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Legal Delays Could Be Problem for Huge Gas Pipelines

PHOTO: A local court decision could slow the huge pipelines aiming to bring Marcellus gas to eastern markets. Photo by
PHOTO: A local court decision could slow the huge pipelines aiming to bring Marcellus gas to eastern markets. Photo by
March 27, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia county court case may slow construction of big proposed natural-gas pipelines - a delay opponents say the pipelines can ill afford.

A Suffolk County court said the Atlantic Coast Pipeline did not follow the proper procedure when notifying a landowner. The company describes the decision as a technical glitch, but Rick Webb, coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, said legal delays such as this could be a threat to the three huge pipelines he said are racing to bring Marcellus gas to southeastern markets. Webb said the pipelines are competing to lock in a changing - and maybe shrinking - market in North Carolina and other areas.

"The market conditions are changing," he said. "Pipelines that formerly delivered gas to the Northeast are now becoming available. So these companies have to capture the market, and the first one who does perhaps will be the winner."

Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion Resources, the parent company leading construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said the company is not racing to claim a market. He said it already has 20-year contracts to supply the gas the pipeline would bring, and added that the Suffolk County court only said Dominion notified the landowner incorrectly.

"They're going to get a new letter from us, and we're going to start the process with them again," Norvelle said. "So we do not see this as much of a hindrance to the schedule."

Webb said the position of the companies racing to get their pipelines in place is much more fragile than they let on.

"Any delay in the process, or even any sense of delay in the process, will perhaps convince their investors that things are not quite as certain as they had been led to believe," he said.

The companies behind the pipelines insist they simply are following the normal process for building projects such as this. But Webb said the large number of court cases between landowners and the pipelines is very aggressive and hardly normal. There are 100 cases over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline alone.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA