The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would convey natural gas from the fracking fields of West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, is one of the most contentious infrastructure projects in decades in this part of the country. Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the $6.5 billion, 600-mile pipeline early in his administration, touting it as a sign Virginia was open for business and jobs.
Behind the pipeline is the political might of Dominion Resources, one of the most powerful corporations in Virginia. It’s a corporate behemoth that provides electrical power to more than 2.9 million customers in the state and is one of the major players in the natural gas industry.
But from the moment the pipeline was unveiled, environmental activists and residents of the counties through which the 42-inch pipeline would go have fought the project tooth and nail.
Opponents argued that Dominion couldn’t be trusted to protect the environment — especially waterways — either during the construction process or afterward in the operation of the pipeline. Dominion, obviously, disagreed strenuously, promising they would zealously protect the environment during construction.
Earlier this year, after four years of court and regulatory battles, Dominion got the go-ahead to begin clear-cutting the pipeline’s path.
And already, pipeline foes say they have their first “I told you so” moment.
In March, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality cited the company and its contractors for improper clearing of trees from 15 sites that all told comprised just under an acre. The trees were off limits because they were in riparian areas, providing protective vegetative barriers to streams and other waterways.
Pipeline foes have understandably sounded the alarm. But it is worth pointing out Dominion and a representative of the ACP self-reported the violations, as was noted in the DEQ’s notice of violation. So one could argue, as Dominion has, that they are working hard to uphold its environmental promises by, in effect, “telling” on their own workers.
(The DEQ has no legal power to halt the tree clearing except if there is a direct impact to a waterway nor does the agency have inspectors on site with the crews.)
After reporting the violations to the DEQ, Dominion halted work for three days to study where their procedures went wrong and to retrain crews.
“We will have zero tolerance for regulatory noncompliance,” company spokesman Aaron Ruby told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “and we have reinforced that policy with all employees and contractors associated with the project.”
The self-reporting, the three-day work stoppage, the mandatory retraining of employees — it’s all reassuring, but … .
From the day the pipeline was announced, Dominion has issued carved-in-stone promises that it would build the project with the strongest possible commitment to environmental safety, and supporters of the pipeline have touted those assurances as evidence Dominion could safely pull off this project.
Now, even before the final OKs have been given, there are 15 violations on the books, albeit small ones that still play into the fears of pipeline opponents. Tensions that were already high among pipeline foes are higher now as a result.
Our advice to Dominion is simple: Continue to emphasize environmental protection and do everything you can to work with and be transparent with the residents who will be living alongside the pipeline for decades to come.