The fate of two sprawling pipeline projects in Virginia will be decided by the State Water Control Board at a pair of meetings in December, each expected to last two days.
The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which would carry natural gas across portions of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina have faced steep opposition from citizens and environmental groups. The projects are undergoing review by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which has pledged to apply several “regulatory tools…to ensure that Virginia’s water quality is protected” should the projects be approved.
But it will be up to the State Water Control Board, composed of seven, governor-appointed citizens, whether to approve, reject or modify the state environmental agency’s proposal for how to proceed. At the meetings, which will take place on Dec. 6 and 7 and Dec. 11 and 12 in Richmond, the DEQ will present a summary of the public comments it received and will make its recommendations to the board.
The DEQ has provided glimpses on its website of how it plans to regulate pipeline construction to ensure it is protective of water quality. Those regulatory tools include assessing the environmental impact and addressing concerns about stormwater, erosion and sediment control, wetlands and streams, and certifying and monitoring water quality.
Dominion and three other energy companies also are seeking federal approval for both pipelines.
The Atlantic Coast pipeline, which is planned to cut through several Virginia counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, would run from West Virginia to Norfolk and eastern North Carolina, with a capacity to transport 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily. The project would require a 125-foot-wide cleared construction right of way and a 75-foot-wide cleared permanent right of way throughout its length, according to a review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Dominion said the Atlantic pipeline construction and the gas it’s to carry will boost the region’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs and yielding millions of dollars in tax revenues for the counties through which it would pass. The company also said the additional gas will lower consumers’ energy bills and even improve air quality by replacing coal, which generates pollution in electricity generation.
Many Virginia politicians, including the governor, support the pipeline, as do numerous local chambers of commerce, businesses and labor unions.
But opponents contend the pipeline’s construction through the Allegheny Mountains and across the Shenandoah Valley will cause unacceptable environmental impacts, degrading streams, groundwater, forests and habitat for rare species. They also argue that the pipeline will facilitate more gas production through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which also has come under fire for its impacts on water and air.
Since publishing its draft environmental impact statement earlier this year, FERC has received more than 35,000 comments.
Citizens and environmental groups have raised similar concerns about the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is planned to cut through the southwest corner of the state south of Roanoke. Though outside the Bay watershed, the pipeline project also raises concerns about its intersection with streams and contributions to erosion and stormwater runoff in the state.
A spokesman for the Virginia environmental agency said the DEQ received about 20,000 comments, both orally at meetings and in writing, regarding the pipeline projects during a comment period that ended in August. Several hundred of those comments were signatures on petitions expressing a position that was shared by several citizens. Only those who submitted comments and sign up to do so may speak to the board during the meetings in December.
The meetings will take place at Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road in Richmond, a venue that officials believe will be large enough to hold the expected audience. Those who do attend are asked to refrain from applause or “any other type of display” during the meetings, a DEQ spokesman said.
The meeting about the Mountain Valley Pipeline will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 6 and continue on Dec. 7 at the same time. The meeting about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 11 and continue on Dec. 12.
The DEQ’s recommendations will not be made known until those meetings, though an agenda with more details about how the meetings will proceed will be posted on the agency’s website in early November.