About 160 people attended a February 22 public comment session at Nelson County High School to voice their opinions to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will eventually approve or deny plans for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
If approved, construction on the $5 billion and nearly 600-mile natural gas pipeline could begin by the end of the year. Governor Terry McAuliffe has voiced support for the ACP—backed primarily by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy—citing the state’s urgent energy needs and the number of jobs it will create.
It is unclear how many people spoke for or against the pipeline during FERC’s comment session, because one person at a time was called to give comments privately to a court stenographer.
Outside of the high school, Nelson landowner Mike Craig, a member of Friends of Nelson, a group that has been vocal about its opposition to the project, propped one of its signature anti-pipeline signs against the building—but instead of the usual blue square with white letters, this one was longer than a school bus, black and spelled out “No Pipeline” in hundreds of chunky white light bulbs.
Members of No ACP, a Richmond-based opposition group, brought him the sign this week, he said, and he assembled the lights for its Nelson County debut.
Craig lives on Wheeler’s Cove Road, where pavement turns to dirt in the county’s community of Elma. Count 13 mailboxes and you’ll find his 34-acre plot, on which the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s proposed route runs 200 steps from his driveway.
“I didn’t run power lines back to my place because I didn’t want to cut the trees down,” says Craig. “Now they’re going to run that pipeline through there and clear-cut the trees.”
At the end of last year, FERC released a draft environmental impact statement, which said the pipeline will have minimal effects on the environment, but Oil Change International and Bold Alliance, two opposition groups, have released information that says the total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the ACP will be nearly 68 million metric tons, or the equivalent of 20 coal plants or 14 million vehicles. Anti-pipeline groups have often noted that its path crosses water supplies, historically sensitive areas and animal habitats.
Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby notes that his company has made more than 300 route adjustments to the pipeline over the past two years to accommodate for such losses.
He says underground natural gas pipelines are by far the safest method of energy transportation in the country. And because safety is Dominion’s first priority, he says, the ACP will have a control center in West Virginia to remotely monitor the pipes at all times. If any problems are detected on a pipe’s interior sensor, it can be isolated and shut down immediately.
And for those looking for work, he says construction on the pipeline will create about 17,000 jobs over a two-year period in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, with almost 9,000 of those being in the state. The project will generate more than 2,000 jobs in the long term.
“We live and work in these communities,” Ruby says. “Virginia is home for us. The people who are going to build and operate this pipeline live in the same communities where it will be operated.”