Dominion Energy and its partners announced plans in June 2014 for a new major natural gas pipeline through more than 40 miles (now 56 miles) of Augusta County (View the route). In September 2015, Dominion filed its formal application with the Federal Energy Resource Commission (FERC) and, as many expected, on October 13 the agency approved the application. However, the project still requires several more permits in order to proceed, notably a water quality permit from each state.
This proposed high-pressure 42-inch natural gas transmission pipeline would be the largest project of its kind ever built in the county. Dominion plans to clear a construction corridor up to 125 feet wide through our community’s headwaters, streams and tributaries, forests, neighborhoods, and farmland. The pipeline would impact private and public lands, including the George Washington National Forest, the Appalachian Trail, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. A permanent, 75-foot treeless corridor would be required for maintenance. No buildings can be constructed in the easement.
In the unlikely but possible event of a leak or an explosion, the evacuation of thousands of people would be required. The proposed pipeline route passes close enough to seven schools that it becomes a public safety concern. Should the pipeline explode, the incineration zone for a high-pressure line of this size is 1,100 feet on each side of the pipe, putting thousands of people at a safety risk and devaluing property that would potentially be impacted.
Economically the devalued property translates into lower real estate revenue for the county. Coupled with the loss of jobs from houses and businesses that won’t be built, it is clear that this project would place a financial burden on the county treasury.
Who Is In Charge?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ultimately approves or denies the pipeline project and its proposed route. Dominion Energy officially filed its permit application with FERC on September 18, 2015. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project was released on July 21, 2017, and as expected, the agency gave its rubberstamp approval to the project on October 13, 2017.
However, Dominion must also receive a permit from the U.S. Forest Service first to survey and then to build across the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests. Numerous other federal, state, and local permits are required as well, including water quality permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and historic resources permits from the Department of Historic Resources. Currently, none of these permits or certificates have been granted.
It is critical that Augusta citizens ask questions and express our concerns about the impacts of the Dominion pipeline proposal to local, state, and federal officials.
Property Rights & Values
A 2004 Virginia law allows natural gas companies to enter private property without the consent of the landowner, however, pipeline surveyors must get written permission from the landowner to bring motor vehicles, self-propelled machinery or power equipment, like chain saws, onto the property. Without permission, surveyors must do the work by hand and on foot.
Now that the project has received a certificate from FERC, eminent domain law can used to establish a gas pipeline easement across private property for construction and maintenance of the line even without the owner’s consent. Hundreds of private property owners in Augusta County are in the direct line of this pipeline and, as a consequence, could now be forced to allow the potential industrialization of their property by a private corporation. In Augusta the route crosses several Century Family Farms and in some cases cuts across land that has been in the same family since King George III in the 1700s.
A 75-foot permanently-cleared easements equates to the loss of nine productive acres of farm and forest per mile of pipeline. Maintenance of the pipeline right of way can greatly restrict a landowner’s ability to farm or otherwise use the property. The corridor becomes a gutter for heavy rains that leads to destructive flooding and a pathway for invasive plants and animals.
The proposed pipeline will not serve our local market for natural gas and will not reduce local utility bills – the ACP will in fact increase electricity bills by at least a billion and a half dollars. The pipeline is intended to move Marcellus shale gas from West Virginia to North Carolina power plants, with a spur serving Dominion’s power plants in Tidewater Virginia. It will deliver gas to the TransCo line, which carries natural gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and into the export market. Local job creation will be limited and short term, as most construction is done by an imported, specialist workforce.
Unlike the much smaller Columbia Gas line in Augusta, Dominion’s proposed pipeline is a transmission line and will not allow for local hook-up. Connecting to the line costs an estimated $5 million to $8 million, making it prohibitively expensive for a business or community. In addition to being more than four times the volume of the Columbia line, the ACP has an easement three times larger and a blast zone that is far greater, thus creating more worry and danger to Augusta residents. Hundreds of households and businesses hook up to the Columbia distribution line in the county meaning that the line provides jobs and benefits the local economy; factors that do not come into play with Dominion’s ACP.
Natural gas pipelines are at risk from spills and explosions. Gas transmission lines triggered an average of 57 significant accidents, two fatalities, 10 injuries and more than $100 million in property damage per year for the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Unfortunately, new pipelines have a worse safety track record than even the oldest pipelines, presumably because of the rush to get natural gas from the fracking wells to urban markets and export.
Impacts – Farms, Forests, Water, Soil
Pipeline construction will require extensive land clearing; a corridor up to 125 feet wide for construction. In addition there will be extensive materials staging areas that will destroy hundreds of acres of land during the construction process. Prime soils, working family farms, intact forests, rare natural areas, streams and wetlands and all structures with foundations will be bulldozed or blasted off the land. The Dominion pipeline will cross dozens of streams in Augusta County, including the headwaters of the James and Shenandoah Rivers and thousands of acres of unique and special farm and forest land. Our local karst landscape, filled with springs and sinkholes, raises the risk of pipeline spills and the permanent altering of underground hydrology, which could in turn alter and contaminate public and private drinking water sources hundreds of yards if not further, from the actual pipeline route.
Impacts – Industrializing Rural Land
Dominion plans to build three compressor stations along the 564-mile pipeline route. One will be located in West Virginia, one in Buckingham County, Virginia, and one near the Virginia-North Carolina state line. Dominion has said that increasing capacity on the pipeline is a simple matter of adding additional compressor stations along the route. These large, noisy utility buildings run day and night in even remote rural areas.