A Long and Winding Pipeline

Virginia Natural Gas' Hampton Roads pipeline under construction. Photo credit: Virginia Natural Gas

Virginia Natural Gas’ Hampton Roads pipeline under construction. Photo credit: Virginia Natural Gas

by James A. Bacon

The developer of the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline wants to alter its proposed route between the West Virginia gas fields and markets in Virginia and North Carolina, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dominion Transmission Inc., leader of the company formed to build the pipeline, filed proposed route changes with federal regulators that would make greater use of existing rights of way, primarily Dominion-owned electric transmission lines.

The route changes partially address landowner criticism that the pipeline should run as much as possible along existing rights of way, be they state highways, electric transmission lines or other pipelines. But the changes submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are not likely to allay criticism from landowners in Augusta County and Nelson County where opposition to the pipeline is centered. The route changes would occur in Brunswick County, Southampton County and the City of Suffolk.

Foes told the Times-Dispatch that they were encouraged by Dominion’s effort to use existing rights of way, but… “Hopefully, this is a start, not a finish,” said Nancy Sorrells, co-chairwoman of the Augusta County Alliance and the All Pain, No Gain public relations campaign against the pipeline.

Dominion said the new proposed route would travel 16 miles of existing utility rights of way in Brunswick County, nine miles in Southampton, and seven miles in Suffolk.

Bacon’s bottom line: Routing pipelines is an incredibly complex undertaking. Pipeline projects are subject to intensive environmental review processes that consider impact on wildlife habitat, clean water and cultural & archaeological heritage. Running pipelines along existing rights of way saves considerable hassle as well as land acquisition costs.

“Utilities love to co-locate, if they can do it. You only have to deal with one landowner,” says James Kibler, senior vice president-external affairs for AGL Resources, an Atlanta-based gas pipeline company, one of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s four partners. Before joining AGL, Kibler conducted right-of-way acquisition work for Dominion.

As an example, Kibler says, the Virginia Natural Gas Crossing Pipeline, built in 2010 to connect the gas distribution systems north and south of Hampton Roads, utilized Dominion high-voltage transmission line right of way, drilled under an Old Dominion University parking lot, followed a City of Norfolk sewer lateral, and used six miles of Norfolk Southern rail line.

Trouble is, existing rights of way don’t always go where the pipeline needs to go, and the right of way may not be able to accommodate a pipeline. As the Times-Dispatch explained:

Dominion … said it is harder to route an underground pipeline along existing utility corridors in mountainous western Virginia than it is in the flat terrain of Southside.

“In the western part of the state, there’s just not a lot of opportunities there. There’s just not,” [said Greg Parks, construction supervisor].

Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said the company also is constrained by lack of space for a pipeline in existing public rights of way “because the pipeline cannot be built directly under electric transmission lines, on top of other pipelines, or alongside or in the median of highways, for safety reasons.”

Says Kibler: “It is a very involved, tedious process in which no one is ever totally happy.”

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16 responses to “A Long and Winding Pipeline

  1. Okay – let’s see a map that has all Virginia highways and all Virginia transmission lines rights of ways and all exiting pipeline rights of ways

    ” existing rights of way don’t always go where the pipeline needs to go, ”

    sounds like now that Dominion has admitted that some parts could go on existing rights of ways – they’re going to have to truly justify the placec where they say it can’t… and everyone and their dog is going to be pulling out maps with roads and power line rights-of-ways for the proposed deviations…and ask “why not here”.

  2. Please do a little research before just believing your corporate sponsor, Dominion’s, BS. Ninety-four percent of the proposed ACP would be built on green land! Most pipelines have a much better record of using existing rights-of-ways. It is highly unusual to have a pipeline that uses 94% green properties.

    • Sharon, this is a quick blog post, not an originally reported story. I based the main body of the article upon the reporting of the Richmond Times-Dispatch — that’s what people do with quick blog posts. In this case, I supplemented it with some reporting I’d done earlier for another article. So, your observation that “94% of the proposed ACP would be built on green land” is useful. Your snark is not. (I’m used to getting snark from regular readers but not new ones!)

      I would like to know your source for the statement that “most pipelines have a much better record of using rights-of-way.” If that’s true, I’d like to run it down.

      • The Ruby and Rocky Express, both long in miles and large diameter pipelines, as is the proposed ACP used roughly 50% existing rights-of-way.

        BTW, I’m not a new reader, just a new commenter. I live in Nelson and am truly amazed how the “media” simply accepts Dominion’s press releases and public relations efforts as gospel. They accuse us, the grassroots activists of passing misinformation around, when their “studies” and “mailers” are full of inflated job numbers, tax revenue to localities.

        When Dominion came here the first time they didn’t even know anything about the “Flood of 69” which is how the flood created by the remnants of Hurricane Camille is referred to locally. That flood caused over 100 landslides on our steep, unstable slopes, and killed 125 people. Dominion simply drew a line from point a to b on a map. So you’ll forgive my snark, please, because I have no respect for Dominion and its lies.

  3. Mr. Bacon, links to back up my claims.

    For the Rockies Express:

    http://www.gie.com/images/stories/article/RockiesExpress.pdf

    And for the Ruby:

    http://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2010/01-08-10.asp

    And from Dominion’s Land Use Report filed with FERC;

    Nelson is part of what ACP refers to as AP1 which is 292 + miles of West Virginia and Virginia. Of the total 292.8 miles of ACP, only 5.6 miles was on existing ROW’s … less than 2%.

    Additionally, the original proposed routes were 96% private property, and 4% split between public lands and existing ROW’s.

    There you go. Some companies can find existing ROW’s, some certainly don’t seem to make the effort!

  4. waiting on Jim………….

    ” The results speak for themselves. Acquisition of all rights of
    way was accomplished within the project timeline allowed
    for construction to take place with no land-related delays.
    The project was accomplished within budget and with
    nearly 100% voluntary acquisition. For REX West, voluntary
    acquisition was 99.7% successful. While REX East proved to
    be a more difficult area to acquire and the acquisition costs
    were somewhat higher, CLS still accomplished voluntary
    acquisition at the rate of 99.2%. The use of condemnation
    was extraordinarily low for a project of this size traversing
    such a large and difficult area.”

    https://www.irwaonline.org/eweb/upload/mar_Web_RockiesExpress.pdf

  5. One of the big problems with the ACP and other new projects is that they traverse a lot of new territory.

    Gas pipelines traditionally go from the southwest and Gulf Coast fields northeastward, typically to the east of the Appalachians. Rights of way are easier to find in this scenario.

    There are, however, some pipelines that have shipped gas from near the Marcellus Shale fields from northwest to southeast. One, in fact, links Pennsylvania to the LNG plant at Cove Point which Dominion is transforming from an import into an export facility.

    If interested here are some stories I wrote about it for The Washington Post and The New York Times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/01/business/energy-environment/us-gears-up-to-be-a-prime-gas-exporter.html?_r=0

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-energy-dilemma-at-mds-cove-point/2013/06/14/f9bb06c2-d3a1-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html

    I think there are excellent questions about whyDominion has chosen its route for the ACP. Besides geography, a big question is about how sustainable is the boom in the Marcellus gas fields. The boom actually started to collapse maybe three years ago as gas got really cheap and investors stopped putting money into new wells.Local people stopped getting their regular royalty payments.

    This isn’t just true in the Marcellus fields, but also in the Bakken fields in North Dakota and in the Permian and Eagle Ford fracklands of Texas.

    Also interesting is how one sees a kind of delayed response among the commenters on this blog. While shale gas has made a huge change in the U.S. energy picture, it is not a forever thing. It all depends on the price of gas which is as fickle as any other form of energy.

    The real story down in Texas and Oklahoma is how independent oil companies — the very ones that initiated the fracking craze — have gone bust or have laid people off or are otherwise struggling to stay in business. In fact, in the oil patch, things are trending the other way — retrofitting old, traditional wells to produce more. Doing so is a lot cheaper than drilling a fracking well.

    So, the opponents of the ACP are correct to wonder whether the boom is sustainable. I am sure Dominion has thought about this — otherwise they wouldn’t be sharing the $5 billion cost of the pipeline. Exporting from Cove Point is an economic no-brainer, but I am not so sure about the new pipelines.

    Don’t forget that back in the 1950s and 1960s, Vepco imported a lot of cheap oil from places like Venezuela and the Middle East. Then came the Yom Kippur War, followed by the Iranian Revolution. Vepco, which had taken advantage of Virginia’s deep water to bring in oil tankers, was suddenly in deep doo-doo.

    Suddenly, coal became a lot more attractive. I’ll never forget flying out of Norfolk circa 1980 when I worked at The Virginian-Pilot and seeing 100 coal ships at anchor near Cape Henry.

    I hope you get my point.

    • Believe me when I say we have researched and know there are existing rights-of-way that could be used if Dominion so chose. My conclusion is they aren’t owned by Dominion, and having to deal with another energy company to negotiate their use might prove more costly for Dominion than offering the pittance they offer private landowners, or even taking them to court. I’ve read, but have not verified the moves in Southeast Virginia onto existing rights-of-way are ones Dominion currently owns.

      Again in my opinion, Dominion is playing a very dangerous game with its all in mentality with natural gas. They will have spent billions upon billions in pipelines and new gas fired plants and in the end have no gas to run through the pipelines or burn in its plants.

      Finally, I am one who believes the gas should stay in the ground. Even with that knowledge, Dominion’s arrogance and bullying of landowners has been over the top. The bottom line is they cannot be trusted to build this or any pipeline with any degree of integrity or safely in my opinion.

      • what would be interesting would be 3 overlays on one map.

        1. – the proposed pipeline
        2. – all roads
        3. – all utility – powerline/pipeline rights-of-ways

        something else to be mindful of:

        “Shale Drillers Feast on Junk Debt to Stay on Treadmill”

        ” Rice Energy Inc., a natural gas producer with risky credit, raised $900 million in three days this month, $150 million more than it originally sought.

        Not bad for the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based company’s first bond issue after going public in January. Especially since it has lost money three years in a row, has drilled fewer than 50 wells — most named after superheroes and monster trucks — and said it will spend $4.09 for every $1 it earns in 2014.”

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-04-30/shale-drillers-feast-on-junk-debt-to-say-on-treadmill

  6. So Dominion regularly uses ICF as a consultant?

    Curious, because the EPA has used the same firm for climate related matters.

    I wonder how ICF manages potential conflicts of interests.

  7. on the other thread: ” In “The Economic Impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” ICF concluded”

    ICF is a HUGE OUTFIT… 5,000 employees in more than 70 offices worldwide

    but I still think their report is addressing issues different than those brought up by SELC which I consider legitimate as well as those brought up by commenter “Sharon”.

    and again – If it is the intention of Dominion to market the gas to the highest bidder – rather than as a feestock for electricity generation – I expect them to NOT rely on eminent domain… and to do what the Rockies Express Pipeline project did.

    I’m still of the view that the way they are conducting themselves is half the issue.

  8. I apparently posted my comment to the wrong thread. I have been having problems logging onto this site recently.

    ICF may be a huge company with 5K employees. Does that preclude them from having conflicts of interest? (Large CPA firms with multiple locations have to deal with this problem as well.)

    To me it is of interest that a consulting firm could be actively assising organizations that are on opposite sides of the same issue. If nothing else, doing so would appear to give them the ability to leverage information as they see fit.

    • As a purely practical matter – how would you deal with the conflict issue?

      they only work for one side – and become essentially hired guns for one point of view?

      and aren’t you sort of categorizing the EPA as not on the side of humans or some such or did I misunderstand?

  9. As a purely practical matter, I would limit the amount of influence that outside consultants have in making policy in federal agencies. I would also make them sign extensive confidentiality agreements, when necessary.

    My perception of the EPA is that is has been captured by special interests. Those special interests include ideological adherents to the green movement, and certain business interests that can profit through supposedly green technologies.

    I read an article today from someone who served in the Bush Administration EPA. He believes that part of the problem with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is that it is a reflection of a lack of leadership on Obama’s part.

    Any real solution to climate problems needs to be the result of Congressional legislation– where costs and benefits can be best assessed by people who represent different interests.

    Obama has basically taken the path of least resistance–one that may not be legally or politically sustainable–by outsourcing policy making to executive agencies and special interest groups.

    • I don’t have a problem with studies if they use facts and reference facts and other studies can be used also.

      I see this is important information gathering that policy is based on as opposed to making policy.

      Have you taken a serious look at the complete scope of what the EPA deals with?

      are you of the view that in ALL of those areas they have become politicized by green interest groups?

      here’s a list of the laws they regulate:

      Air
      1955: Air Pollution Control Act PL 84-159
      1963: Clean Air Act PL 88-206
      1965: Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act PL 89-272
      1966: Clean Air Act Amendments PL 89-675
      1967: Air Quality Act PL 90-148
      1970: Clean Air Act Extension PL 91-604
      1977: Clean Air Act Amendments PL 95-95
      1990: Clean Air Act Amendments PL 101-549

      Water
      1948: Water Pollution Control Act PL 80-845
      1965: Water Quality Act PL 89-234
      1966: Clean Waters Restoration Act PL 89-753
      1970: Water Quality Improvement Act PL 91-224
      1972: Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972 PL 92-500
      1974: Safe Drinking Water Act PL 93-523
      1977: Clean Water Act PL 95-217
      1987: Water Quality Act PL 100-4
      1996: Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996

      Land
      1964: Wilderness Act PL 88-577
      1968: Wild and Scenic Rivers Act PL 90-542
      1970: Wilderness Act PL 91-504
      1977: Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act PL 95-87
      1978: Wilderness Act PL 98-625
      1980: Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act PL 96-487
      1994: California Desert Protection Act PL 103-433
      2010: California Desert Protection Act
      Endangered species[edit]
      1946: Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act PL 79-732
      1966: Endangered Species Preservation Act PL 89-669
      1969: Endangered Species Conservation Act PL 91-135
      1972: Marine Mammal Protection Act PL 92-522
      1973: Endangered Species Act PL 93-205
      1979: Endangered Species Preservation Act PL 95 335
      Hazardous waste[edit]
      1965: Solid Waste Disposal Act PL 89-272
      1970: Resource Recovery Act PL 91-512
      1976: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act PL 94-580
      1980: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and

      Liability Act (“Superfund”) PL 96-510
      1984: Hazardous and Solid Wastes Amendments Act PL 98-616
      1986: Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act PL 99-499
      2002: Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (“Brownfields Law”) PL 107-118

      Other
      1947: Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act PL 80-104
      1969: National Environmental Policy Act PL 91-190
      1972: Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act PL 92-516
      1976: Toxic Substances Control Act PL 94-469
      1982: Nuclear Waste Repository Act PL 97-425
      1996: Food Quality Protection Act PL 104-170

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