CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff released a favorable draft report on the environmental impact of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project Friday, a major step toward approval of the construction that would go through national forests in West Virginia.
The executive summary of the statement released by the FERC staff said construction of the pipeline — and the related Supply Header Project — would result in “some adverse and significant environmental impacts.”
However, the FERC staff said these effects “would be reduced to less-than-significant levels,” if the developers follow the measures described in their plans and comply with inspection and monitoring programs to minimize disturbance. The only exception would be forest vegetation, the statement said.
The staff said its conclusions are based on the implementations of these measures, which include complying with the Endangered Species Act prior to any construction and providing mitigation for impact on bodies of water and wetlands through coordination with regulatory agencies.
The $5.1 billion pipeline spearheaded by Dominion Energy would begin in Harrison County, pumping natural gas from the Marcellus Shale layer through Virginia and into southeastern North Carolina, where the pipeline ends.
The path of the pipeline has changed more than 300 times following objections from federal agencies and landowners. The Gazette-Mail reported in February that the developers’ proposed re-route, which would move part of the pipeline out of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests, would add 30 miles to the length of the 564-mile pipeline and affect 249 landowners in Pocahontas and Randolph counties.
Opposition groups released a joint statement condemning the FERC report, saying there is not enough demand in Virginia and North Carolina, whose public utilities receive the gas, to justify the construction of a pipeline that could permanently damage the environment.
Joe Lovett, executive director of the Lewisburg-based Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said in the release that the FERC staff did not do its due diligence in the review of the pipeline that would move fracked gas out of West Virginia.
April Pierson-Keating of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a West Virginia environmental advocacy group, agreed with Lovett, saying the development of the pipeline would stunt the state’s growth.
“This pipeline would add insult to injury in West Virginia, where we are already dealing with water and health impacts due to fracking,” she said. “It would lock us into decades more fossil fuel pollution when we should be moving to renewable energy. This pipeline would continue the harm done by extractive industry to the most vulnerable of us — low-income people, the elderly, the disenfranchised.”
Leslie Hartz, vice president of pipeline construction for Dominion Energy, said in a statement that the report represents a “significant milestone in the federal review process” and the pipeline would provide an economic boost while not adversely affecting tourism or property values.
“While we have to review the draft further, we believe it confirms that the project can be built in an environmentally responsible way that protects the public safety and natural resources of our region,” Hartz said.
The project also proposes adding new compressor stations in the three states it travels through, including one in Lewis County.
Once the FERC staff releases its final statement, which will happen at some point after the public comment session ends on April 6, commissioners will take the recommendations into consideration when they make their decision on the projects.