Opportunity or threat or a measure of both.
Members of Franklin County’s board of supervisors heard during their meeting Tuesday that the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline could yield long-coveted access to natural gas and accompanying economic benefits, especially if that access helps lure or retain manufacturers.
But they heard also from resident Jim Atkins, who said the proposed buried pipeline “is threatening our people, our culture and history, our drinking water, our farms, our sacred mountains.”
Later, John D’Orazio, president and CEO of Roanoke Gas, told supervisors that his company would be interested in distributing natural gas to Franklin County and Rocky Mount if demand justifies the expense of tapping into the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the related costs of building a transfer station and distribution pipelines to customers.
And Chris Whitlow, assistant county administrator, reported that Mountain Valley Pipeline has made a commitment in writing to provide a tap or taps on the high-pressure, 42-inch diameter transmission pipeline as it passes through Franklin County if a local gas company steps up to distribute the gas and the economics of the deal work out.
D’Orazio said a rough estimate suggests the transfer station necessary to step down the pressure of the natural gas, monitor that pressure and install related safety devices would cost about $1.5 million.
Supervisor Ronnie Thompson asked Whitlow who would bear the costs of that infrastructure and wondered whether Mountain Valley Pipeline might commit to shouldering those costs.
Both Whitlow and D’Orazio said the costs might be shared and borne by various contributors, including potential customers, but those variables would depend on demonstrated demand for the natural gas and the costs of distribution. Whitlow said Mountain Valley Pipeline would be encouraged to be a contributor.
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley Pipeline, could not be reached for comment.
As currently configured, the proposed route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Franklin County would take it across Cahas Mountain and through properties west of Boones Mill before crossing U.S. 220 a few miles north of Rocky Mount.
D’Orazio said Roanoke Gas’ closest infrastructure that could potentially distribute natural gas south to Franklin County is much further north — currently in the Clearbook area of Roanoke County.
He said the Mountain Valley Pipeline would offer a more economically attractive alternative as a source of natural gas.
County Administrator Rick Huff has said Franklin County has lost at least one potential employer because the county has had no access to natural gas. He has said other prospective companies have probably crossed Franklin County off their site checklists because natural gas has been unavailable.
D’Orazio said access to natural gas could yield economic benefits for Franklin County, noting that the gas is currently abundant, domestically extracted and comparatively cheap. He said manufacturers reliant on natural gas could offer new jobs, new investment and new tax revenues.
Opponents have questioned whether the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy, would truly yield economic benefits, especially if the pipeline’s construction and presence cause significant environmental damage, impact wells or springs, threaten safety or affect the value or saleability of properties along its route.
Others have expressed skepticism about Mountain Valley Pipeline’s statements that the natural gas moving through its pipe would be made available to localities or industrial customers.
On Tuesday, Atkins chided supervisors in Franklin County for not taking a formal position about the pipeline. He noted that boards of supervisors in other potentially affected counties, including Montgomery and Roanoke, have taken stances opposing the current route.
Atkins noted, however, that Supervisor Ronnie Thompson has had “the courage to stand with us and voice his opposition to the pipeline.”
Supervisor Bob Camicia noted that both Roanoke and Montgomery counties already have access to natural gas.
Ultimately, if Mountain Valley Pipeline moves forward with its proposed project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will examine potential environmental impacts and weigh whether the pipeline would serve a public benefit.
If FERC greenlights the project, Mountain Valley Pipeline would be able to use eminent domain to buy rights-of-way across private property. That reality has raised more than a few hackles along the proposed pipeline’s 300-mile route through West Virginia and Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties before the pipeline terminates in Pittsylvania County.