Senator Joe Manchin during an economic forum at the Green Bank Observatory on August 26, 2014.
Senator Joe Manchin during an economic forum at the Green Bank Telescope research facility on August 26, 2014. Pictured with Manchin is Senator Jay Rockefeller Legislative Assistant Suzanne Bentzel.

The development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has created a surge in natural gas production in north central West Virginia and other areas. Two corporate partnerships are now competing to build pipelines to transport natural gas from gas fields in north-central West Virginia to customers in the Southeast U.S.

On Tuesday, four major energy companies – Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources announced a joint venture to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – formerly known as the Southeast Reliability Project. The proposed 550-mile, $5 billion pipeline would begin in Harrison County, cross West Virginia, and continue south through Virginia to central North Carolina. The pipeline would have a capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet per day. If approved by federal regulators, the pipeline would be built across approximately 30 miles of the Monongahela National Forest in Randolph County, Pocahontas County, and Highland County, Virginia.

EQT Corporation and NextEra Energy, Inc., have proposed a 330-mile pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would begin in Wetzel County and travel south to connect to an EQTMountainValleyPipelineexisting pipeline system in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In addition to the primary delivery point, the pipeline has numerous potential interconnects with pipelines and processing facilities. The capacity of the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be 2 billion cubic feet per day. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would not cross National Forest in West Virginia.

Both pipeline proposals have the stated purpose to increase the natural gas supply in the Southeast region of the U.S. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the approving authority for interstate natural gas pipelines.

Former FERC staff attorney John Roddy said he has the “utmost confidence” in FERC’s environmental staff to make the right decision.

“FERC rarely would certificate two projects to accomplish the same goal, particularly if there are significant environmental consequences,” Roddy wrote in an email. “I wouldn’t say that FERC would just certificate one and can the other, as opposed to encouraging both companies to explore sharing the pie. This is harder to do when, as in this case, one pipe would be far shorter than the other, and combines with an existing pipe to carry the load. FERC will seek to satisfy the demand for energy with the fewest significant consequences.”
During an economic forum at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank last Tuesday, The Pocahontas Times asked Senator Joe Manchin about his position on the pipeline proposals. Manchin said he wants to know why a proposal through the National Forest is being considered when there is another option.

“EQT and Dominion are both vying for that,” he said. “EQT takes another route, that does not go through the National Forest. Dominion goes right through this National Forest with a 42-inch line. I’ve called for Duke Energy, basically, who’s put the proposal out for the money – they’re the ones who are going to purchase it. They’re the one wanting that line. I’m asking them, ‘when there’s an alternate route, that you can prevent going through our National Forest, why would you accept the proposal on the National Forest?’ I haven’t gotten an answer yet. I’m asking and I will get that answer.”

The surge in natural gas production has given United States energy companies the opportunity to export the fuel as liquid natural gas (LNG). However, exporting energy flies in the face of domestic efforts to become energy-independent of overseas sources, such as Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Manchin said increased domestic energy production has spurred manufacturing growth.

“The bottom line, as I have said, is to be very careful,” he said. “This is a resource that’s new-found for us – not natural gas, but the abundance of natural gas from fracking. This is something we should be looking at very carefully. We have a renaissance of manufacturing because we have a tremendous supply, a dependable supply, at a very low cost, right now. So, we’ll be using it to rebuild America.”

The Senator said dependence on foreign energy sources had hurt America.

“Should we be using [natural gas] to use as transportation fuel?” he said. “So that we wean ourselves away from petroleum that we’re buying from foreign countries, that suck us into wars that we should never be involved in, or give them money or profits they use against us. All of these things should be taken into consideration. That being said, a lot of people in the gas business are saying ‘we are marketeers in America, we open up markets, we go everywhere.’ That’s fine, but we didn’t build this country by buying other people’s energy. This country was built on coal and natural gas and oil that we had right here in America.”

Manchin proposed a moratorium on natural gas exports.

“Now that we have this tremendous find again, I’ve said be very careful,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we said we have a limit or a scope of how long we’re going to do it, for a period of, let’s say 10 years. That’ll give us a chance to rebuild our manufacturing base. It will give us a chance to maybe alter into some transportation fuels, using compressed natural gas. We could do it much better with our school buses, for our state road vehicles, for our mass transportation, and for sanitation. We could be doing these things in America, now that we have these low cost fuels. Let’s use it for America and be very careful about opening up the gates and letting it all out of here.”

The Senator did not rule out natural gas exports completely.

“I’m saying there’s a balance to be had,” he said. “I’m not saying shut it down completely and do nothing. On the other hand, don’t open the spigot up right now, either.”