Bay Journal

Proposed natural gas pipeline slices through Virginia, national forests

  • By Leslie Middleton on September 03, 2014
  • Comments are closed for this article.
Proposed pipeline would traverse rural Nelson County where citizens are organizing to protest the pipeline. (Credit / Leslie Middleton)

Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and AGL Resources announced on Tuesday the formation of a joint venture that plans to move forward with a 550-mile natural gas pipeline across Virginia and parts of two national forests.

Governor Terry McAuliffe called the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project “a game changer for Virginia’s economy” at a news conference announcing the joint venture. McAuliffe touted the “thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity that the construction of this project will create,” and said that the project will lower energy costs and help reduce the state’s carbon emissions.

But the pipeline is opposed by a coalition of citizen and conservation groups because the pipeline route goes through parts of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and George Washington National Forest in Virginia, while also crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, which they say raises concerns about drinking water sources for Shenandoah Valley communities, pipeline safety, and the ecological integrity of the forests.

Greg Buppert, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the pipeline would cut a 300-foot swath across numerous ridgelines including some of Virginia’s most rugged landscapes, “raising serious questions about whether it can be built without significant damage to pristine forests and rivers.”

Misty Boos, managing director for Wild Virginia, said that the Shenandoah Mountain area of the George Washington National Forest, through which the pipeline would cross, is “the largest reserve of unfragmented forest on the East Coast.”

The fragmentation of large forest tracts allow exotic insects, plants, and disease to invade, degrading habitats for wildlife, including pollinators. Forest ecosystem biodiversity is also affected by disturbances as pipelines and other infrastructure is constructed.

The new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement encourages the protection of forests, which are considered vital to healthy waterways. It also calls for protecting existing state-identified healthy watersheds. The proposed pipeline would bisect the Shenandoah Mountain region and other healthy watersheds identified by Virginia.

McAuliffe has opposed natural gas exploration and development that uses “fracking” in George Washington National Forest, and in January he honored a campaign pledge by writing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to oppose “horizontal drilling on future federal oil and gas leases” in the national forest. The U.S. Forest Service, a part of the Agriculture Department, is overdue in releasing an updated draft of its George Washington Forest Management Plan, which is expected to address natural gas exploration.

Critics say the pipeline project may open the door to industrial development in national forests in the state. "The governor's support of this pipeline runs contrary to his previous support of a ban on hydraulic fracturing [fracking] in the George Washington National Forest," Boos said. "It represents a huge increase in gas infrastructure that will, in the long term, increase pressure to begin fracking in the George Washington National Forest."

At the same time, job creation, industrial expansion, and boosting annual tax revenues are components of McAuliffe’s plans to address an anticipated $2.4 billion dollar shortfall in the state’s 2015 budget.

"This project brings American, abundant, and affordable natural gas to the US460 corridor and Hampton Roads, and will serve as a backbone for economic expansion,” said Hank Linginfelter, AGL Resources and Chairman of Virginia Natural Gas, who joined the governor at the press conference.

Securing a path for the pipeline will require Dominion (which would build the pipeline on behalf of the joint venture) to obtain permission — or to invoke the right of eminent domain – across hundreds of properties owned by private citizens. Groups in Nelson and Augusta counties have been organizing against the pipeline project since the spring, hosting local and regional meetings to address concerns about Dominion’s right to enter private property without landowner permission to survey the proposed pipeline route.

“It’s a really important time for us to stand together and look at what’s really happening to our lands – to look at the big picture – how are these business interests have impacts on our national forest as well as private land in our communities,” Boos said.

Virginia law allows private utility companies to purchase private property under eminent domain, but Augusta County officials have petitioned Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to review this legislation.

Dominion Resources, which will build the pipeline on behalf of the joint venture, has given official notice of intent to prefile an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the first step in the process, which the company says would have gas flowing from Clarksburg, West Virginia, to Robeson County in southern North Carolina by 2018.

The proposed pipeline includes a spur connecting it to Chesapeake, Virginia, near the Port of Virginia.

About Leslie Middleton

Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read more articles by Leslie Middleton


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Chris Bolgiano on September 08, 2014:

Thank you, Leslie, for this succinct wrap up of the pipeline issue. The damage it could do, especially to currently pristine streams, is enormous, as bedrock will have to be blasted to fit the 42 inch diameter pipe (bigger than Keystone!) beneath the water flow. The maintenance of the 75-100 foot wide permanent pipeline swath will probably be by aerial herbicide spraying, and a road will undoubtedly follow along beside the pipeline to deal with the inevitable leaks and explosions. This means chronic disturbance of otherwise unfragemented forest, and edge effects far into the forest all along the many miles of pipeline. This will be disastrous to forest integrity, even long after the soil is covered up (what doesn't run off into the Bay.) Many groups are cooperating to fight this bad idea. Five billion dollars applied to distributed solar panels, with batteries in schools, hospitals, churches, retirement homes, businesses and residences would be so much better for our communities and our future, not to mention that it would create jobs as well. Why isn't the Dominion partnership being forced to consider this option?

Kate on September 08, 2014:

What can we as citizens do? I don't live in the affected areas, but I'm disgusted by this nonetheless. Write to our state reps, I guess. Anything else?

Judy on September 09, 2014:

Solar power cannot be cited as an equivalent replacement for Natural Gas. Solar is only practically usable while the sun shines, while another source of power must take over at night. Natural gas would be available 24/7. Yes, there are environmental impact issues for every form of energy. By law, these impacts must & will be addressed. Instead of assuming the worst case scenario, Bay Journal would do the most good by citing other comparable Natural Gas projects already completed & running. Report on their impacts and track records for some perspective, for your audience of informed voters and consumers. It's not productive to dismiss this project out of hand. No energy project is perfect, every energy decision must weigh benefits and losses.

Christopher on September 16, 2014:

Hey All, There is a lot you can do, even if you're not from our area. Write to federal agents at the EPA, The US Forest Service, The president…anyone with power. Tell them that you don't agree with national forests being permanently scarred for corporate gain. You don't want to see the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Appalachian Trail, and other national treasures affected. Tell them that you care about the people who's land, water, peace, and safety is being put at risk. Tell them that this project would negatively affect the headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay, and the municipal water supply for Washington DC. This is absolutely opposite from the efforts that the EPA, farmers, non-profits, and private citizens are struggling with for the health of the Bay. Find the local citizen groups, stay informed, and if you can afford to support them, please do. Duke is the largest energy company in the country, and Dominion is the single largest political campaign contributor in Virginia. They have massive resources, both financial and legal. The group that I am involved with is The main thing is that you write to, email, and call FERC (Federal Energy Regulation Commission). They are in charge of approving the pipeline. For guidelines to connecting with FERC, see Any help, from any of you, is greatly appreciated. One woman said yesterday, that the map shows this pipeline going right through my house! This is not surprising, with the power of eminent domain, and the government, she could lose everything. This is a lose-lose situation for EVERYONE IN AMERICA except Dominion, Duke, shareholders, and a couple of localities. This is a transmission pipe, not a pipe for locals. They want to transmit natural gas, touting that it's cleaner than coal for electricity. This is true, however, why would you take natural gas from West Virginia, THROUGH Virginia, to North Carolina. NC generates just over 38 percent of its electricity from coal. Guess how much electricity West Virginia generates from coal? NINETY FIVE PERCENT! How the heck does bulldozing hundreds of miles of forest, from a state that is one of the largest polluters in the US, to deliver "cleaner" energy to another in the name of clean air make sense….IT DOESN'T! Follow the money! Get informed and stay informed Write FERC Write our leaders Donate TALK ABOUT THIS WITH YOUR FRIENDS…GET THEM INFORMED AND INVOLVED WE NEED PEOPLE…LOTS AND LOTS OF PEOPLE AGAINST THIS! This affects the entire nation. When are we going to stop being exploited by giant corporations, and our government?

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