RICHMOND, Va. – The Atlantic Coast Pipeline intended to carry natural gas across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina would have some adverse environmental effects, including impacts on water resources, forest and other habitats, an assessment by federal regulators found.
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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate natural gas pipelines, released its final environmental impact statement Friday for the proposed 600-mile (965-kilometer) pipeline, which has broad support from political and business leaders but is staunchly opposed by environmentalists and many affected landowners.
The assessment found that if developers use proper construction and mitigation techniques, most of those environmental impacts could be reduced to "less-than-significant" levels.
The release of the report sets the stage for a final decision from the commission on whether the project can proceed. The agency's commissioners will weigh the environmental impact statement as well whether the project meets a public need and whether its proposed gas rates are just and reasonable in making that decision, according to FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen.
Initially proposed in 2014, the underground pipeline would originate in north-central West Virginia, cross Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and run south of the Virginia capital of Richmond to a compressor station near the North Carolina border. An extension would run to the Hampton Roads area along the coast while the main pipeline would continue into North Carolina, ending near the South Carolina line.
Pipeline proponents — including union leaders, economic development officials and top lawmakers of both parties in all three states — said it would deliver cheap and abundant energy that is cleaner than coal.
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Developers also promised construction alone would create will create 17,000 new jobs and $2.7 billion in economic activity across the region, and once the pipeline is operational, they say the reliable supply of natural gas will attract heavy manufacturers that have previously passed over Virginia and North Carolina.
Opponents, however, said the pipeline would infringe on landowners' property rights, damage pristine areas and commit the region to a fossil fuel just when global warming makes it essential to invest in renewable energy instead. They also argue the demand for gas has been overstated and the capacity of existing infrastructure has been underestimated.
Ordinarily, a final decision from FERC can come any time after a pipeline's final environmental impact statement is complete, but the five-member panel currently lacks a quorum, with only one commissioner currently serving.
President Donald Trump has announced four nominees, who still must be approved by the Senate.
Other state and federal permits for the project are also pending.
The pipeline is being developed by four energy companies: Richmond-based Dominion Energy, the leading owner; Duke Energy; Piedmont Natural Gas; and Southern Company Gas.