After securing legal victories that have stalled progress for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), opposition groups are pushing back against the developer’s stabilization plan for stretches of the 600-mile project already under construction.
Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. (DETI) submitted stabilization plans to FERC in December for both the ACP and related Supply Header Project. This came after DETI voluntarily suspended construction to comply with a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay the implementation of key federal authorizations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The court stopped the implementation of ACP’s re-issued biological opinion and modified incidental take statement.
Work on ACP was temporarily stopped earlier this year when the Fourth Circuit first vacated the incidental take statement, issued under the Endangered Species Act. The permit is required for activities that could harm threatened wildlife.
As part of work to stabilize areas along the project route, DETI proposed, among other actions, lowering pipe and backfilling for sections of the route where the pipe has already been strung and the trench is open. The proposed actions are necessary to “achieve critical stabilization, environmental and cultural resource protection, and public safety,” ACP said.
But in another sign of the relentless opposition pipeline projects like ACP have faced recently, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Greg Buppert, in a Dec. 21 letter on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups, urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject any further pipe installation.
Buppert argued that ACP’s rationale for installing strung pipe “falls short because it assumes that any installed pipe will not have to be removed.” Given recent court actions, ACP lacks necessary authorizations to “construct its pipeline along its preferred route. Every additional step taken towards installing the pipeline risks additional damage associated with removing it.”
The Fourth Circuit also recently tossed authorizations the U.S. Forest Service had issued to ACP to cross the George Washington and Monongahela national forests, as well as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
That came just weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a request filed by ACP to suspend the project’s authorization to cross streams and wetlands along the entire 600-mile route under its Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12. ACP voluntarily made the request after the Fourth Circuit stayed the NWP 12.
“Despite lacking effective mandatory authorizations for the project since September, Atlantic has continued to proceed with stringing pipe along the right-of-way,” Buppert wrote. “The Commission should not now countenance the decision by Atlantic to proceed in the absence of key permits by allowing Atlantic to install the pipe it brought to the right-of-way at its own risk. The pipe should be removed to ensure compliance with applicable laws, and not furtherance of a predetermined route unauthorized by law.”
ACP would originate in West Virginia, pass through Virginia and into North Carolina to move 1.5 Bcf/d of Appalachian natural gas to the Southeast. The project is a joint venture of DETI, Duke Energy Corp., Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.