Natural Gas Pipeline Could Cross Greenbrier River and Mon Forest
At the Durbin Volunteer Fire Department, Dominion Resources recently held an open house to answer questions about their Atlantic Coast Project, the natural gas pipeline would travel across Northern Pocahontas County on its way to Virginia and North Carolina. While the route continues to change, the most recent map shows the pipeline crossing the West and East Forks of the Greenbrier, as well as over one hundred acres of the Monongahela National Forest.
Instead of offering a presentation to the community as a group, Dominion set up several tables with posters and handouts designed to encourage individuals to ask about the project. The company expects to submit a pre-filing request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this fall, submit an application to FERC in the summer of 2015, receive a certificate in the summer of 2016, and build the pipeline between 2016 and 2018. Right now, they’re still surveying and planning the route, but according to Project Manager Greg Park, Dominion has almost completed that stage.
“Out of the 550 [miles], we have close to 400 miles laid out,” Park said. “In this general area, we’re still working with the forest to try to determine the best route through them, so we’re kind of still working on that, so not a lot of this area right here has actually been routed yet.”
“Certain prescription properties [have] endangered species, whether it be the Cheat Mountain Salamander, the Red Spruce, and various things. Obviously we’re trying to do our best to miss that sort of stuff but still keep the route relatively close to where we had it,” Park said.
Pocahontas County is known for its rivers, forests, and scenic areas, and many residents are concerned about how the construction and operation of such a pipeline will affect the environment. Bill Scarpinato, the Environmental Manager for the project, explained one possible way the company would cross water bodies like the Greenbrier River.
“For streams that are constantly flowing, considered high quality, we would dam and pump and do what they call a ‘dry crossing,’” Scarpinato said. “So we dam upstream, downstream, pump the water around. Once that area is dry, we would trench through, place the pipe, and then re-place the riverbed per our permit on how that riverbed has to be reestablished, and that pipe will be buried under a stream of 5 feet versus the normal 3 feet in most places along the pipeline right-of-way. And it will also have to be done in a very timely manner. Once we start, we have to continue around the clock as weather allows to finish our stream crossing.”
Beth Little of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy was at a table outside of the fire department, talking with people about the environmental impact. “Natural gas is a fossil fuel,” she said. “This pipeline is a massive piece of infrastructure to transport natural gas so we can burn more of it, and that’s not what we should be doing.”
“We need to be doing renewables and energy efficiency,” Little said. “Some people say it won’t work, but in fact, 67% of the new energy that came online in 2014 was from renewables in West Virginia. And we can reduce our use of electricity by 30% with energy efficiency, so we don’t have to go to another fossil fuel, which is creating climate change. We should be doing other things.”
According to a fact sheet issued by the Highlands Conservancy and Greenbrier Watershed Association, stream crossing is one of the most significant impacts of pipeline construction. For many or most of the larger streams that would be crossed in mountainous terrain, it’s likely that the pipeline crossing will be achieved through direct excavation and possibly blasting of the stream-bed.
A study conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics found that the pipeline would support a total of 74 long-term jobs in the state of West Virginia, with 24 of those jobs directly employed in pipeline operations. While some residents hope the project will bring economic growth to the area, others at the Durbin Volunteer Fire Department that night felt that the county stands to lose more than it stands to gain.
“We talked to a landowner here in Durbin who has been a logger and has been all over these hills and mountains, and he’s extremely concerned about all of the hollows that they’re going to cross and the streams and what it’s going to do to people’s springs and wells,” Little said. “He’s just really almost outraged at the effect he thinks this is going to have on the water.”