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Natural Gas Pipeline Planned for ENC

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Dominion
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We detail the 550 mile tri-state Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Supporters say the natural gas project will bring jobs to the “Tar Heel State.”  Opponents worry about decreased property values and the environment.  We talk about the pipeline’s proposed path and hear how it may impact eastern North Carolina.

Renewable energy is all the rage, but a new source of energy is causing speculation in eastern North Carolina.  The proposed 550 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline would transport natural gas from West Virginia, through Virginia and into eastern North Carolina.  Even though the plan promises a cleaner and cheaper source of fuel, new jobs and economic growth to the state, it’s still early in the regulatory process.  On top of talk of prosperity, the pipeline plan is already drawing a lot of criticism.

“Potentially endangers our water resources, our businesses, it compromises our property rights and our safety.  So, that’s the all pain part.”

That’s Nancy Sorrells from the “All Pain No Gain Campaign.” More on that grassroots effort coming up later. First, the specs of the $5 billion dollar Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The project was proposed in September 2014 by Dominion Resources, who was selected to build and operate the pipeline.  Three other major U.S. energy companies are involved in the project, including Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources. 

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In eastern North Carolina, 178 miles of pipeline will roughly parallel the I-95 corridor.  The route will span eight counties, including Northhampton, Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland, and end in Robeson county, near Lumberton. Corporate Communications Manager for Duke Energy Tammie McGee says the 36 inch diameter pipeline would be buried underground and wouldn’t interfere with rural farming operations. 

“There’s very few restrictions once it’s been completely constructed.  I think the only thing you can’t do is build right on top of it, or plant trees right on top of it.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is still very early in the planning stages.  While an exact path of the pipeline has yet to be fixed, a map of the proposed route can be viewed online.  McGee says it’s still under analysis and could change a few miles in either direction.  Surveying and route planning will continue through June.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently held 10 scoping meetings to inform the public about the project and hear their concerns.  Three were held in North Carolina, in Fayetteville, Wilson and Roanoke Rapids.  Spokesperson for FERC Tamara Young-Allen says residents were most concerned with the pipeline’s impact to the environment and safety.

“They talked about endangered species, impact on wetlands and other cultural resources.  All types of issues were raised.”

There are even concerns about the security of the pipeline itself. In January, a pipeline in West Virginia spontaneously burst into a huge fireball.  Another gas pipeline in Mississippi exploded earlier this year, causing a smoke plume large enough to register on National Weather Service radar near Brandon.  There were no deaths associated with these incidents.

Spokesperson for Dominion Energy Jim Norvelle attended the public meetings and heard concerns from residents who were worried specifically how the project would impact property values. 

“We will begin to have negotiations with them on the value of the easements that they need to put the pipeline underground. We would not purchase the land, the land would remain in the ownership of the landowner.  But we would pay them for a one time negotiation that would be indicative of the value of the property we need to use to bury the pipeline.”

It’s not just some residents who disapprove of the pipeline.  Environmental groups such as the Blue Ridge Defense League, Clean Water for North Carolina and grassroots efforts like the “All Pain No Gain Campaign” have voiced their opposition of the plan.  Co-chair for the Virginia based campaign Nancy Sorrells says the pipeline should be placed on a different, more responsible route.

“Not cutting through private property and our public lands, and endangering our resources and our quality of life.”

Sorrells is also concerned with how the natural gas pipeline could negatively affect water quality if it were to leak.

“When you’re inserting a pipeline of that size 10 feet underground, though our water supplies, we have some very powerful but fragile water supplies, you could contaminate them, you could alter the flow so that people with public water and people with private wells and springs could lose their water source.  And if you lose your water source, you can’t live in your house, you can’t farm, you can’t run your business.”

Spokesperson for Dominion Energy Jim Norvelle says they will test water quality before and after construction of the pipeline to ensure there are no leaks.  He adds crews must adhere to rigorous standards when laying the 36-inch diameter pipe in North Carolina.

“One, it’s new pipe.  Two, it is coated on the inside and the outside to make sure that it is corrosion resistant as much as possible.  Three, when you build the pipeline you have to weld in certain places, each weld may take as long as a day or a day and a half, and then the welds are x-rayed to make sure they were done correctly.  If they need to be fixed, you grind out the weld and you do it again.”

Crews will also conduct pressure tests using water to make sure the welds hold up.  Norvelle says they will periodically conduct internal inspections of the pipeline to make sure it doesn’t leak. 

Raleigh based Environment North Carolina is against the location of the natural gas pipeline in eastern North Carolina. Director Dave Rogers says the infrastructure is costly and continues to rely on “dirty fuels.”  He believes North Carolina should focus on renewable sources of energy. 

“Anyone who drives through eastern North Carolina sees solar panels popping up on farms around the area.  And anyone who spends any time out on the Outer Banks or any of our barrier islands realizes that the wind blows at a pretty steady rate.  So the time has come where we should harness those sources for North Carolina’s future.”

Proponents say the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide residents with a cheaper, cleaner burning fuel and spur economic growth. When construction begins in summer of 2016, Duke Energy’s Tammie McGee says hundreds of jobs will be created.

“But the most important thing is once it’s built, it’s going to act as an attraction for industry and manufacturing to come in and build plants along the route because they have more access to the infrastructure they’re looking for.”

Glass manufacturers, brick makers and electric generating plants are examples of industries that require a large amount of natural gas in their manufacturing process, and benefit from being nearby a gas pipeline.  McGee says more businesses that decide to locate here will mean more, higher paying jobs in eastern North Carolina. 

“That trickles down to more money to spend on housing, retail, restaurants.”

The pipeline will also generate property tax for counties along the route. According to the economics and analysis report for the project, annual property tax payments will increase during the construction period, based on tax formulas in each state and locality. Dominion has estimated that counties and municipalities along the proposed route would receive $23 million in property tax payments in 2020 and increase to more than $25 million starting in 2021, when the full value of the project is ultimately reflected in tax payments.  Duke Energy Spokesperson Tammie McGee.

“That could mean improvements in schools, hospitals, emergency services.  Some of these counties would get $500,000 annually, and some of the counties will get more than $1 million annually once the pipeline is in operation.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is collecting comments from the public on the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Spokesperson for FERC Tamara Young-Allen says people can submit written comments online or by mail through April 28th.

“Our staff who will prepare the environmental document when the company files their formal application listens to the comments and the comments go into the record for this proceeding.”

After review of comments, a formal application must be submitted by Dominion sometime later this year. Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could start in 2016 and be operational by 2018.  I’m Jared Brumbaugh.

For more information on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, go to: https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/natural-gas/atlantic-coast-pipeline

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.