More than half of registered voters in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina support the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), according to a survey released Monday by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).
In Virginia, 54% of voters support ACP, while 31% oppose the pipeline, according to the survey. Sixty percent of West Virginia voters support ACP, with 28% opposing. And in North Carolina, 52% support the pipeline, while 32% oppose it. A sample of residents of North Carolina counties along ACP's route find a higher level of support, 60% compared to 29% opposed.
"As we’ve seen in years past, the success of those running for governor or for seats in this election cycle will hinge on their ability to promote issues that stimulate the economy, create jobs, contribute to U.S. self-sufficiency and ensure the safety and protection of our environment," CEA President David Holt said. "And promoting the expansion of domestic energy production and infrastructure, especially pipelines, remains the best way to achieve all of the above.
"Voters clearly support the safe, responsible development of energy infrastructure, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. To win, candidates are going to have to listen and side with voters."
Hickman Analytics Inc., which conducted the survey for CEA, contacted between 400 and 660 respondents in each state via landlines and cell phones. The survey is similar to one conducted in 2015, which found similar -- albeit slightly higher -- levels of support for the 1.5 Bcf/d, 600-mile pipeline at the time.
In 2015, 56% of those surveyed said they support ACP, with 70% of West Virginia respondents and 55% of North Carolina respondents in favor of constructing the pipeline.
The ACP would start in Harrison County, WV, and cross east into Virginia; there it would fork into two lines, one running into Southeast Virginia and another running south into North Carolina. The project is backed by Dominion Resources Inc., Duke Energy and Southern Company Gas. Dominion is a member of the CEA, as is Duke subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas.
As ACP awaits a final environmental review from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project has become a topic of debate in state politics, with a candidate in Virginia's upcoming gubernatorial election announcing that he opposes the pipeline.
In a conference call Monday to discuss the latest survey's results, CEA Executive Vice President Michael Whatley touched on the political implications. Whatley noted that the survey showed most of the survey’s respondents consider energy issues as “very” or “somewhat important” in determining how they will cast their vote.
"If we were to look not just at the support for the pipeline but the fact that voters are going to take these energy issues into the polling places with them moving forward, that would be a strong signal that we'd like to point out on today's call," he said.
Given recent changes in state and federal leadership, Whatley said the updated survey was a "great opportunity for us to take a look at the lay of the land...the issues with the new administration and FERC getting ramped up, and their consideration of what this is going to look like, as well as Gov. [Roy] Cooper being elected down in North Carolina, Gov. [Jim] Justice being elected in West Virginia, we wanted to get a good sense of where the project stands in all three states.
"Obviously, we appreciate [Virginia] Gov. [Terry] McAuliffe's strong support for this project over the years and think that these numbers will give him assurances that the public is going to stand behind him in Virginia."
The survey comes as Dominion has weighed in on Virginia's gubernatorial election, scheduled for later this year. According to a letter published by the Washington Post, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell encouraged the company's stakeholders to evaluate each candidate's position on ACP before voting.
When asked about the changes in support between the 2015 and 2017 surveys, Hickman Analytics founder Harrison Hickman said the responses suggested "a slight decline" in support for ACP among registered Democrats.
"Since the Obama administration declined the certificate for the Keystone XL Pipeline, registered Democrats have become slightly more opposed to pipeline projects generally," Hickman said. "I think they may have extrapolated from Keystone a more generic feeling about pipelines."
Hickman said around 47% of the survey respondents reported leaning Democratic or having registered as Democrats, with 36% registered or leaning Republican.
Justin Meighan, representing the Laborers' International Union of North America's Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, said the union supports ACP because of the jobs it would create. Meighan also addressed what he described as a politicization of local pipeline routing issues by those opposed to natural gas development more broadly.
"We're very sensitive to landowners' rights. But we think some of" the pushback against ACP "isn't just solely about landowner rights. We feel that there are other outside forces that are interjecting and are trying to delay and turn some local community opposition regarding landowner rights into a bigger debate" about energy policy.
Of "Keep It in the Ground" activism, Meighan said, "Our position is if you want to have a serious discussion about responsible energy policy, we'll have that debate any time, but you're not going to have that without natural gas."
The 2017 survey also gauged voter opinions on other energy issues. Roughly two-thirds of respondents in each state said they believe pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas, easily beating out those who believe transport by truck or rail is safer.
In Virginia, 52% said they support the Keystone XL Pipeline, with 41% opposing. Meanwhile, 50% of Virginia voters oppose coal-fired power plants, with 43% in support.
In West Virginia, 53% said they support Keystone XL (29% opposed), and 47% said they support coal-fired power plants (37% opposed). Meanwhile, 48% of North Carolinians surveyed said they support Keystone XL (43% opposed), with support for coal-fired power split between 45% for and 46% opposed.