Elected officials, candidates for office, and organizations in West Virginia have begun staking out positions on a proposal to build a large-diameter natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina.
Four major U.S. energy companies, Dominion, Duke Energy, AGL Resources and Piedmont Natural Gas, created a partnership to build the pipeline, dubbed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The companies issued a press release, stating the pipeline will deliver gas to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina. The project requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito’s office provided the following statement on Monday.
“This pipeline would be a key component of our national energy infrastructure, which allows West Virginia gas to be transported across the country to provide secure, affordable domestic energy. Many West Virginians would fill new jobs, whether during construction or meeting the increased demand for our state’s natural gas,” Capito said.
According to Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham, “Capito also believes there should be local engagement in the completion of this pipeline and areas of local importance should be protected.”
State Senator Greg Tucker plans to follow the approval process closely.
“I have been following with a great deal of interest the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project since it was announced,” Tucker wrote. “The proposal calls for about 15 miles of pipeline in Pocahontas County. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must approve the project at the federal level. On the state level, the project must be approved by the appropriate state agencies. As a state senator, my role is to ensure that the process is thorough and the public’s interests are protected.
“While I’m excited for the economic potential this pipeline shows, I also worry about the environmental impact it may have, as well. At this point, I have as many questions as I have answers. Therefore, I will be closely monitoring the proceedings before the state and federal agencies charged with reviewing the application for approval to ensure that they are meaningful, fair and open. I will also be watching to see that the rights of private landowners are considered and protected throughout the process.
“During this review, if Dominion and its partners can demonstrate with clear and unequivocal facts that the pipeline is economically viable and can be constructed as well as operated in an environmentally responsible manner, I can support the project. However, if they fail on either count, I will oppose its approval.”
State Senator Clark Barnes provided a statement by email.
“I strongly support America’s ability and move to energy independence,” wrote Barnes. “I have been a strong advocate of landowners and concerned conservationists as we continue the development of natural gas in our State. We have spent much time developing rules and regulations which address the landowners, the environmental concerns and the producers of natural gas to establish a balance that is beneficial to all West Virginians. There are already several natural gas pipelines crossing Randolph County including one which was constructed crossing the Shaver’s Fork and the Gandy, two of our most wild and important pristine streams. There was no recorded environmental damage to either stream at the time of construction nor has there been since. With the development of new technology since the 70s, I would expect no particular challenges from new construction.”
House of Delegates member Denise Campbell said progress involves risk.
“With any change or potential growth, there is always a degree of risk,” she said. “The main thing that we need to do is to ensure that the required permits are obtained and monitoring followed. If the pipeline is built in West Virginia, we need to be sure that all the inspections are done and the maintenance of the pipeline is a must. I do see this as an opportunity for growth for the counties that are involved and it does give an opportunity for growth for the State of West Virginia.
“I want to be sure that the protection of our landowners is of utmost priority and that we disrupt, to the least possible, our beautiful counties’ landscape. That’s a major priority. Pocahontas County is known for tourism. But there are a lot of people in Pocahontas County who need jobs. This has the potential for some employment opportunities.”
“I love coming to Pocahontas County – it’s absolutely beautiful,” Campbell added. “The first time somebody talks about Pocahontas County, the first thing they say is, ‘oh, it is so beautiful over there.’ I understand that we need to try to help our state grow, and we need to try to do what we can to create opportunities. Yet, I do want us to do it responsibly and be sure that we preserve the natural beauty that we have.”
House of Delegates candidate Charles Kinnison urged local residents to become informed.
“I encourage the residents of Pocahontas and Randolph to continue to learn about the proposed pipeline, including attending an open house meeting by Dominion,” Kinnison wrote in a press release. “We want to make informed decisions and understand any positive or potentially negative effects due to the proposed pipeline. I will continue to research pipelines and look forward to attending one of the open house meetings available by Dominion.”
Philip Smith, Chairman of the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, provided a press release on September 11.
“The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s path intersects the Monongahela, George Washington and Jefferson national forests and would cut through some of the most rugged and pristine brook trout habitat in central Appalachia,” Smith wrote. “Trout Unlimited has made enormous investments in protection, restoration, and recovery of trout waters in both West Virginia and Virginia, for example through projects focusing on the Potomac, Shenandoah and James rivers headwaters. If the pipeline project moves forward, Trout Unlimited plans to work closely with federal and state agencies and the pipeline companies to ensure that the pipeline and its associated infrastructure do not negatively affect fragile mountain streams or reverse the progress that Trout Unlimited and our partners have made in restoring brook trout habitat across these mountain ranges.”
Preservation and environmental groups from West Virginia and Virginia formed the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance to respond to the proposed pipeline project. On September 8, Alliance Steering Committee Chairman Robert Freeman issued a press release, which reads in part:
“The Alliance and its member organizations are gravely concerned about the proposed route of the pipeline, which could disrupt some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in the Eastern United States, including more than 50 miles of public lands in the George Washington and Monongahela national forests. Further, much of the pipeline’s path, particularly in Highland and Augusta Counties in Virginia, would be built over fragile karst topography, a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks and characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. The impact on area water supplies of a pipeline built over such unstable geological formations could be significant. It could also present serious safety hazards to the pipeline.
“Alliance members are also acutely concerned that the proposed project presents substantial unjustified risks and costs for the rural communities of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge region. These communities will bear the full impact of pipeline development, including the loss of private property, damage to their scenic landscape, and the risk of pollution, with few, if any, of the long-term economic benefits touted by proponents.”
The Allegheny – Blue Ridge Alliance includes 22 organizations, among them the Greenbrier River Watershed Association, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Environmental Council, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Friends of Blackwater and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation.
Dominion Resources, Inc., will conduct an open house at the Durbin Fire Department on Wednesday, September 24, to provide information and receive public input. Affected landowners are invited to attend from 5 to 6:30 p.m.; the public is invited from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Statements from other elected representatives and candidates have been requested and will be reported as they become available.