Regulators OK proposed natural gas pipeline
But impact on forests would be ‘significant’
RICHMOND | A 303-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas across West Virginia and Virginia would have “significant” impacts on forests but other adverse effects would be limited, federal regulators said Friday.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s final environmental impact statement is largely favorable for developers of the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is strenuously opposed by environmental groups and many landowners along its path.
Like the similar Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which has been proposed by different developers, it would carry gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to U.S. markets. The companies involved say the pipelines will deliver cheap and abundant energy that is cleaner than coal, and they’ve promised billions of dollars in economic benefits.
But opponents say the projects will infringe on landowners’ property rights, damage pristine areas and commit the region to fossil fuels just when global warming makes it essential to invest in renewable energy instead.
Once the U.S. Senate confirms President Trump’s nominees and the commission reaches a quorum, the commissioners will make FERC’s final decision on whether the project can proceed, said agency spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen. That will be based on the impact statement as well as determinations of whether the project meets a public need and whether its proposed gas rates are just and reasonable.
The impact statement, a 930-page document supplemented with dozens of appendices, includes sections on soil, water, forest, wildlife, recreational areas, socio-economic issues and other aspects of life that could be affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its related Equitrans Expansion Project, about eight miles of pipelines in six segments connecting to other systems.
Overall, FERC staff “determined that construction and operation of the projects would result in limited adverse environmental impacts, with the exception of impacts on forest.” That determination took into account the total acres of forest affected, the quality and use of forest for wildlife habitat, and the amount of time it takes to restore forest that would be disrupted, the statement said.
That conclusion is not scientifically credible and defies common sense, one environmental group said Friday.
“Some wounds on our forests can never be healed once they are inflicted, including forest fragmentation, loss of valuable core forest areas, and loss of watershed integrity,” Wild Virginia President Ernie Reed said in a statement. “Damage to the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Trail will sacrifice the public’s ability to use these national treasures in the interest of profit-making corporations and no one else.”
Environmental groups also contend the analysis does not look closely enough at the cumulative impacts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
“They make a pass at mentioning this in relation to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but it’s a pretty poor attempt,” said David Sligh of Wild Virginia.
In 2015, a coalition of pipeline opponents asked for a comprehensive review, but FERC denied that request. The commission plans to release a separate final environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline next month.