The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has issued a temporary special use permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC (ACP), a joint venture (JV) led by Dominion Resources Inc., to survey more than 17 miles of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

According to USFS, the permit will allow ACP to conduct, over the course of one year, surveys of wetlands, water, soil and the habitat of sensitive species -- including those animals and plants listed as threatened by the federal government -- within a 17.1-mile segment for the proposed pipeline. The company will also record cultural resources and invasive species within the permitted area, which is in West Virginia's Pocahontas and Randolph counties.

"The information gathered from these surveys is necessary to make informed future decisions on whether or not to allow construction and operation of the proposed natural gas pipeline on the Monongahela National Forest," Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson said in a statement. "If the pipeline is allowed, information gained from these surveys will be critical for avoiding or reducing impacts to sensitive resources."

Last fall, Dominion and its partners -- Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources -- formed a JV to develop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 1.5 Bcf/d, 550-mile natural gas system that would traverse parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina (see Daily GPISept. 2, 2014). The new pipeline would bring Appalachian Basin gas to new markets.

"It is important to remember that allowing these survey activities does not mean USFS is allowing construction of the pipeline," Thompson said. The temporary permit only allows ACP to survey the route it had requested; additional public comments would be needed if ACP were to request an alternate route, he said.

USFS said it had received nearly 600 comments on the survey permit request, but most expressed concerns about construction and operation of the pipeline, rather than the surveys themselves. The service added that FERC is the lead agency on the proposed pipeline [PF 15-6], and will conduct an in-depth environmental analysis of the proposed pipeline.

"If the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] determines the pipeline is needed, and the preferred route involves Monongahela National Forest land, USFS will make a separate determination whether to issue a right-of-way permit to construct, operate, and maintain a natural gas pipeline on the forest," Thompson said. "We will use FERC's environmental analysis and public process to inform that decision."

Last December, Dominion filed lawsuits against hundreds of landowners in Virginia and North Carolina, after they denied the company access for surveying work related to the pipeline (see Daily GPIDec. 31, 2014). The project is estimated to cost up to $5 billion. The JV said it hopes to have the pipeline in service as soon as 2018.