Dominion Energy walks Pocahontas LEPC through ACP construction plans

Dominion Energy continues to move forward with their plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. With that in mind, they are holding meetings with local emergency planning councils in the counties the pipeline will cross.  On May 18th, several DE representatives met with the Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee to discuss their plans for construction and operation of the pipeline.

DE External Affairs Manager Carla Picard gave an overview of the construction phase of the project.  It will be broken down into self-contained sections or “spreads” with each spread having its own crew devoted to just that section of the overall project.  She explained that there will be three compressor stations along the 600 mile route that will move natural gas through the completed pipeline – one in Lewis County, West Virginia, one in Buckingham County, Virginia, and the final station in Northampton County, in North Carolina.  There is also a spur that goes to Chesapeake to provide natural gas to customers in that area of Virginia.  She confirmed that the pipe will be 42 inches in diameter in WV and VA, 36 inches in NC and the spur to Chesapeake will be 20 inches in diameter.

Ben Waldron, an engineer for pipeline integrity, gave a detailed rundown of how the pipes are constructed and inspected.  Once the pipeline is complete, he said operations are monitored around the clock via sensors that relay information back to the Dominion Energy operations center in Bridgeport, WV.  Periodically, they’ll run a “smart pig” or inline inspection tool through the pipeline.

“Dominion is going to be installing launchers and receivers all thru the pipeline so that on a regular interval, every 7 years as code requires, we’re going to be putting one of those pulls through there,” he said. “It’s got some very neat technology, it uses some very strong magnets and it looks for any metal loss, [or] deformities.  It detects very accurately any metal loss.”

The completed pipeline will also be physically inspected by “walking” the pipeline annually as well as monthly helicopter inspections. Pocahontas County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Director Michael O’Brien asked how far apart the shut off valves will be in the event that Dominion may need to shut down the flow of gas through a section of the pipeline.  Phyllis Hinterer, Director of Area Operations offered this response.

“That’s based on what the code of federal regulations requires and the population density in the area,” she said. “The longest distance would be 20 miles in between, it goes from there.  In some instances, I think we have them 4 miles apart.”

LEPC member John Leyzorek asked how those valves operate.

“They send data back to SCADA in Bridgeport constantly and that’s our back control center,” said Hinterer.  There are at least 3 people there 24/7 and of course there’s computers running in the background with all kinds of different parameters.  If something goes out of whack or if something’s trending that way, there are alarms.”

“We’ve had a lot of fun as I understand it with the quiet zone, but we have a microwave system that we’re also constructing as we construct this pipeline.  Most places there will at least be cellular communications and low earth orbit satellite communications, and if it quits communicating then that’s an immediate response time situation.”

Hinterer said that if a problem is indicated, a signal would be sent to close the valve stopping the flow of gas within 2 to 4 minutes.  Waldron said that solar panels and a backup power source are usually installed at the valve locations and the valves themselves are inspected on a regular basis.

Billy Mercer is the Safety Lead for the ACP construction and has almost 40 years of experience in pipeline construction, including work on the Alaskan oil pipeline. He said each of the construction “spreads” could range from 15 to 125 miles and could employ as many as 700 to 800 people depending on the size; they will do multiple spreads in a year.

“Each spread is going to have its own site specific safety plan,” said Mercer. “Safety hazards for spread one may not be the safety hazards for spread five, terrain, area, whatever. This is a plan that governs their work.”

Mercer said there will be a marked increase in traffic when construction comes to Pocahontas, so their site plans also include traffic control.  A landowner at the meeting said that the draft Environmental Impact Statement released late last year only mentioned Rt 250, and did not include any information regarding other Pocahontas roads that lie in the path of the pipeline such as Routes 28, 219 and 66.  Carla Picard assured the landowner that they will work closely with the local emergency services to develop very specific traffic management plans for each spread.

Picard said they expect the final Environmental Impact Statement to be issued by FERC this June or July with final certification of the project in the fall.  That will be followed by a series of pre-construction open houses and the beginning of construction of the pipeline in late 2017.  Construction of the Pocahontas County section of the pipeline is expected to start sometime in 2018 with the bulk of the construction happening in 2019.  Dominion Energy hopes to have the pipeline in service by late 2019.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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