Bay Journal

Dominion seeks to build VA gas pipeline across preserved lands

Company has offered to more than replace the conservation easements it wants to take

  • By Jeff Day on July 22, 2016
Concerns have been raised about the impact of pipeline construction on forests.The cut shown here is from a smaller, 12-inch gas pipeline being built elsewhere in 2014. (Courtesy Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition)

A natural gas pipeline proposed to cross Virginia could cut through 10 different conservation easements set aside in the state.

Dominion, the Richmond-based energy company, is leading a group of four firms in seeking federal approval to build a 600-mile pipeline to supply gas to utilities in Virginia and North Carolina.  It is seeking permission to lay the Atlantic Coast Pipeline across multiple conservation easements, where landowners have given up their development rights to preserve the sites’ natural features.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state entity that manages more than 750,000 preserved acres statewide, is scheduled to consider Dominion’s request at a September meeting of its board of trustees.

Pipeline opponents consider the project’s infringement on preserved lands another strike against it.

“Dominion has gone too far with this unprecedented request,” said Rick Webb, coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, which includes several environmental and community groups opposed to the project. The coalition contends the 42-inch pipeline will increase the region’s reliance on fossil fuel when climate concerns should be driving a shift to solar power and other carbon-free energy sources.

Under the 1966 law that established the outdoors foundation, conservation easements can only be removed from state protection with the approval of the body’s trustees -- and even then, only if the acquirer donates other land that more than offsets the loss, foundation spokesman James McGarvey explained.

Dominion is proposing just such a swap. In exchange for the rights to use 68 acres of conservation easements for the pipeline, the company has offered to buy and donate development rights to almost 1,200 acres of land elsewhere. The replacement lands have higher conservation-value than the easements the company is seeking to access, contends Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby.

The pipeline route has not been finalized. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will formally begin regulatory review of the pipeline only after the route is settled. The line would carry gas extracted from shale formations in Ohio and West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina.

About Jeff Day
Jeff Day covered government policy developments for more than 20 years at Bloomberg BNA, including Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts since 2009. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Jeff Day

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