By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
Appeared In: September 14, 2017 edition
DINWIDDIE – Those living along or near a proposed multi-billion dollar underground natural gas pipeline will now have to wait for state regulators to pour over thousands of public comments as the period for formal responses to the pair of projects has come to an end.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that the period for public comments on additional water quality conditions as part of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines has come to an end and state officials do not plan to extend that period.
While the Mountain Valley pipeline would have little impact on Southern Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile underground pipeline that would provide natural gas transmission from the northern reaches of West Virginia, through the Appalachian Mountains and Virginia’s western counties before advancing generally southeastward toward a compressor station near the Virginia-North Carolina line where it will diverge in two directions, due south toward far southern North Carolina and east toward the heart of Hampton Roads in the Commonwealth, would see its infrastructure move through the western reaches of Dinwiddie County before it travels due south toward that compressor station.
The estimated $5.1 billion project would be developed, built and operated by Atlantic, a company formed by four regionally based energy companies, Dominion Energy, formerly Dominion Virginia Power, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Electric Company.
As part of the extensive research and development that goes into a massive infrastructural project such as this, a number of permitting procedures must be carried out of a state and federal level, including the additional water quality conditions, proposed by Virginia DEQ.
As part of the two pipeline’s proposed additional Section 401 water quality conditions regarding “construction-related activities in upland areas that are located near state waters and that may indirectly affect state waters,” a trio of public meetings and a public comment period was opened to garner thoughts from the community ahead of the State Water Control Board’s meeting in November where a final decision will be made.
One of those meetings was held in Alberta at Southside Virginia Community College in mid-August, where dozens of people spoke both for and against the proposed pipelines, with each side citing their own reasons for their position, including environmental impacts, job creation, and future economic development opportunities.
Meetings like the one in Alberta, along with traditional and electronically-submitted comments from Virginians resulted in a deluge of responses for state officials to pour over and organize ahead of that November meeting.
According to Ann Regn of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency “has received about 20,000 comments, including technical comments and reports, signed petitions, general comments about the pipelines and more.”
“At this time, DEQ is focused on reviewing the comments received,” Regn said. “Each one will be reviewed and considered by DEQ.”
August’s meeting in Alberta provided a picture of the many sides residents, businesses, and others have regarding the project and an idea of what the 20,000 comments Virginia DEQ is currently processing may say.
During that meeting, some echoed the sentiments shared by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who sees the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline as a key part of growing his “New Virginia Economy” initiative.
“If we are going to build the new Virginia economy, we must invest in our workforce, in savvy economic development strategies, in education, and in infrastructure — including broadband, renewables, energy networks like the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline, and a diversified transportation grid,” he remarked to the state’s joint money committees several years ago.
Those comments in favor of the pipeline were reinforced by the Crater Planning District Commission and their executive director Dennis Morris who opened up about the important role the natural gas pipeline would have on the region that includes Dinwiddie, Prince George, Chesterfield, Charles City, the Tri-Cities, Sussex, Surry, Greensville, and Emporia.
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide a much needed dependable supply of natural gas for electric utilities in our region that are looking to use natural gas as a cleaner option to generate electricity and meet the ever increasing energy demands,” Morris said in prepared remarked to Virginia DEQ representatives.
Outside the meeting, Morris opened up about the conversation the Crater Planning District Commission has had with businesses regarding the proposed pipeline and their thoughts on it moving through the western reaches of the district.
“And we know throughout the Crater District, there are many businesses, corporations, and manufacturers who are really looking forward to having natural gas available in the quantities that they need it,” he said. “We also feel, in working with the ACP team, that they have taken mitigation measure to realign the pipeline based on comments that local landowners and others have made.”
While many others spoke to the possible economic stimulus the ACP would have on the region and state, others, such as Sierra Club Conservation Program Manager Zachary Jarjoura broke down the many aspects of the environmental organization’s opposition to the ACP.
“There are issues of landowner and property rights as significant amounts of the pipeline will go on people’s property through eminent domain so that is one issue,” he said, adding that “a lot of the gas that will travel through the line is fracked gas, which is an extremely energy intensive but also environmentally damaging practice for extracting fossil fuels.”
According to Dominion Energy, “Most of the natural gas produced in the United States for the last several decades has been produced [through] hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has been reviewed by county, state, and federal regulatory agencies and is a regulated activity,” the company said in a frequently asked question document, adding that the previous presidential administration and the Environmental Protection Agency “[believes] that modern drilling techniques have provided new sources of energy that will result in cleaner air” and reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy sources.
Jarjoura said the construction of the pipeline will only further extend the nation’s reliance on fossils fuels for decades to come.
“Building fossil fuel infrastructure like fracked gas pipelines locks us into using fossil fuels for 20, 30, 40 years and we know we have got to transition away from fossil fuels,” he said. “Not snapping our fingers and stopping tomorrow, but building energy-efficient infrastructure that needs to be clean, not things like pipelines.”
While some localities where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to cross through their community have spoken for and against the issue, Dinwiddie leaders said they decided to remain “neutral” on the pipeline.
“Our Board wondered if we needed a resolution in favor or against the pipeline but it was decided to not take a side,” Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill said. “We are looking at it from the perspective of it being a Commonwealth-wide impact. For Virginia to have the gas pipeline for bigger economic development projects in the state, we don’t see a direct benefit for Dinwiddie on this project.”
It is now up to the state to process the tens of thousands of comments from Virginians on both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines and the additional water quality conditions, with staff being tasked with preparing “draft responses to the comments and recommendations for the State Water Control Board’s consideration at a meeting this fall.”