Pocahontas residents urged to consult a lawyer before signing anything concerning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 554 mile natural gas pipeline project proposed by Dominion Resources in partnership with Duke Energy, will cut a wide swath across many mostly rural counties in West Virginia and Virginia on its way to North Carolina. While many Virginia counties that lie in the path of the pipeline already have very active groups working against the project, residents in eastern West Virginia counties like Pocahontas have a lot of catching up to do. Elise Keaton of the Greenbrier Valley Watershed Association spoke to a group of Pocahontas residents at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank about becoming better informed about the project.
Keaton gave a thumb nail sketch of the timeline should the pipeline be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC].
“If they get FERC approval and all of the agencies that they have to check in with, forest agencies and park service agencies and the core of engineers regarding water issues, the soonest they would be able to file their formal application [to FERC] would be late 2015,” said Keaton. “And if its approved, it would be into the following year 2016 before construction would start. And according to their timeline on their website the in-service date would be late 2018.”
She also identified the estimated footprint of the pipeline during the three main phases, study, construction and maintenance. For the study phase the easement would be a 300 foot wide corridor, for construction 125 feet and for maintenance a 75 foot wide strip. As a mostly underground pipeline, it would also go under a number of streams along its path from northern West Virginia to its terminus in North Carolina.
Keaton said that the best way to keep up with what is happening during this pre-filing phase of the process is to register with FERC to get updates.
“What I want you to take away from this though is that they keep a complete, consolidated record as the companies move through this process,” she said. “So FERC is a good resource for landowners and community members who want to keep tabs on what’s happening and where we are in the process. They have all of the information there and when you subscribe with those docket numbers; I now get email alerts whenever someone submits a public comment.”
The docket number for the ACP project with FERC is PF15-6-000.
The presentation also included comments from Joe Lovett, a lawyer with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. AMA is a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, established in 2001 that focuses on the reduction of mountain top removal coal mining and the restoration of the states hardwood forests while promoting sustainable alternative energy sources. While his own feelings toward the pipeline are unambiguous, he stressed that landowners need to be aware of the true value of their land before signing anything.
“I personally don’t like these pipelines being built,” he said. “That being said, I think that landowners that want to sell their property or have their property taken in eminent domain, also need representation and help here. The only legal advice I’m going to give you today, real legal advice, is don’t sign anything until you’ve talked to a lawyer.”
When the fracking boom in the Marcellus shale formation first started, many residents of Pocahontas worried that fracking could come to the county. But the Marcellus shale layer underlying the county is considered to be too shallow to be a good source of natural gas. However, the larger Utica shale formation, considered to be the next fracking frontier, also extends to Pocahontas, albeit at a much deeper level. Lovett sees a connection between the pipeline and the expansion of fracking activities to other parts of the state.
“The pipeline here, that could change economics of fracking, not only in Pocahontas County, but in eastern West Virginia generally,” said Lovett. “And also as gas becomes more difficult to get in the future, gas is not economical to frack now those shale layers that aren’t economical to frack now may become frackable in the future. So it depends on what your perspective is if you’re worried about the next 5 years, that’s one thing; if you’re worried about the next 50 years that’s another. So I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a connection between fracking and the pipeline.”
In addition to the ACP project, two other pipeline projects are also in the planning phases, the 300 mile Mountain Valley pipeline project in southwest Virginia and the Western Marcellus pipeline that could carry natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations as far south as Mississippi. Lovett said he believes that at least one of the pipeline projects will be built, but is unsure that all three are needed.
While most in attendance at the meeting oppose the ACP, a few voiced their support and a few admitted to still being “on the fence” about it. One of those is Green Bank resident Janet Ghigo who said the presentation was not very persuasive one way or the other.
“My feeling is that it’s sort of inevitable that it’s going to go through somewhere,” she said. “I don’t think it needs to go through the places that they’ve proposed, and I’d like to have us have some input into where it goes is the main thing, it’s going to go. It’s one thing to just be violently opposed to anything, and that’s just not right. You accept the inevitable and then find a way to have the inevitable not be bad.”
“If we have enough people who are worried and looking and watching, I think the construction process will be safer than if we just say oh fine just go ahead and do it, that’s part of it.”
For more information about upcoming meetings concerning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, you can contact Elise Keaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.