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Pipeline Opponents Look to States, Courts

Critics say new pipelines from the Marcellus fields are unjustified by federal estimates of demand for gas, staying under 3 quadrillion BTUs for decades in the states that would be served. (Southern Environmental Law Center)
Critics say new pipelines from the Marcellus fields are unjustified by federal estimates of demand for gas, staying under 3 quadrillion BTUs for decades in the states that would be served. (Southern Environmental Law Center)
July 28, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – With federal regulators likely to approve two huge gas pipelines, opponents are looking to the states and courts.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, has issued favorable Environmental Impact Statements for the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley (MVP) pipelines, similar multi-billion dollar projects to run hundreds of miles from Marcellus fields to eastern markets.

Opponents have written to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe asking state regulators to intervene.

Angie Rosser, executive director of he West Virginia Rivers Coalition, says her group hopes the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will act.

"There's just a lot at stake here, and we're hoping that the states – who know their local waters the best – are going to be the ones to step up," she states.

Pipeline supporters say the pipelines are needed to open up a bottleneck that is limiting production.

The West Virginia DEP will hold public hearings on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline next week.

The agency has already issued a permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which the rivers coalition is challenging in court. The MVP is also being challenged in a federal court in Virginia.

Observers say FERC's final approval is probably a foregone conclusion, and the agency may even let the pipelines go ahead without it.

FERC bases its fees on the amount of gas going through the pipelines it has approved, and critics say it's no surprise that in 30 years, it has only turned down one project.

Lew Freeman, executive director and chair of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, says the five-person commission is down to one member, but Trump nominees probably won't change that.

"There's kind of a rubber-stamp mentality, and no, I do not anticipate there will be a change philosophically or operationally in the way FERC conducts itself," he states.

FERC judges the need for pipelines by contracts to buy the gas, but according to the Southern Environmental Law Center, more than 90 percent of contracts for the ACP come from subsidiaries of the companies building the pipeline.

Freeman says FERC ignored the self-dealing. And studies from the Department of Energy suggest demand could be met without a new pipeline.

"That this pipeline is even needed,” he points out. “A term that has been used by people in the industry – not by us – is that the Marcellus Shale fields could, if not already, be 'over-piped.'"


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA