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Study released by environmental groups pans new pipelines

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A new study commissioned by two environmental groups says two proposed interstate pipelines — that would cut through a combined 850 miles of mid-Atlantic countryside — are not needed because existing pipelines can supply enough fuel to power the region through 2030.

The study commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Appalachian Mountain Advocates concludes that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be financially beneficial to utility companies and investors while burdening customers with higher bills to cover the cost of the unnecessary construction.

The report from Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics was released today at a press conference in Nelson County by the SELC, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance.

Many Nelson residents have expressed strong opposition to the ACP pipeline, because of disruption they say it would cause.

“The dilemma for communities up until now has been figuring out where these pipelines would be built,” Greg Buppert, an SELC staff attorney, said in a statement.  “But today we know they don’t need to be built at all. Despite what we have heard from the utilities, we will have plenty of power and heat without them.”

The report’s authors studied the capacity of the existing network of pipelines and the region’s projected demand for energy. They concluded that, with some pipeline upgrades, “the supply capacity of the Virginia-Carolinas region’s existing natural gas infrastructure is more than sufficient to meet expected future peak demand.”

The researchers also wrote: “Additional interstate natural gas pipelines, like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and existing and new industrial facilities in production.”

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cannot approve any pipeline project unless it is absolutely necessary,” Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said in a statement.  “And in cases like this, where the government allows for-profit companies to take private property — family farms, people’s homes — that protection is especially crucial. This report shows the pipelines are not needed, so there should be no eminent domain for private gain. To do so would violate the law and the private property traditions of Virginia."

The groups also voiced concern about increasing the region’s reliance on natural gas. “An investment of billions of dollars in natural gas will further discourage these utilities from moving towards renewable energy, like solar and wind power that could save their customers more money,” Buppert said.

The two proposed pipelines would transport fracked natural gas from wells in West Virginia to customers in Virginia and the Carolinas. The groups allege that the pipelines would transect valuable natural and recreation areas, along with cities, towns and farms. A number of citizen groups and businesses in several states have formed to oppose the pipelines.

Other business organizations, companies and utility players, though, support the pipelines as a way to keep Virginia competitive in terms of economic development, create new construction jobs and meet future energy demands as coal-fired power plants are shuttered.

According to studies commissioned by the project’s developers, the pipeline is expected to generate economic benefits across a three-state region (Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia), including more than 17,000 jobs, $2.7 billion in economic activity and $4.2 million in average annual local tax revenue during construction.

The studies have said that in Virginia alone, construction would support 8,800 jobs and result in $1.4 billion in economic activity. Once in operation, the pipeline is expected to result in nearly $38 million in economic activity, support 1,300 jobs and, by 2022, generate $10.4 million in local tax revenue in 13 counties and cities along the route.

The new report raises the possibility of what it says is another utility-driven incentive to push for these projects. Since the supply of natural gas is abundant, utilities are exploring options to export the fuel overseas. That would require more capacity to move natural gas to the mid-Atlantic’s coastal ports. Therefore, “pipeline developers … have an additional motivation to expand their ownership interests in natural gas supply infrastructure,” the researchers said.

In that case, those living along the pipeline’s route would face extensive disruptions during construction — and the loss of land use. “To safeguard public interests, a determination of need for new pipeline infrastructure requires a detailed, integrated analysis of natural gas capacity and demand for the region as a whole,” the researchers wrote.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is evaluating the proposals. Last month, it released a schedule setting a timeline for the environmental review of the ACP. At this point, FERC plans to issue a final environmental impact statement by June of 2017, and a federal decision deadline has been set for Sept.28 of that same year.

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