All eyes on the pipeline

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney The Atlantic Coast Pipeline could run through these Nelson County mountains. Photo: Jack Looney

Hundreds of anti-Atlantic Coast Pipeline activists have emerged to monitor construction on the $6 billion gas fracking project.

A coalition of more than 50 anti-pipeline groups called the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance launched the Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative last week to ensure strict application of environmental laws and regulations for the ACP, which they say will wreak havoc on its 600-mile course from West Virginia, through nearby areas in Virginia like Nelson and Buckingham counties and into North Carolina.

Volunteers with Pipeline CSI will initially focus on monitoring the many mountainous areas of the pipeline route, where they say pipeline construction threatens water quality in the headwaters of major watershed systems.

“We will continue to challenge the government decisions involving the project,” says Rick Webb, an activist who has been instrumental in the fight against the pipeline since the project was announced in September 2014, and who now chairs Pipeline CSI. “But with certain pre-construction activities already underway, citizen oversight is essential given the limited resources of government agencies that are responsible for regulating pipeline construction.”

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are the major companies backing the ACP. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which gave them approval to start building it in October (subject to other state and federal approvals), also approved limited tree felling along the pipeline’s route on January 19.

Dominion has started knocking down trees in Virginia and West Virginia, according to spokesperson Aaron
Ruby, who says his company only needs a few more approvals before Dominion requests a notice from FERC to proceed with full construction, which he expects to happen by spring.

But not without the watchdogs.

“The need for citizen oversight of pipeline construction has been made clear by observations of recent pipeline projects and ineffective government agency response to repeated violations and water resource harm,” says Webb. “We have no reason to expect more from the agencies during construction of the ACP.”