FERC released a favorable final environmental impact statement (FEIS) Friday for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), clearing the way for the Commission to approve the 600-mile, $5 billion project once the Senate restores its quorum.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that ACP and the related Supply Header Project (SHP) "would result in some adverse effects" but through "impact avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures" and "adherence to our recommendations to further avoid, minimize and mitigate these impacts, most project effects would be reduced to less-than-significant levels."
FERC said it considered a range of factors in reaching this conclusion and pointed to plans in place for managing construction along steep slopes; plans to avoid impacts on endangered species; measures to minimize impacts on national forests along the project path; and a number of other measures detailed in the construction and restoration plans for the two projects.
ACP is a 1.5 Bcf/d greenfield pipeline that would start in West Virginia and travel through Virginia and North Carolina. The project is designed to deliver Marcellus and Utica shale gas to serve heating and electric generation demand in Mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets.
ACP includes a 42-inch diameter segment proposed to cross through the rural mountains along the West Virginia/Virginia border. It would then split into a lateral extending into southeast Virginia and a smaller diameter line continuing south through eastern North Carolina. The project also includes compressor stations in Lewis County, WV, Buckingham County, VA, and Northampton County, NC.
Dominion Energy Inc. is developing ACP through a joint venture with Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
SHP consists of 37.5 miles of new pipeline as well as modifications to existing compression facilities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The project is 100% backed by Dominion subsidiary Dominion Energy Transmission Inc.
With ACP's route passing through stretches of sensitive, mountainous and largely undeveloped terrain, the project has attracted vocal opposition from environmental groups and landowners in some areas. Opposition to ACP has also played into Virginia state politics.
ACP's route has also received close scrutiny from FERC and other federal agencies, including a major reroute required by the U.S. Forest Service to bypass the habitats of several protected species living in the George Washington and Monongahela national forests.
"The favorable environmental report released today provides a clear path for final approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this fall," Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy's vice president of engineering and construction, said. "The report concludes that the project can be built safely and with minimal long-term impacts to the environment. The report also reinforces previous findings by the FERC and decades of research demonstrating that natural gas pipelines do not adversely impact tourist economies and residential property values.
"...This report is the culmination of one of the most thorough and exhaustive environmental reviews that has ever been performed for a project of this scope," Hartz continued. "The report is based on nearly three years of painstaking study by more than a dozen federal agencies, as well as extensive engagement with communities along the proposed route. Drawing on more than 150,000 pages of regulatory filings and more than 75,000 public comments, FERC's report comprehensively addresses all of the environmental and safety issues that have been raised. By any measure, this has been a rigorous and transparent process."
EnergySure, a coalition of business and labor groups in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, hailed the release of FERC's completed environmental review Friday.
In a joint statement following the release of the FEIS, Barry DuVal, CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Dennis Martire, Mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers' International Union of North America, said they are "encouraged by the favorable conclusions of the final environmental report...Never before has an infrastructure project in our region received so much scrutiny by so many agencies and offered so many opportunities for public input. We have total confidence in the process, and we are convinced the project will be built with all necessary protections for the environment and public safety
"There is an urgent public need for this project. Public utilities in our region urgently need new infrastructure to provide electricity and home heating to their millions of customers and support the growth of manufacturing and other new industries."
The Sierra Club, meanwhile, promised to keep pushing back against the project and criticized FERC's environmental review process.
"Despite all its rhetoric, FERC continues to prove it's nothing more than a rubber stamp for fracked gas pipelines that threaten our communities and our climate," the Sierra Club's Deb Self said of ACP’s FEIS, which was released in multiple volumes Friday, the first containing nearly 900 pages of environmental analysis. "FERC has failed to account for the dangers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would lock communities into the dirty and dangerous fuels of the past when clean, renewable energy options are readily available."
Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, "Along the 600 miles of this proposed pipeline and across affected states, people are organizing and standing up for their water, protection of public and private lands, and their way of life. Our streams, forests and endangered species need protection, and so do our communities. Landowners shouldn't have their land taken for private companies' profit, and residents shouldn't be saddled with higher utility bills to pay for an unneeded, destructive pipeline that threatens communities and the climate."
The release of the FEIS comes after ACP secured a victory in the Virginia Supreme Court, which struck down a landowner's challenge of the developer's right to survey for the project on private property without trespass liability. Meanwhile, opposition groups have been pushing Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to exercise its Clean Water Act Section 401 authority to obstruct the project.
ACP is hoping to receive final FERC approval this fall, with plans to enter service in 2019. With only one sitting Commissioner, the timing of a federal certificate for the project will depend on how quickly the Senate can approve the Trump administration's nominees and restore FERC's quorum.