Four major energy companies are coming together for a new 550-mile natural gas pipeline project that starts in Harrison County, creating a new route for Marcellus and Utica shale gas to flow southeast.
Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources announced the pipeline project, known as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, on Tuesday.
The project was originally proposed by Dominion as the Southeast Reliability Project in April.
The pipeline is expected to be in service by late 2018, and will go through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia.
The project is estimated to cost $4.5 billion to $5 billion, and will transport 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to North Carolina and Virginia.
In a joint statement, the four sponsoring companies’ chief executives called the pipeline a transformational project for the region.
“It will create thousands of construction jobs during development and significant new revenue for state and local governments throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The expanded source of gas will also help fuel future economic development across the region as businesses and homes rely more on natural gas,” the CEOs said.
Dominion, which owns the most stake in the project at 45 percent, will build and operate the pipeline. The company has started surveying to determine the best route.
Several groups, including West Virginia Wilderness Lovers, Friends of Blackwater and the Greenbrier River Watershed Association voiced opposition to the project, which would run through the Monongahela National Forest and George Washington National Forest.
Lauren Ragland, with West Virginia Wilderness Lovers, said, her group is focused on educating community members in ways Dominion and other gas companies are not.
Ragland is concerned with the large size of pipeline and the potential health affects it could have on local residents. She’s also concerned about where the pipeline go — over Cheat Mountain, through national forests and historic places.
“There’s nothing in it for West Virginians,” Ragland said.
The reality of what happens with these pipeline projects, Ragland said, is there is permanent stream damage, additional stormwater run-off that can create flooding in new areas and road damage.
Leslee McCarty with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association wonders if the state in its enthusiasm is embracing a technology that is dangerous.
“We are concerned about water quality and the trout fishery in general,” McCarty said. She added that area residents are becoming more concerned with the potential property values diminishing with pipeline projects and eminent domain.
In a letter to Sen. Jay Rockefeller D-W.Va., opposing the project, the Friends of Blackwater note the pipeline will cut through mountains at nearly 4,000 feet, the habitats of endangered species such as the Indiana and Virginia big-eared bat, the Cheat Mountain salamander and the West Virginia northern flying squirrel. The Friends of Blackwater letter also points out the project will cross six West Virginia rivers that provide clean drinking water for the region.
Jim Norvelle with Dominion said the project will be the first 42-inch diameter pipeline for the company. Norvelle doesn’t anticipate any issues with construction of the pipeline over the mountain terrain and streams.
Dominion is continuing to meet with officials from both the Monongahela National Forest and George Washington National Forest.
“It is not unusual to find other utilities criss-crossing a national forest,” Norvelle said. “We just have to have the responsibility to find the route with the least amount of environmental impact.”
Dominion officials plan to make stops at county commission meetings in all counties the pipeline would go through. The project crosses through public and private land, Norvelle said. The company is continuing to reach out to landowners from now until the end of the year.
Norvelle said 72 percent of landowners agreed to let Dominion survey their property for the line.
He added Dominion only uses eminent domain when they have to. Ninety-five percent of the time, Dominion does not use eminent domain, which would allow a utility to run through a person’s private property without their consent.
“If we need to get eminent domain, that’s way down the road,” Norvelle said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin stated in a press release that he appreciates Dominion’s continued investment in the region and looks forward to capitalizing on the state’s abundant supply of natural gas.
“We continue to be optimistic about the existing and future opportunities this industry brings to the Mountain State, and today’s announcement by Dominion has the potential to create good-paying jobs for our hard-working men and women,” Tomblin said. “West Virginia is proud to continue its legacy as an energy-producing state and help create energy independence for our country.”
Virginia and North Carolina governors also voiced support for the project Tuesday.
Norvelle said three compressor stations will be built for the pipeline: one in West Virginia near the start of the pipeline; one in central Virginia in Buckingham County; and one to be determined later near the Virginia-North Carolina border.
The pipeline will flow southeast from Harrison County through Virginia with an extension to Chesapeake, Virginia, and then south through central North Carolina to Robeson County.
The four companies have 20-year contracts to be consumers of the pipeline. PSNG Energy also plans to have a 20-year consumer contract.
The project will make its pre-filing request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this fall, and expects to file its FERC application next summer.
Construction is expected to start around summer 2016, pending regulatory approvals.
The pipeline will have a 42-inch diameter in Virginia and West Virginia, and a 36-inch diameter in North Carolina. The lateral Hampton Roads pipeline that will flow to Chesapeake, Virginia, will be 20 inches in diameter.
“The growing Marcellus Shales industry is rapidly becoming an important factor in West Virginia’s economic future, and this pipeline, which carries such great promise, is fantastic news — a great opportunity to continue drilling for gas and transporting it around the country,” said House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison. “This expanded distribution network will have a positive impact on the natural gas industry, from the largest gas producers to the small royalty owners, but more importantly, brings revenue to West Virginia taxpayers.
Dominion scheduled open houses for Sept. 17 at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Upshur County, and Sept. 24 at the Durbin Volunteer Fire Department for people to learn more about the project. From 5 to 6 p.m., landowners within the proposed study corridor are welcome at each open house, and then from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the general public and other landowners can attend.
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5113 or follow @caitlincookwv on Twitter.