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USFS Still Questioning Atlantic Coast Pipeline Route

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has told FERC that it still has several concerns regarding the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), specifically its plans to traverse the Monongahela and George Washington national forests.

In a Dec. 11 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, USFS said the pipeline's current route would negatively impact the habitat of the Cheat Mountain Salamander and the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel. The salamander is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), while the squirrel was de-listed from ESA in 2013.

USFS also said the proposed pipeline route "passes between and very close to existing areas of mature, relatively unfragmented red spruce forest" within the Monongahela National Forest, and would thwart ongoing restoration efforts in formerly mined areas.

Although ACP had proposed using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to drill the pipeline through Shenandoah Mountain -- rather than build the pipeline over it -- USFS said pullback areas, drill pad locations, test drilling sites and access areas could still impact the habitat of a third species, the Cow Knob Salamander (CKS). USFS said it discussed HDD during a meeting with ACP on June 30, but said there was no feasibility study or report about the proposal.

"Discussions included the engineering challenges associated with HDD that often contribute to failure, such as the length of the HDD, elevation of entrance and exit points, drilling mud, frac outs, and required pull back areas," USFS said. "A significant portion of the discussion focused on the length of the HDD required to avoid CKS habitat, and if that length of HDD would be feasible given the engineering challenges."

The 550-mile ACP would run from Harrison County, WV, southeast through Virginia and into eastern North Carolina, pairing Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas with growing demand in the two states. Construction is expected to begin next year and continue through 2018, with an in-service date of late 2018. The $4.5 million project is backed by Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources (see Daily GPISept. 2, 2014).

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby told NGI on Wednesday that over the last year, ACP has "painstakingly evaluated numerous routes through the national forests in an effort to minimize or avoid impacts to sensitive species and other environmental resources.

"We believe our proposed route represents the least impactful route on those resources, and we believe it complies with the USFS's Long Range Management Plan and species conservation agreements. That being said, at the request of the USFS and FERC we will continue evaluating the feasibility of other potential alternatives through the national forests."

Ruby said in the coming weeks, ACP "will supplement the FERC record with additional information related to the national forests, including the evaluation of potential alternative routes, in addition to formally responding to the FERC's recent environmental information request. These filings will address the issues raised by the USFS and FERC, and will enable these agencies to prepare a full and robust environmental impact statement."

This is not the first time USFS has raised concerns about the pipeline's route. Last August, it filed more than 300 comments with FERC, with most questioning the necessity of the pipeline's pathway through the Monongahela and George Washington national forests (see Daily GPIAug. 5). However, it granted ACP a temporary special use permit in April to survey more than 17 miles through the Monongahela Forest (see Daily GPIApril 27).

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