Environmental Groups Challenge How Pipeline Impacts are Assessed

By Elizabeth E. Payne

A coalition of conservation groups is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider the collective impact of four natural gas pipeline projects proposed for West Virginia, rather than evaluating each project individually as applications are received.

In a Sept. 22 press release, the Southern Environmental Law Center called on FERC “to undertake a comprehensive regional Environmental Impact Statement to study pipeline capacity, the need for new pipelines, and their effects on communities and the environment.”

The four pipeline projects at issue are the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Appalachian Connector and the WB XPress Project, each of which would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in West Virginia east into Virginia, with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline continuing into eastern North Carolina.

This degree of overlap has led environmental groups — including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper — to challenge the need for all four projects.

Official applications to begin construction on three of the pipelines were filed with FERC in 2015: the WB XPress Project in April, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in September and the Mountain Valley Pipeline in October. Approval of these projects is pending. An application for the proposed Appalachian Connector has not yet been filed.

“The only way to unravel these interrelated proposals and ensure a careful and deliberate decision that is protective of the environment and local communities is with a comprehensive, region-wide [Environmental Impact Statement],” wrote the SELC in their statement.

In an Oct. 26 press release, Duke Energy announced its intent to purchase Piedmont Natural Gas — a natural gas distribution company serving North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — for approximately $4.9 billion. Both companies are significant stakeholders in the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

In national news, federal officials are seeking stricter safety regulations governing natural gas pipelines following a series of disasters in recent years. The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing expanded inspections in rural areas and following floods and hurricanes, as well as increased analysis and reporting of inspection results.

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