With the looming presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport gas 1,179 miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, talk of jobs, energy independence and the environment has consumed hours of television airtime and barrels of ink and rolls of paper.
In West Virginia, at least four natural gas transmission pipelines are being discussed for development, and talks — whether political or kitchen table — are mirroring the national dialogue: Those for and against them are speaking of jobs, energy independence and the environment.
If green-lighted by the federal government, the multibillion-dollar transmission pipelines would criss-cross the central and southeastern part of the state, transporting natural gas drilled in West Virginia to destinations outside the state.
Natural gas companies are promising millions to localities in tax revenue and hundreds of jobs to communities hard hit by the nearly moribund coal industry.
Two transmission pipelines have held or are in the midst of holding public hearings, the beginning step — also a federal requirement — to construction.
In mid-January, the U.S. Forest Service was seeking comments on whether to allow surveys for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline on a 17.1-mile segment of the Monongahela National Forest in Pocahontas and Randolph counties.
Currently, Dominion Resources’ Atlantic Coast Pipeline is surveying private and other lands to determine routing feasibility and to identify environmental and cultural resources along the proposed 551-mile route. In West Virginia there is a segment proposed on Monongahela National Forest lands.
Kate Goodrich-Arling, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said if the results of the private and public land survey determine that the transmission route through the national forest is feasible, then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will conduct an in-depth environmental analysis, with opportunities for public comment, prior to deciding on the need for the pipeline.
Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson said if FERC determines there is a need for the pipeline, the Forest Service “would make a separate determination whether to issue a right-of-way permit to construct, operate and maintain a natural gas transmission pipeline on National Forest System lands.”
He said the Forest Service would use the FERC environmental analysis and public process in determining what directions to take.
West Virginia Matters, a statewide campaign sponsored by West Virginia Wilderness Lovers (WVWL), held a rally next door to Dominion’s open house meeting to instruct interested parties on how to submit comments to FERC. The group was handing out material explaining the pipeline project and maps with its proposed route.
“I really think people across the state need to open their eyes about fracking and gas pipelines,” Maria Gunnoe, a community organizer and member of WVWL, told media outlets. “We need to think about what we’re willing to sacrifice for the profits of the gas industry. As a state, we have to prioritize here.”
For its part, Dominion’s Bob Orndorff said the company has a strong safety and environmental record. At Dominion, he said, safety is the No.1 priority.
Talking to media outlets, Orndorff said the company starts each meeting with a safety briefing. “We take pride in operating in a safe fashion,” he was quoted in a State Journal article.
An Associated Press report may back Orndorff’s statement. The AP found nearly 300,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines run across the nation, more than half that were installed before 1970. The pre-1970s pipelines have a significantly higher failure rate than new pipelines made with improved safety technology, partly because they have been exposed to environmental forces longer.
However, in the last three weeks, there have been two major spills and a fire along transmission pipelines, according to NBC News — two massive spills in Montana and North Dakota and a large explosion in Brooke County, W.Va. As of Sunday, the cause of the Brooke County explosion was still under investigation. Government officials estimated Sunday nearly 24,000 barrels of ethane burned during the explosion.
Another transmission pipeline that could possibly come to West Virginia is the Mountain View Pipeline, which just wrapped up 14 public hearings/open houses in Virginia and West Virginia. The pipeline would start at the Mobley Complex in Wetzel County, snake through 10 West Virginia counties, including Nicholas, Greenbrier, Summers and Monroe — and end at a compressor station in Virginia.
For people like Howdy Henritz of Monroe County, who attended several open houses, more questions were left unanswered than answered, he said.
“I came out more worried about our water supply than when I went in,” he said.
Henritz said he was especially concerned about vague responses from engineers on environmental issues. He asked several questions about hydraulic fluids’ effects on water. As little as 20 to 30 gallons of hydraulic fluids can contaminate a spring pond, he said.
“The only response they had is that they’ll take care of it,” he said.
Henritz also expressed concern about employment numbers and how far below ground the transmission pipeline is going to go. He explained in some areas of Monroe County after 18 inches or so, the soil ends and bedrock begins.
Natalie Cox, a spokesperson for EQT, said during the construction phase, work crews will “likely be a mix of technical experts, as well as local labor support.”
A report EQT issued in early December stated thousands of local jobs should be created by 2017, the height of the construction phase of the pipeline. When it is completed sometime after 2018, that number will nosedive to fewer than 70, states the report, completed by FTI Consulting Inc.
Many attendees wondered about the coating used to protect the pipes; some were told by engineers that coal ash may be used where there is little topsoil.
Cox said in an e-mail that the pipeline would be covered with a factory-installed epoxy coating designed to “last the lifetime of a well-maintained pipeline.” Additionally, she wrote that a cathodic protection system would be installed to protect the pipe from any stray ground current corrosion.
“Our project team consists of both internal and external engineer experts who are well-versed in determining appropriate construction techniques for each segment of the pipeline route,” she wrote.
The fear of drinking water contamination, she said, is unfounded. The pipeline construction typically affects soil less than 10 feet in depth that is in the direct path of the route.
“Drinking wells should not be affected by the shallow earth activity,” she wrote. “The MVP project team would identify drinking water wells within 150 feet of the construction and work with landowners to establish baseline data and pre-construction water quality.”
Additionally, the FERC requirement and certification process requires permit seekers to comply with rules of all appropriate local, state and federal agencies, including the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
“We want to work with everyone in the various communities along the proposed route to make sure we’re building this pipeline safely and responsibly and that we’re doing so in a way that has minimal impact on their land and their daily lives,” she wrote.
The EQT pipeline, according to FTI Consulting’s estimates, could bring more than $1.7 million in property tax revenue annually for Monroe County. Nicholas County could collect $2.1 million in additional taxes annually, Greenbrier County $1.9 million yearly and Summers County nearly $700,000 annually.
The two other pipelines — the $4.3 billion Rover and the $1.75 billion Leach Xpress — are under the auspices of FERC and the Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Open houses should start shortly.
In recent weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to expedite the federal review of natural gas pipeline applications.
The measure passed, 253-169, with several Democrats voting for the measure. The bill requires FERC to approve or deny a pipeline application within one year. The Hill newspaper reports the agency must issue a permit or license within 90 days after it releases a final environmental review. A provision in the bill does allow the deadline to be extended by 30 days if the agency can demonstrate it cannot finish the review on time.
If the agency doesn’t make a decision within the year timeframe, a pipeline would automatically be approved. The current FERC review process takes 18 to 24 months.
The GOP-controlled House said the bill would place pressure on FERC to avoid delays for natural gas pipelines.
“West Virginia Energy can create jobs and grow our state’s economy. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a cumbersome approval process, one that frequently experiences delays in the process permit,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who voted for the bill.
He said he voted for Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, H.R. 900, because it preserves the environment and safety review process while eliminating red tape.
The bill next passes to the Senate for committee consideration. Govtrack.us gives the bill a 15 percent chance of enactment.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s spokesperson said the senator hasn’t had a chance to review the bill, but voted for a similar bill last year. Capito “generally supports this concept,” the spokesperson said.
“The natural gas boom has presented a huge opportunity for good jobs and economic growth in West Virginia and throughout the nation,” a statement issued by Capito reads, saying she believes “that infrastructure projects intended to harness natural gas’ potential should receive adequate review and local input without being stonewalled by unnecessary bureaucratic delays.”
The natural gas boom has reignited the push for liquefied natural gas exports from coastal terminals; nearly all U.S. natural gas exports today are by pipelines, a number of sources report.
An e-mail seeking comment from Sen. Joe Manchin went unreturned.
According to the Department of Energy, which oversees FERC, more than 30 applications to build export terminals are pending and have yet to reach the final states of approval, which is given by the Department of Energy.
H.R. 900 was the third energy-related bill passed by the House during this Congress, which started less than a month ago. The 114th Congress also approved two bills authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“I will continue to support reasonable legislation that makes common sense reform and allows West Virginia to use its energy resources to create jobs and benefit our state,” Jenkins said in a released statement.
Even if the measure passes the Senate, the White House issued a veto threat last week, stating it would “create conflicts with current requirements and force agencies to make rush decisions or delay applications entirely, because of lacking information.
“For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project delays, undermining the intent of the legislation,” the White House said in a policy statement.
This article was written by DANIEL TYSON from The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.