Representatives of Dominion Resources, Inc., have been visiting with local governments recently to sell the idea of a 550-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. Last Tuesday evening, five Dominion representatives met with the Pocahontas County Commission, gave an information briefing and answered questions about the project. The Commission convened in the courtroom due to the large number of attendees.
Representing Dominion were Robert Orndorff, Manager for State and Local Affairs; Jamie Burton, Senior Land Agent; Greg Park, Construction Supervisor; Brittany Moody, Project Engineer; and Randy Rogers, with GAI Consultants.
Dominion’s current proposal is to build a 42-inch, 550-mile pipeline from Harrison County to southeastern North Carolina, with a lateral pipeline from the Virginia-North Carolina border to Hampton Roads, a deepwater port city in Virginia. Dominion has dubbed the project the Southeast Reliability Project, or SERP.
The representatives distributed preliminary maps of the pipeline’s path through Pocahontas County and adjacent areas. Shavers Fork, the West Fork of the Greenbrier River, the
East Fork of the Greenbrier River and other waterways in the pipeline’s path are conspicuously absent from the maps provided by Dominion. However, the proposed pipeline path crosses Shavers Fork one mile south of Cheat Summit Fort; the West Fork two miles north of Durbin; and the East Fork one mile south of Thornwood.
The path crosses Route 250 in three places: two miles north of Durbin; once again a mile south of Thornwood; and again one mile south of the Route 250-Route 28 intersection. The pipeline path exits Pocahontas County to the east, two miles north of Route 250 at Tamarack Ridge.
Orndorff began with a promotional briefing on his company. The executive said Corporate Responsibility Magazine ranked Dominion in the top 100 best corporate citizens for five straight years and that the company has an excellent overall safety record.
The manager said the project is needed to increase the natural gas supply in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. He said potential benefits for the local area include property tax revenues, near-term employment opportunities, economic activity during construction and development potential.
Orndorff said three compressor stations would be located along the pipeline – one at the origin, one in central Virginia and one near the Virginia-North Carolina border. Compressor stations are large-scale industrial facilities, often covering several acres and containing multiple turbine engines, which compress gas and pump it through the pipeline.
According to Orndorff, Dominion management will decide whether to build the pipeline by early fall. Because it would be an interstate pipeline, the company would need approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The FERC approval process would span approximately 18 months and include open houses, scoping meetings and public comment periods, during which the public at-large could provide input.
If Dominion proceeds with the SERP, it would begin the FERC approval process this fall and hope to obtain FERC approval in the summer of 2016. If approved, pipeline construction would occur during 2017 and 2018, and the pipeline placed into service in late 2018.
In addition to the National Forest, the pipeline path crosses several tracts of private property in Pocahontas County. Orndorff said Dominion mailed letters to 29 property owners, informing them that their land is in the possible pipeline path and requesting permission to conduct surveys.
After the information briefing, Orndorff and the other representatives answered questions from commissioners and the public.
Commissioner David Fleming asked if landowners could refuse to allow the pipeline to cross their property. Orndorff responded that Dominion could force construction through the use of eminent domain.
“If we get a FERC certificate, we have eminent domain,” said Orndorff. “We don’t exercise that unless it’s a last resort option for us.”
“The percentage that we’ve been throwing around is – more than 95 percent of the time we’re successful in not having to use eminent domain,” added Moody. “We do pretty good negotiating with the landowners.”
Fleming asked about the difficulty of construction of a 42-inch pipeline, one of the largest in use in the natural gas industry.
“There have been other 42-inch pipelines built, primarily coming out of of the land in the Midwest,” said Orndorff. “Obviously, the largest pipeline, the heavier the pipe, is the hardest to build. We understand that that is a risk we take to serve this market. That’s the capacity the market is asking for us to deliver.
“We understand that this is not going to be an easy process. It’s going to be an exciting process for me, because I’ve not seen this type of thing done in my career. I’ve seen 36-inch and I’ve seen 30. But there is no doubt in my mind that we have the technical expertise to do it.”
Park said larger pipelines are in use, such as the 48-inch trans-Alaska pipeline.
Fleming asked about the potential for jobs for local residents.
Park said half of the construction workforce would come from out of state, and the other half would be union workers from across West Virginia.
“They’re required by the contract, with the negotiations, they can only bring in 50 percent from other states, and then the other 50 percent is out of local union halls,” he said.
Park said many workers would come from Sheet Metal Workers Union 66, in Charleston.
“Obviously, during construction, they’ll be buying things locally and eating here locally in restaurants,” added Orndorff. “They’ll be contributing to your local economy that way over a two-year time period.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker asked how many above-ground fixtures, such as valves, would be present in Pocahontas County. Moody explained that the number of valves is based on population.
“In a Class One area, where there’s less population, they’re 20 miles apart,” she said. “Every spot on the pipeline has to be within 10 miles of a valve. We have not done any studies yet, but it’s very low population, so I assume it’s pretty much Class One most of the way. So, I would assume 20-mile separation – you will have one or two valves.”
Natural gas is not available for residential or commercial use in Pocahontas County. Walker asked if the pipeline could provide natural gas service here.
Despite Dominion’s claim that the SERP is needed “to increase the natural gas supply in West Virginia” and other states, Orndorff said the project would be very unlikely to provide natural gas in Pocahontas County.
“You would have to have a large manufacturing facility in order to be able to afford that,” he said. “The chances of you being able to get gas service as a residential customer are probably pretty remote.”
Lauren Ragland, with West Virginia Wilderness Lovers, asked why the pipeline is not being built across an existing Dominion right-of-way in the northern panhandle. Park responded that the right-of-way does not provide a route to North Carolina.
Dick Evans, of Hillsboro, asked what power the County Commission has to stop the project.
“If this County Commission wanted for some reason, 3-0, to oppose this project completely, and we wrote a letter to FERC after the application was submitted, I imagine FERC would take that very seriously,” said Fleming.
Walker said the Commission’s role should be limited.
“I believe the activity of the pipeline, or the construction of the pipeline should rely completely on the landowner and the company,” he said. “I don’t feel we have any obligation to tell anybody in this room what to do on your own property. I think our job is to try and get you the facts about what’s going to happen and where it’s going to go.”
Brynn Kusic asked about the possibility of a catastrophic gas explosion, such as the one last year in Sissonville. In that incident, a 20-inch gas pipe owned by Columbia Gas Transmission exploded, destroying three houses and melting a portion of Interstate 77.
“PHMSA [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] released a findings and they had some rust issues,” said Orndorff. “I don’t know why it rusted. There’s a lot of reasons a pipeline could potentially rust. It could have been constructed wrong. It could have been in the wrong area. Cathodic protection may not have been strong enough. They may not have inspected it enough.
“We have a fairly stringent – what we call our integrity management program. I encourage you to go to our page, type in integrity management, and it will tell you all about how we protect our pipe, how we inspect our pipe, how we work with all the regulatory agencies to make sure our pipe operates in the best possible fashion it can operate.”
“The whole thing will be pressure tested higher than what it will operate at,” added Moody.
Beth Little, of Hillsboro, asked if a right-of-way corridor had been established with the Forest Service for the pipeline’s path through the National Forest. Orndorff responded that a corridor has not been established.
“We are continuing to meet with the Mon Forest, working through the corridor issue with them,” he said. “When we make our filing for FERC, we will have to list where we plan to cross the Mon Forest. But we’re not at that point yet. That’s why we have surveyors in Pocahontas County.”
In September 2013, Dominion Cove Point (DCP), a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, obtained Department of Energy approval to export liquid natural gas (LNG) from a facility on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. DCP plans to build a liquefaction plant, convert domestically produced natural gas to LNG and export LNG from the terminal.
DCP received approval to export for a period of 20 years, commencing at the time of first export or September 11, 2020, whichever comes first. The multi-billion dollar project is currently tied up in a local zoning controversy.
The Pocahontas Times asked the Dominion representatives if anything would prevent the company from seeking to export SERP natural gas after the pipeline is built.
“You can look at the map, it’s in North Carolina, far away from any ports,” said Orndorff. “When we make our FERC filing, you’ll see who our customers are. They will tell, obviously, if they have to apply to their commission to use, to get approval to engage with us for the project. But this gas flowing through this pipeline will not be exported.”
Orndorff did not mention the lateral pipeline to Hampton Roads.
Ed Wade, with Wetzel County Action Group, said the project would destroy the natural beauty of Pocahontas County and not provide any benefits.
“I have yet to see one thing that would benefit this county, short term or long term,” he said. “It’s such a wonderful county. I’m asking the commissioners and anybody in elected positions to do everything in your power to not let this happen.”
During the meeting, Ragland and Wade, active opponents of the project, distributed information sheets describing potential negative effects of pipeline construction. According to the information, pipeline construction and operation could result in unrepairable environmental damage to the National Forest and other areas.
Dominion employee Robin Mutscheller, of Marlinton, said the company’s presence at the Bath County Pumped Storage Station has been a benefit to Pocahontas County.
“Dominion has supplied volunteers and resources to our community over many years,” she said. “I personally have accounted for over $55,000, where Dominion has invested in our community, so far. Most recently, there was an accident in Bartow and our station responded to a call for resources for oil absorbent material to protect the environment. We supplied those oil absorbent materials and the employees to deliver them. So, Dominion has already supported our community.”
The Commission allowed a total of 90 minutes for the SERP topic, 30 minutes more than scheduled.