Locally, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has amassed intense opposition since Dominion Energy formally announced its project plans in September 2014. What some challengers may not know, however, is that more than 2,000 miles of pipelines have sliced through Virginia for several decades, sparking little to no debate.
“I think the fact that most people are unaware of the vast network of existing pipelines that are operating in our communities today says a couple of things,” says Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby, who notes that these pipelines go unnoticed because they operate safely and coexist peacefully with their environments.
Four Williams Transco natural gas transmission pipelines in the same right of way run under Lake Monticello in Fluvanna. Two are 30 inches in width, one is 36 inches and the largest is 42 inches—the proposed width of the ACP.
While only about 1,000 of 10,000 miles of the Transco pipeline—built in the early 1950s—run through Virginia on their way from Texas to New York, the first bout of natural gas pumped through the line was delivered to Danville, according to spokesperson Chris Stockton. About a quarter of all natural gas consumed in Virginia goes through the Transco.
“It really is out of sight, out of mind,” Stockton says.
Like the Transco pipeline, the multi-billion-dollar, 550-mile ACP will also run entirely underground, according to Ruby. As does the 20-inch Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline—gathering gas in the Gulf of New Mexico and transporting it to New York—that runs through White Hall Vineyards in Crozet.
Representatives from the vineyard declined to comment on the effect the pipeline has had on their operation.
“There’s no indication that any of the 2,200 miles of existing pipelines in Virginia have inhibited the development or growth or sustainability of these communities,” says Ruby. “In fact, the opposite has been the case.”
Farmers, he says, grow crops “right on top” of the pipelines, which lay under pastureland and woodland meadows and go fairly unnoticed, except for their vertical, yellow-tipped markers.
Calling Nelson County the “Napa Valley of Virginia,” Ruby points out that the wine mecca in California is one of the most successful tourist regions in the country and that 280 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines run between Napa and Sonoma valleys.
“Those pipelines have not inhibited the tourism industry, residential growth, resort businesses or the wine industry,” he says, and he believes the ACP will have the same effect in Virginia, where there are already more than two and a half times the miles of pipeline—some passing through residential and commercial areas—than interstate highway.
Though the ACP will serve multiple public utilities and what Dominion calls “their urgent energy needs” in Virginia and North Carolina, some opponents say the number of existing pipelines makes for an absence of compelling need for another.
“One of the major objections to the proposed ACP is that any need for this pipeline does not rise to the level that justifies harm to our best remaining wild landscape, intrusion into public conservation lands and state-sanctioned violation of private property rights,” says Rick Webb, the coordinator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s determination of project need, he says, is only based on evidence that contracts for natural gas have been secured. FERC will ultimately approve or deny the project.
“We contend that this is an insufficient standard,” Webb says. “Particularly when, as in this case, the large majority of the gas is contracted to subsidiaries or affiliates of the ACP developers.”