Two natural gas pipelines that would travel from West Virginia into Virginia — the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) — have been facing resistance from environmental groups and local residents for almost five years. And that opposition is not expected to stop in 2019.
If the developers are successful in getting the pipelines placed into service, the ACP and MVP could help to prolong the region’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels at a time when climate scientists are calling for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to pipeline opponents.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave both pipelines a green light in October 2017. But the tenacity of the pipeline activists who refused to call it quits since — from occupying trees and setting up grassroots monitoring effortsto using the courts — now appears to have paid off.
“We’re seeing there is a very real chance that the pipelines might not get built,” Joan Walker, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, told ThinkProgress. “It is a testament to everyone standing for the future that they want… we don’t need to invest and waste any more time in shifting to a safer, cleaner, and more climate-friendly economy.”
After federal regulators approved construction of ACP and MVP, it was assumed the two pipeline projects — located only 100 miles apart in Virginia — had cleared their biggest hurdle. State officials in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina had already indicated they would not stand in the way of either project’s completion.
But after smooth sailing through the early years of the permitting process, ACP is now running into strong regulatory and legal headwinds that are expected to persist deep into 2019. In fact, the roadblocks have become so numerous that on December 7, Dominion Energy, the primary sponsor of ACP, voluntarily stopped work on the entire route of the pipeline project. Construction on the pipeline is expected to remain on hold into the new year.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), another massive natural gas pipeline project proposed to travel through West Virginia into Virginia, isn’t faring any better. The pipeline’s developers suggested in an October financial filing that the project could be canceled due to the growing number of roadblocks.
Pipeline activists have long argued that more pipelines means more harmful emissions that drive climate change. The drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines results in the leakage of methane, the primary component of natural gas that is 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year period and 86 times stronger over 20 years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“The reality is that renewables are a viable cost-effective option now,” said Walker, “and should be considered as a least-cost resource” by regulators.
Over the past three years, the two pipeline projects have been progressing along roughly the same timelines. The developers of ACP filed a formal application with federal regulators in September 2015. A month later, MVP’s sponsors filed their own federal application. In October 2017, FERC voted to approve the two massive projects, each of which would transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays to purported markets in Virginia and North Carolina.
If completed, the 600-mile ACP will transport natural gas through parts of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. In November, the developers said the project cost has increased from $6.5 million to $7 billion. ACP is being led by Dominion Energy, with Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas also part of the partnership.
As proposed, the MVP system, led by EQM Midstream Partners LP, will span about 301 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Like ACP, the pipeline would be 42 inches in diameter and be able to transport 2 billion cubic feet per day. Due to construction delays, MVP’s cost has jumped from $3.7 billion to $4.6 billion.
Soon after they were proposed almost five years ago, environmental groups and residents along the proposed routes began questioning the need for two major interstate natural gas pipeline projects within 100 miles of each other. Others urged regulators to reject both ACP and MVP.
But since then, developers have faced hurdle after hurdle in their efforts to build the pipelines.
The latest setback to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) came this week when a Virginia air pollution board delayed a vote on the construction of a compressor station in a historically African American community in Buckingham County due to concerns of the impacts to residents.