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Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline would have extended from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina.

Before it was canceled in July 2020, the bulk of the installation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline slated to cross through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina had taken place in the Mountain State.

Now federal energy regulators have recommended to leave it in place.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended in its review of a plan to restore land disturbed by the aborted construction of the $8 billion pipeline leaving all installed pipeline and previously felled trees in place.

The 727-page review, released July 23, is a draft document assessing the environmental impact of the plan to restore land disturbed by construction of the pipeline presented by Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, the pipeline’s developer and a joint venture between Dominion Energy and Duke Energy.

The commission is taking public comment on the environmental impact statement.

Dominion Energy spokesman Aaron Ruby said in an email Monday that Dominion was “carefully reviewing” the commission’s recommendations and looked forward to public input on the review.

“Our goal remains to conclude the project with minimal impacts to the environment and landowners’ property,” Ruby said.

The best way to avoid or reduce impacts to “less than significant levels” with the exception of climate change impacts resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, the commission concluded, is to leave the 31.4 miles of pipeline installed and 83.2 miles of felled trees along the project in place.

In January, Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposed leaving pipe in place on all properties where it was installed.

But the commission recommended that Atlantic Coast Pipeline not process and remove the felled trees along the project as proposed, instead suggesting that it remove felled trees only where landowners prefer doing so.

Of the 31.4 miles of pipeline that were installed prior to the project’s cancellation last July, 21.8 are in West Virginia, the majority in Upshur and Randolph counties. Of the 108.4 miles of timber felled but not yet cleared, 22 are in West Virginia.

Autumn Crowe, interim program director and staff scientist at the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said digging up the pipe now would create additional land stream disturbance, though she warned there could be long-term effects of leaving the pipe to corrode in the ground, such as leaching of chemicals in the anti-corrosive coating and altering the underground hydrology in the region surrounding the pipe.

Other disturbances, such as areas where clearing or grading was completed but no pipe was installed and the right-of-way requires full restoration, span 82.7 miles, including 36 miles in West Virginia.

The pipeline route was slated to run through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia, and deliver up to 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to customers in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Construction of the pipeline impacted 167.8 acres of wetlands and 2,588.2 acres of forest.

West Virginia will be the last of the three states to see cleanup and restoration begin, according to a plan that Atlantic Coast Pipeline filed with the commission that was made public in January.

Cleanup is scheduled to begin in West Virginia in April 2022 and finish in December 2022, with a seeding and mulching phase taking place from May 2022 to January 2023, and a monitoring and maintenance phase lasting from May 2022 until November 2023.

Of the project’s 92.8 miles through West Virginia, only 32.1 miles were left undisturbed, a much smaller undisturbed area compared to Virginia and North Carolina.

About two-thirds of land tracts that the project crosses have had no ground disturbance or tree-felling activities, according to the restoration plan, which noted that Atlantic Coast Pipeline had contacted 154 of the 600 landowners with felled trees on their property to discuss tree processing and restoration activities. Of the 154 contacted, 101 would allow felled trees be left in place and had signed easement amendment agreements, according to the filing.

Ruby previously said that Atlantic Coast Pipeline planned to keep the easement agreements it had on landowners’ properties, including those secured through eminent domain.

But Ruby left the future of the easements more open-ended Monday, saying that Atlantic Coast Pipeline will coordinate individually with each landowner to determine the long-term disposition of the easements.

“In short, we need to retain the easements until the restoration work and post-restoration monitoring are complete,” Ruby said, noting a May filing in which Atlantic Coast Pipeline told the commission it would communicate with landowners on a case-by-case basis after restoration.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline retains 2,603 permanent easements spanning 4,290 acres, according to the company.

“The worst part about the ACP project is the lasting impact it will have on the property owners,” Crowe said, adding that West Virginians will not get full use of their land returned to them in a timely manner and would be “in limbo for years to come.”

The commission encourages electronic filing of comments on the draft environmental impact statement and has staff available to assist those interested in commenting at 866-208-3676 or FercOnlineSupport@ferc.gov. The deadline to comment is 5 p.m. Sept. 13.

Reach Mike Tony at mtony

@hdmediallc.com, 304-348-1236

or follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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