pipeline protest signs

Signs protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are seen on Virginia 151. File photo by Lee Luther Jr.

The lead energy company behind the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline said last week it has made much progress since announcing the project in 2014.

Purchase agreements have been signed for virtually all of the natural gas that would be delivered to the Southeast by the proposed ACP, said Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, in a conference call last Tuesday.

Leopold said the utility agreements reflect the need for the nearly 600-mile energy project delivering fracked natural gas along a route from West Virginia, through Virginia and Nelson County, where public opposition remains fierce, and into North Carolina.

Leopold said the project still has strong and bipartisan support from the region and she added that she was grateful for that support of governors in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

“We are reminded of how much the region is depending on us to help build the foundation for a strong and prosperous future,” she said.

A recently released report, however, shows many Nelson residents and surrounding areas are concerned about the effects of the project.

The report is a review and analysis of individual and form letters submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, completed by Key-Log Economics LLC. The Charlottesville-based company released the report as a supplement to another report on the economic impact of the pipeline commissioned by anti-pipeline groups Friends of Nelson and the Augusta County Alliance.

The review found a range of more than 95 percent of comments about impacts on forests, water, safety, property values, tourism and recreation were negative while 99 percent of comments mentioning health cited negative impacts.

The analysis included all 2,858 individual and form letters submitted to FERC between October 20, 2014, and June 26, 2015, according to a news release from Friends of Nelson.

Of the letters reviewed, 59.7 came from residents of counties the pipeline would cross, and 1,037 letters, or more than 36 percent, came from Nelson County residents.  

“This Review and Analysis shows that those who would be most directly affected, and are thus likely to be the most informed, hold almost uniformly negative opinions regarding the ACP,” said Joanna Salidis, president of Friends of Nelson, in the release.

So far the ACP, LLC has secured 20-year agreements for 96 percent of the capacity of the pipeline and its customers are the “largest electric and gas utilities in Virginia and North Carolina,” according to Leopold.

Leopold said energy needs are growing in both Virginia and North Carolina and the demand for natural gas in the region is expected to increase by 165 percent by 2035.

“That growth is driven by the need for cleaner sources of electricity, home heating for a growing population and energy to fuel economic development,” she said. “Yet, there is not enough infrastructure in our region to meet that growing demand.”

The project will provide fuel for electric utilities and help make the transition from coal to cleaner-burning gas, she said.

“It will provide the reliable supply of natural gas many communities need to attract new industry and support population growth,” she said. “And, by expanding access to low-cost supplies of natural gas, it will lower energy costs for consumers across the region.”

In Nelson, 55 percent of landowners have granted permission to survey and 40 percent have denied, Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said.

Over the last 18 months, Leopold said Dominion has surveyed more than 450 miles of the proposed route and evaluated more than 6,000 miles of potential routes.

“We’ve performed those surveys with the permission of the overwhelming majority of landowners,” she said. “We’ve received permission to survey about 90 percent of the originally proposed route, and we’re already making significant progress in obtaining permission to survey the alternative routes we’ve adopted in the last month or so.”

To date, ACP has signed easement agreements with more than 500 landowners and in February last year an agreement was made with Pennsylvania-based Dura-Bond Industries to manufacture more than $400 million of steel pipe for the project, Leopold said.

Ruby said he thinks the fact the company has already made this agreement prior to the project receiving federal government approval shows how “committed” it is to the project and its “confidence” that the pipeline will be approved and constructed.

The manufacturing process will continue over the next 12 months.

In February, Dominion carved a new proposed route through parts of West Virginia and Virginia in response to federal concerns about the pipeline's path through sensitive national forest areas. The alternate route reduced by one-third the pipeline's footprint through the George Washington and Monongahela national forests, but added 30 miles to its route.

According to Friends of Nelson, the Key-Log analysis also shows “the vast majority” of letters that contained positive views on the pipeline’s effects on the general categories of the “economy” or “energy situation” were from counties or states that were not crossed by the ACP.

Ernie Reed, of Friends of Nelson, said in a statement the information in the review is critical, as it “indicates that the people more likely to support the project are those with limited exposure to the issues, due to their greater distance from the route.”

“These people are more likely to rely on paid advertisements by the Gas Industry as their sole source of information,” said Reed. “The people within closer range recognize the substantial dangers of the ACP, and are in the majority.” 

Dominion said it understands residents in the area are concerned about the potential negative effects, and it is continuing to work to find the best route for the pipeline.

“We understand there are concerns, which is why we've worked so hard with landowners and others in the community to choose the best route with the least impact on their properties and the environment,” Ruby said. “We've evaluated more than 6,000 miles of potential routes in order to choose the most environmentally responsible one, and we've made hundreds of route adjustments based on the feedback we've received from landowners and the public. I think that shows we're listening to the community, and we're taking concrete steps to address their concerns.”

Despite the concerns documented in the report, Ruby said the pipeline, “continues to receive broad, bipartisan support from communities, businesses and leaders from across the region.”

Ruby pointed to a recent endorsement from the Hampton Roads delegation of the Virginia General Assembly as “a powerful statement” on the importance of the pipeline.

“You don't often see Republicans and Democrats, labor and business united in support of any issue, so it's pretty remarkable that our project has garnered that kind of support,” Ruby said. “I think it shows there's a broad recognition of how vitally important this project is to our economy and energy security. It's also a reminder of how much the region is depending on us to help build the foundation for a strong and prosperous future.”

Dominion is awaiting approval from the U.S. Forest Service to begin surveys in the national forests.

In September 2015, ACP filed the certificate application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In December, FERC requested that the ACP provide additional information to the application.

“A significant part of that effort involved working with the U.S. Forest Service to identify an alternative route that avoids sensitive areas in the national forests,” Leopold said. “Once we complete our responses to FERC’s requests, which we anticipate completing next month, we are confident the agency will be in a position to complete a draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is the next important milestone for the project.”

Leopold believes this will put Dominion on track to put the pipeline in service at the end of 2018.

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