RICHMOND - Dominion Resources, along with Duke Energy and other partners, announced a plan Tuesday to build a $5 billion natural gas pipeline connecting the Southeast with the natural gas being produced in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, previously called the Southeast Reliability Project by Dominion, will bring together Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources. The pipeline is expected to be operational in 2018, pending regulatory approval.
The 550-mile natural gas pipeline would originate in Harrison County and transport gas from the Marcellus Shale fields to Robeson County, N.C. The 42-inch pipeline is expected to transport 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day along the proposed route that would take the pipeline through Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties, including crossing through the Monongahela National Forest.
In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomlin said, "For many years, we've worked hard to make the most of the Marcellus and Utica Shale developments in West Virginia. 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.
"We appreciate the continued investments Dominion is making in our region and look forward to capitalizing on our state's abundant supply of natural gas, which has the potential to provide promising opportunities for both current and future generations," Tomblin said in the release. "West Virginia is proud to continue its legacy as an energy-producing state and help create energy independence for our country."
While a Dominion representative spoke before the Randolph and Pocahontas county commissions in August, several groups that oppose the project have been actively working for months to get their message out to the residents and governmental bodies along the proposed route.
West Virginia Wilderness Lovers, the Wetzel County Action Group and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have spoken before the Randolph and Pocahontas county officials and at numerous town hall meetings. The groups claim the project will create water quality destruction from the construction process, air pollution from above-ground facilities and noise pollution along the route.
The project would include three compressor stations along its route, officials said. The first would be placed at the beginning of the route near the Harrison-Lewis county line; the second would be in the central Virginia portion; and the third would be on the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
The range of normal operating pressure on the pipeline would be from 750 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) to 1,440 psig, its maximum allowable operating pressure. The pipeline would be designed with redundant safety systems to ensure this maximum pressure is not exceeded.
While Dominion describes the proposed project as a "buried" pipeline, officials have stated there will be valve stations and other facilities along the route for testing, maintenance and safety purposes.
The chief executives of the four sponsoring companies - Thomas F. Farrell II of Dominion, Lynn J. Good of Duke Energy, Thomas E. Skains of Piedmont Natural Gas and John W. Somerhalder II of AGL Resources - issued the following joint statement: "The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a transformational project for our 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 economic development across the region as businesses and homes rely more on natural gas.
"Natural gas is increasingly important for advanced electricity generation, contributing to significantly lower greenhouse gas and other emissions. The project will also provide more reliable access to new sources of natural gas, keeping consumers' energy costs down - even during the coldest and hottest weather."
Dominion is to build and operate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on behalf of the four-company venture. It operates nearly 8,000 miles of interstate pipeline in six states as well as one of the nation's largest natural gas storage systems. Dominion will have a 45 percent stake in the joint venture; while Duke Energy will have 40 percent; Piedmont, 10 percent; and AGL Resources, 5 percent. Subsidiaries of all four partners plan to be customers of the pipeline.
Dominion says it has begun surveying to determine the best route but emphasizes that no final route has been determined. Dominion says the final route must meet operational and reliability needs while having minimum impact on the environment as well as historical and cultural resources.
The pipeline project must pass an extensive, multi-step review process by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The extensive FERC review process solicits input from numerous local, state and federal entities, and private citizens. Public safety, air quality, water resources, geology, soils, wildlife and vegetation, threatened and endangered species, land and visual resources, cultural and historic resources, noise, cumulative impacts and reasonable alternatives are fully examined.
The pipeline is designed to tap the rapidly growing supplies of gas produced in two geologic formations, known as the Marcellus and Utica shales, that are now generating more than a quarter of the nation's natural gas. In the past, the Southeast has received nearly all of its gas from the more traditional gas-producing states of Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
Utilities prefer having diverse sources of fuel to reduce shortages and price spikes that can arise in terms of high demand, such as hot summers or cold winters.
Clean air and clean water regulations - some already approved and some in the process of being finalized - are expected to make burning coal more difficult and expensive in the future. In response, utilities are preparing for increased use of natural gas.
Burning natural gas emits almost none of the toxic chemicals and particulate matter that burning coal produces, and about half of carbon dioxide, which scientists say is responsible for climate change.
Natural gas does have its own environmental drawbacks, however. When the gas leaks or is otherwise released directly into the atmosphere it heats the planet much faster than carbon dioxide. And the drilling technique that has led to increased U.S. supplies, called fracking, has raised concerns about water use, water contamination and other issues.
The pipeline would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. By comparison, the U.S. consumed 71 billion cubic feet of gas per day last year, according to the Energy Department.