawed for a variety of process and substance matters, not the least of which is MVP’s insufficient, unsubstantiated foundational material.”

    “FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “FERC’s limited review ignores the full lifecycle of pollution the pipeline will trigger by acting as if gas comes from nowhere. FERC also provides no clear explanation of exactly how it arrived at its limited estimate of emissions. If FERC did a full accounting of the climate harm of this fracked-gas project and clean energy alternatives, it would have no choice but to reject it.”

    “Recent studies have shown that our region has the necessary energy to meet demand through 2030 already. We know that clean, renewable energy is available and affordable, and by this time, it will be the only choice to preserve our environment and climate. Additional fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley project, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and industrial facilities in production — despite the claims by MVP developers,” said Kirk Bowers, Pipelines Campaign Manager with the Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club.

    “This would be the first fracked-gas pipeline of this size to cross the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountains. Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” said Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. ”FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

    “The Mountain Valley Pipeline could result in taking people’s property in West Virginia solely to benefit out-of-state companies,” said Jim Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter Chair. “To make matters worse, it will affect all West Virginians because it will result in higher gas prices for local consumers. Low cost energy is one of the few advantages that West Virginia has in attracting new businesses, and this pipeline will make our energy costs higher while lowering costs for competitors in other states. That pipeline is bad business for West Virginia businesses.”

    ###

    Highlights of major impacts of the MVP route as identified by FERC in the DEIS:

    • About 67% of the MVP route would cross areas susceptible to landslides.
    • The pipeline would cross about 51 miles of karst terrain.
    • Construction would disturb about 4,189 acres of soils that are classified as potential for severe water erosion.
    • Construction would disturb about 2,353 acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.
    • The pipeline would result in 986 waterbody crossings; 33 are classified as fisheries of special concern.
    • The MVP would cross about 245 miles of forest; in Virginia, it would impact about 938 acres of contiguous interior forest during construction classified as “high” to “outstanding” quality.
    • In West Virginia, the pipeline would result in permanent impacts on about 865 acres of core forest areas which are significant wildlife habitat.
    • The 50-foot wide operational easement would represent a permanent impact on forests.
    • FERC identified 22 federally listed threatened, endangered, candidate, or special concern species potentially in vicinity of the MVP and the Equitrans projects, and 20 state-listed or special concern species.
    • MVP identified 117 residences within 50 feet of its proposed construction right-of-way.
    • Construction would require use of 365 roadways.
    • A still incomplete survey of the route shows the pipeline could potentially affect 166 new archaeological sites and 94 new architectural sites, in addition to crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway Historic District, North Fork Valley Rural Historic District, and Greater Newport Rural Historic District, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Atlantic Coast Pipeline could face further delays

    Friday, September 9th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

    U.S. Forest Service comments could push back pipeline construction

    Laurel Run, a wild trout stream in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    Laurel Run, a wild trout stream in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    In a letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Sept. 1, the U.S. Forest Service voiced concerns that the proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could threaten several streams in the George Washington National Forest.

    In particular, the USFS said it was “highly concerned” about the potential impacts on the Laurel Run Stream in Bath County, Va.

    In the most recent route for the proposed pipeline, this stream — home to wild brook trout — would not only be crossed by the pipeline itself, but it would be paralleled for nearly its entire length by an access road that would also cross it several times. The USFS called this “unacceptable.”

    In its letter, the Forest Service also raised concerns about several streams in Augusta County that would also be crossed by the proposed routes for both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its access roads.

    These roads and the pipeline pose many risks, including to our forests’ streams and rivers. They would fragment habitats and threaten the species that live there, cause soil erosion and reduce water quality. For the trout populations, siltation is of particular concern.

    According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, brook trout are the only trout species native to Virginia, but this cold water fish has a “very low ability to reproduce.” In order to protect the silt-free gravel stream beds where trout spawns, the forest plan for the George Washington National Forest restricts activities that could disrupt the streams between Oct. 1 and April 1.

    The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, however, reports that “Dominion has indicated an intent to proceed with accelerated winter-time construction and to request waivers for time-of-year restrictions and other important environmental requirements.”

    But there’s reason to believe that the Forest Service would deny Dominion’s request for a waiver and protect the reproduction cycle of the trout. In its September letter, the Forest Service “request[ed] that [Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC] re-evaluate its proposed stream crossings and proposed locations of access roads, while considering Forest Plan standards and [best management practices] relating to soil and water.”

    This is good news for the environmental groups and impacted community members who are fighting to stop the construction of this pipeline.

    “At the very least, this will push back Dominion’s timeline for release of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement which was previously set for December, 2016 release,” said Ernie Reed, Wild Virginia President, in a statement. “Or it could be another nail in the coffin for this misguided and unnecessary project.”

    For more about the potential risk caused by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline access roads, visit the Ground Truth About ACP Access Roads.

    Atlantic Coast Pipeline backers head to North Carolina

    Monday, August 15th, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

    Special to the Front Porch: Our guest today is Lisa Sorg, environmental reporter for N.C. Policy Watch. A seasoned journalist, Lisa was the editor and an investigative reporter for INDY Week, covering the environment, housing and city government. This post originally appeared on the N.C. Policy Watch blog The Progressive Pulse.

    Lisa Sorg

    Lisa Sorg

    While North Carolina is rightfully focused on the coal ash scandal, another environmental tug-of-war is strengthening in some of the state’s poorest areas.

    Co-owned by Duke Energy, Dominion, PSNC and AGL Resources, The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would ship natural gas 550 miles, from the fracking hotspot of West Virginia through sensitive, federally owned land in Virginia, and then into eastern North Carolina.

    Once it enters in Northampton County, near Pleasant Hill, the pipeline would span nearly 170 miles through eastern North Carolina. The pipeline — 3 feet in diameter, about as big around as a baby pool — would roughly parallel I-95, passing through historic plantation land and Native American communities. It would end just north of Pembroke, in Robeson County.

    Backing the a $5 billion project is EnergySure, a coalition of more than 200 special interest groups from several states vying for a piece of the financial pie: chambers of commerce, utilities, construction and “right of way” companies, which pressure adjacent landowners to sell, voluntarily or through eminent domain. In North Carolina, supporters include the Energy Policy Council, appointed by Gov. McCrory and lawmakers, the NC Chamber of Commerce and the Pork Council.

    The Pork Council could benefit because of recent state legislation, the NC Farm Act, which prioritizes using swine waste to fuel natural gas plants over renewable energy.

    The group’s slogan: “Don’t let opponents hinder new jobs.”

    The ACP would increase fracking impacts in W.Va. and harm communities along the 600-mile route through Va. and into N.C.

    The ACP would increase fracking impacts in W.Va. and harm communities along the 600-mile route through Va. and into N.C.

    The promise of jobs is seductive in eastern North Carolina, where a quarter to a third of people live in poverty. And this is precisely why these types of projects are placed in low-income communities: to reduce the chance of resistance.

    Yet, as the opposition points out, the construction jobs are temporary. Clean Water for North Carolina projects that only 18 permanent jobs in North Carolina would be created by the pipeline, none of them guaranteed to go to local residents.

    At a recent citizens’ meeting in Fayetteville, Ericka Faircloth of Eco Robeson explained how the loss of property, either outright or in its value, is particularly significant in Native American communities. (However, some members of the Halowi-Saponi tribe belong to EnergySure.)

    “It has greater implications,” Faircloth said. “Our identity is linked to our sacred lands. We want to protect land for future generations of indigenous people.”

    Natural gas, while touted as a cleaner alternative to coal is not necessarily “clean.” It is a fossil fuel. Over-reliance on natural gas for electricity, reports the Union of Concerned Scientists, carries its own risks to the climate. Fracking, a common form of gas extraction in West Virginia can release methane, a major component of greenhouse gases.

    The gas that would run through the pipeline would not necessarily serve North Carolina. Natural gas is a commodity, like oil and corn, and is sold on the open market. And as Nature pointed out in late 2014, energy forecasters could be reading the tea leaves incorrectly, projecting an overly optimistic estimate about the amount of natural gas that is accessible.

    Rivers, streams, swamps, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas would also be disrupted, some of them permanently, by the pipeline. The routing would place it over several key waterways, including the Little River in Johnston County; Swift Creek in Halifax, which feeds the Tar River; the Neuse River and the Cape Fear.

    Other communities in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have successfully defeated gas pipeline projects. “It’s up to us to say we don’t need it,” said the Rev. Mac Legerton at the Fayetteville meeting. “We can win this.”

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, known for its leniency toward these projects, must approve the pipeline before it can be built.

    Virginians challenge Gov. McAuliffe on energy policy, climate

    Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 - posted by cat

    Grassroots Alliance Calls for a ‘March on the Mansion’ in July to Demand Clean Power

    Contact:
    Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022, kelly@chesapeakeclimate.org
    Amanda Pohl, Virginia Organizing, 804-337-1912, amanda@virginia-organizing.org
    Cat McCue, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

    MoM Logo & Date Image for Share

    RICHMOND, Va. – An unprecedented alliance of groups and leaders released an open letter to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe today challenging him to stop supporting fossil fuel projects that worsen climate change and harm communities. The letter calls on the Governor to instead join the fight for “energy justice, democratic renewal, and healthy communities” in Virginia.

    More than 60 groups and leaders from mountain counties to coastal communities to the DC suburbs signed the letter, which sets July 23 as the date for a mass rally at the Governor’s mansion to demand a just transition to clean energy now.

    The alliance outlines how Governor McAuliffe, after running on a platform of clean energy, has yet to act with the urgency the climate crisis demands or protect communities on the front lines of fossil fuel pollution threats. McAuliffe’s support for offshore oil drilling, for example, threatened to expose the state’s coast to an oil spill on the scale of the BP disaster. The Governor’s support for major fracked-gas pipelines would destroy farms, drinking water, and property rights while triggering nearly twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as all of Virginia’s current power plants combined.

    “On the biggest, most polluting issues of our time, the Governor simply has not shown he has heard the voices of affected communities or joined the growing statewide call for justice,” the letter states. “For too long, the powerful few have made energy decisions that adversely affect the vulnerable many. Now the historic moment is before us – and the duty is ours – to change that forever.”

    Speakers released the letter, as well as a website to promote the “March on the Mansion” rally on July 23 in Richmond during a tele-press conference on Wednesday.

    Signers range from faith groups like Virginia Interfaith Power and Light to regional coalitions like the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) to environmental and justice groups like Appalachian Voices and Virginia Organizing to clean water groups like the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and New River Conservancy to Mothers Out Front in Hampton Roads and the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition.

    The groups lay out their own vision for energy policy in Virginia that would match the scale of the climate crisis, give local communities a voice, and advance social and environmental justice, calling for “a state where energy development means prosperity and health for everyone, without pain and harm for sacrificed regions, without property rights denied and whole regions left behind.”

    “If our voices have gone unheard from our separate regions of the state, we have a duty to bring those voices together until we are heard,” the groups state. “If the governor has difficulty hearing our specific concerns and our even more specific proposed solutions, we will help him hear them by bringing our voices directly to him.”

    The letter outlines a series of steps Governor McAuliffe can take – wholly within his authority and not dependent on Congress or the Virginia General Assembly – to lead Virginia unequivocally toward a clean energy future.

    These solutions include using state authority to challenge water permits for proposed fracked-gas pipelines under the Clean Water Act, dropping support for offshore drilling, and intervening to protect communities from reckless coal-ash disposal plans. They also include committing to regulations under the federal Clean Power Plan that would put a strong cap on total, aggregate greenhouse gas pollution from Virginia power plants now and into the future.

    RESOURCES:
    Letter released today to Governor McAuliffe
    Details on the July 23rd March on the Mansion rally in Richmond.
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    Recent Studies Question the Economic Benefit of Pipelines

    Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

    By Elizabeth E. Payne

    New studies raise challenges about the financial harm of two natural gas pipeline projects proposed for West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.

    A study released in May by Key-Log Economics LLC estimated that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would cost local communities more than $8 billion. The study was commissioned by The POWHR Coalition (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights), an alliance of citizen groups from eight Virginia and West Virginia counties along the pipeline’s proposed route.

    The study’s authors calculated one-time and annual costs to the eight-county region from lost property values and taxes, and decreased natural beauty and quality-of-life that would result in fewer people moving to or visiting the area.

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the capacity to generate power from natural gas is expanding rapidly, particularly around major shale plays. In the mid-Atlantic, Virginia is projected to have the greatest increase in capacity over the next two years.

    In another study, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concluded that pipelines from the Marcellus and Utica shale beneath Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — the source for both proposed pipelines — are being overbuilt.

    The study also concludes that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “facilitates [this] overbuilding” and that much of the cost of construction would likely be passed on to ratepayers.

    “None of the economic interests within the natural gas industry have any incentive to seriously consider whether alternatives to natural gas — energy efficiency, renewable energy or other forms of power generation — may be cheaper,” write the authors of the report.

    Environmental advocates and homeowners along the routes continue to voice concerns about the harm the pipelines are likely to cause if constructed. Most recently, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation announced its opposition to the construction of both pipelines, each of which are projected to cross the parkway. And the Board of Supervisors of Augusta County, Va., also asked FERC to reject the current route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    Groups force strong pollution controls on Virginia gas plant

    Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 - posted by cat

    Contact:
    Evan Johns, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 434-738-186, ejohns@appalmad.org
    Hannah Wiegard, Appalachian Voices, 804-536-5598, hannah@appvoices.org
    Ben Weiner, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 804-225-9113 Ex. 1002, benjamin.weiner@sierraclub.org

    RICHMOND, Virginia – In response to extensive comments from citizens and conservation groups, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has imposed precedent-setting protections against greenhouse gases and other air pollutants from Dominion Power’s proposed gas power plant in Greensville County, VA. Appalachian Mountain Advocates prepared the comments on behalf of Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The groups are pleased with DEQ’s action, and they say the agency must apply the same scrutiny to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

    The DEQ outlined these stronger protections in the revised draft air permit for the Greensville Power Station, a proposed 1,558-megawatt power plant. If built, the gas plant would be the largest in the state. It would burn fracked natural gas supplied directly by another Dominion project — the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — a nearly 600-mile long large-diameter pipeline that would take private property and destroy forests and streams in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

    Based on Appalachian Mountain Advocates’ analysis of the draft permit, DEQ will force Dominion to employ the “best available control technology” at the plant as required by the Clean Air Act. DEQ dramatically tightened carbon dioxide limits, cutting allowable emissions by more than 10% from Dominion’s original proposal.

    If the permit is ultimately approved by the State Air Pollution Control Board, Dominion would have to meet more protective standards on carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, methane, and particulate matter as well. The final permit would also force Dominion to conduct additional performance testing to prevent formaldehyde pollution, and enforce more powerful controls for methane leakage. These pollution controls will heavily reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the plant and that reduction in dangerous emissions will improve air quality throughout the region.

    “The impacts of this decision could ripple through the energy sector,” said Evan Johns, staff attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “By strengthening efficiency requirements, this permit will serve as the new benchmark against which all similar Clean Air Act permits must be measured in the future.”

    The groups will continue to push DEQ for similarly strong protections against the massive quantities of methane that could leak from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “DEQ’s revisions to the permit demonstrate how important the Clean Air Act is in curbing greenhouse gas emissions,” Johns said. “That’s why we’re urging regulators to follow the Act’s clear requirement that the pipeline and the power plant be treated as a single, integrated source of air pollution.”

    As a greenhouse gas, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Unless Dominion is required to reduce these leaks, the proposed plant and related facilities may produce as much greenhouse gas pollution as a coal-fired power plant.

    “When the State Corporation Commission approved this plant, an extension of existing dirty gas lines was approved. Dominion doesn’t need the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to service this plant,” said Kate Addleson, Director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Instead of expanding our dependence on gas, a focus on renewable energy like solar would ensure costs remain low and citizen’s health is protected.”

    They will also appeal DEQ’s failure to require Dominion incorporate solar at the facility. “Solar farms don’t have smokestacks and they don’t leak methane, so incorporating solar is absolutely the best technology for controlling emissions,” said Hannah Wiegard, Virginia Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Plus, Dominion itself says solar energy is more affordable for ratepayers.”

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