The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, led by Richmond-based Dominion, formally filed its request Friday with federal regulators to build the 564-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to the southeastern Virginia and North Carolina coasts.
The $5.1 billion project has been under preliminary review since the limited-liability company pre-filed its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a year ago.
That application triggered an intensive, often contentious public process to determine a final route and assess the project’s impact on natural resources and communities in its path, including 10 counties in Virginia from the Allegheny Mountains to the Atlantic coast.
The 30,000-page application asks the FERC to certify the project as a public benefit and necessity, which would allow the company to use eminent domain to secure rights-of-way for the pipeline route. The company hopes to gain regulatory approval and begin construction by the second half of next year, and bring the pipeline into service by the end of 2018.
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is essential to meeting the clean energy needs of Virginia and North Carolina, and has significant benefits for West Virginia as well,” said Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy, which would be responsible for building and operating the pipeline.
The pipeline would carry up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from the Marcellus shale formation to meet demand from electric power plants, local gas distribution companies and industrial customers in Virginia and North Carolina.
Dominion, owner of Virginia Power, and Duke Energy say they need a reliable supply of low-priced natural gas from the Marcellus region to shift away from coal as fuel for electricity generation in the face of new federal restrictions on air pollutants linked to global warming and climate change.
The other partners are AGL Resources, owner of Virginia Natural Gas in Hampton Roads, and Piedmont Natural Gas, which serves parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The companies cite research that estimates annual energy savings of $377 million a year in Virginia and North Carolina by tapping low-priced gas in the Marcellus basin, as well as one-time economic benefits of $456.3 million a year in the three states during construction.
Opponents challenge the project’s benefits and instead cite its costs to communities and private landowners along the route, which would cross 30 miles of national forests in Virginia and West Virginia as well as numerous steep mountain ridges.
Opposition has been most intense in Nelson and Augusta counties, where landowners have challenged the constitutionality of a Virginia law that allows natural gas companies to enter private property to survey without landowner permission. Two lawsuits are pending in federal court in western Virginia.
Nelson County Supervisor Connie Brennan, who has worked to pass several resolutions against the pipeline, said Dominion’s statement about filing with FERC in mid-September turns out to be one the “few true things from them.”
“Somewhat surprising in view of the very recent statement from the [National Forest system] that it is essential to evaluate alternatives to the proposed route because of the potential for serious project-related impacts for certain animal species that cannot be mitigated,” she said.
“Because responsible alternate routes that use existing utility corridors or collocation options exist, this is an affront to our community and many of us will continue to fight to insist Dominion do the right thing.”
Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline also expressed frustration with the formal request of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on Friday. The proposed 42-inch diameter pipeline would run 300 miles from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County. The route could affect Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties.
“At this point opponents of MVP stand in solidarity against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” said Bent Mountain resident Roberta Bondurant, who also serves on both Preserve Roanoke and Roanoke County’s pipeline advisory committee.
She said the next step is for opponents to press FERC for an impact study that would examine the area’s natural gas supply and any new infrastructure that would be needed to create the pipeline. As the pipeline projects continue to move forward, opponents say more this study becomes more of a necessity.
“This heightens the urgency of our request that the FERC perform an independent programmatic (environmental impact study) on all options for transport of Marcellus cracked gas,” said Bill Wolff, a co-founder of Preserve Craig County.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture of EQT Corp., NextEra Energy, WGL Midstream and other partners, has said the it hopes to submit its application for the $3.2 billion project to FERC in October.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline formal application includes a preferred route for the pipeline, but Dominion said the company is still assessing potential options for routes through Highland, Nelson, and Buckingham.
Dominion said the company has completed surveying about 85 percent of the proposed route, which includes 300 miles of 42-inch-wide pipeline through Virginia, West Virginia, and Northampton County, N.C.
Tiffany Holland of The Roanoke Times and Rachael Smith of The (Lynchburg) News & Advance contributed to this report