One big pipeline buried in one corridor?
Or perhaps two large-diameter natural gas pipelines interred in a single, sprawling right-of-way?
A conference call in early July confirmed that a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline will include consideration of a “one pipe, one right-of-way” alternative.
The one pipe option would push enough natural gas through a transmission pipeline to serve customers for both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
An unlikely outcome? It would seem so.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff will do the analysis.
Theoretically, at least, this alternative could reduce the number of property owners affected and mitigate the environmental damage wrought by two separate multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects.
But neither Mountain Valley nor Atlantic Coast likes the idea, according to filings with FERC, which will determine whether one or both pipelines will be built.
“This is not a reasonable alternative to the project,” Mountain Valley observed, noting that there is sufficient demand for natural gas to support both 42-inch-diameter pipelines.
Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Atlantic Coast, said about 92 percent of the project’s natural gas is already subscribed.
How about two pipelines in one corridor?
Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast have rejected that notion, too, in FERC filings.
Atlantic Coast noted that its pipeline and the Mountain Valley project “serve different end-use markets and customers.” And the companies observed that steep, mountainous terrain and narrow ridge lines along portions of each of the two pipeline’s proposed routes would preclude burying two hefty pipelines in a common corridor.
The companies reported as well that co-location of pipelines with highways or transmission power lines presents unique safety, construction and environmental challenges and can end up increasing environmental disturbance because following co-location paths could require construction of more pipeline miles.
Meanwhile, in a letter to FERC dated July 28, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., acknow-ledged that “new pipeline capacity may be necessary” because of natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin.
“The question is how much,” Kaine wrote.
The senator cited four separate interstate pipeline projects — including the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines — that could transport natural gas through portions of Virginia. He referenced also the Appalachian Connector project, under consideration by Williams Cos., and the WB Xpress pipeline, proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission.
The Appalachian Connector project has not yet initiated FERC filings and remains in talks with potential customers, according to Williams.
The other three are in the pre-filing phase with FERC, a process that allows companies to get their ducks in rows, including identification of routes, before submitting a formal application.
Kaine’s letter suggests that FERC should determine “the extent to which natural gas demand and capacity projections justify the need for all four of these projects.” The senator recommended analysis also of the pipelines’ cumulative environmental effects.
Tamara Young-Allen, a FERC spokeswoman, said the environmental impact statements drafted for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects “will evaluate all alternatives after the formal applications for each project are received” and will also consider cumulative effects.
Kaine described the public comment process for the Mountain Valley project as inadequate, a deficiency he said “has contributed to a perception that the project is a ‘done deal’ and that FERC and the companies view the public comment process as a pro forma, box-checking exercise.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline is a joint venture of EQT Corp., NextEra Energy, WGL Holdings and another partner. Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s partners include Dominion, Duke Energy and others.
Mountain Valley wants to build its pipeline along a route of nearly 300 miles stretching from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County. The $3.2 billion project would transport natural gas to markets in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern U.S., according to Mountain Valley. Customers would include power plants, local distribution companies and industries. WGL has acknowledged that some gas might be exported to India.
Atlantic Coast has said its 550-mile, $5 billion pipeline would serve industrial, commercial and domestic customers, including power plants, in Virginia and North Carolina.
Both interstate pipelines are considered “open access,” meaning communities or businesses might be able to tap the line.
Kaine’s letter called on FERC to clarify the likelihood of such taps, given the expense involved and the volume of natural gas required to make it viable.
The senator called for clarity, too, about how much of the natural gas transported by the Mountain Valley project would be exported. He said that people along the proposed route will “bear the potential risks of this infrastructure and deserve to know where the gas is going.”
Yet Kaine noted that liquefied natural gas exports “can make sense on a strategic, case-by-case basis to reduce the world’s dependence on hostile energy states like Iran and Russia.”
The senator has co-sponsored a bill that would fast track decisions by the U.S. Department of Energy about LNG export applications.
Kaine’s letter to FERC about the Mountain Valley project advised, “I take no position on the underlying question of whether this project should be approved.”
That non-position rankled some pipeline opponents.
“We are disappointed that he has waffled and has, to date, failed to take a personal stance on the proposed project,” said Angela Stanton, a co-founder of Preserve the New River Valley.
“By not making his position known, he essentially comes across as Doris Day singing ‘Que Sera, Sera’ and, in our opinion, communicated he would be OK with whatever decision is made by the FERC,” she said.
Both David Seriff of Montgomery County and Rick Shingles of Giles County could be affected by a pipeline route. Both contend it is folly to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure for a fossil fuel.
“These pipelines are 20th century answers to 21st century energy needs that no longer are in the national interests,” Shingles said.
Bill Wolf, a co-founder of Preserve Craig County, said the organization appreciates Kaine’s communication with FERC.
“However, we believe it does not address the most important policy issue — comparing the benefits of constructing these ‘short-life’ pipelines against damaging irreplaceable national treasures — our precious water and natural resources.”