Federal regulators on Friday issued a final environmental review of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, concluding that the 600-mile pipeline’s impact on the environment would be reduced to “less-than-significant” levels if the developers follow certain mitigation measures.
With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s favorable review, the pipeline’s developers moved a big step closer to starting construction. The project’s primary developer, Dominion Energy of Richmond, Virginia, still must receive state water permits and then wait for FERC to issue its final decision.
“The favorable environmental report released today provides a clear path for final approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this fall,” Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy’s vice president of engineering and construction, said in a statement Friday. “This report is the culmination of one of the most thorough and exhaustive environmental reviews that has ever been performed for a project of this scope.”
The pipeline would transport natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to southern North Carolina. Other partners in the $5.2 billion project are Duke Energy and its subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company.
While not surprised by the favorable report, environmental groups still criticized FERC’s conclusion that the project would have “less-than-significant” impacts on the environment.
The commission’s environmental impact statement reveals “significant gaps in information and woefully inadequate analysis, which is no surprise based on the agency’s historic rubber-stamp approach to virtually all natural gas interstate pipelines,” Lew Freeman, executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, said Friday in a statement.
Despite the positive environmental review, Freeman emphasized that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not a done deal. All three states through which the pipeline would travel — West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina — are still reviewing the project’s impacts to water resources. “We call upon each state to give this project the environmental scrutiny it requires, and that they are obligated to do,” he said.
FERC issued the final environmental analysis for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline one month after releasing its final review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would also transport natural gas produced in West Virginia into Virginia. The commission similarly concluded that Mountain Valley “would result in limited adverse environmental impacts.”
For the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC’s staff recommended the commission include 71 mitigation measure in its final order approving the pipeline. The measures would “further mitigate” the environmental impact associated with the construction and operation of the pipeline project, the commission’s staff said. For Mountain Valley, the staff recommended that 41 mitigation measures be included in the final order approving the project.
Along with its negative impacts on forests and waterways, environmental groups also decried FERC’s climate assessment of the Atlantic Coast as inadequate. The environmental analysis “grossly undercounts climate pollution by omitting fracking emissions, downplaying methane leakage, and wrongly assuming gas will replace coal when it increasingly displaces clean energy,” Oil Change International research analyst Kelly Trout said in a statement.
In a recent study, Oil Change International found that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 68 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution per year, which is the equivalent of 20 U.S. coal plants or over 14 million vehicles on the road. The study applied a gas pipeline climate methodology that adds up the life-cycle pollution of shale gas extracted from the Appalachian Basin.
The original targeted in-service date for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project was late 2018. Dominion Energy now expects the pipeline will begin serving customers in early 2019.