By MAX GARLAND
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff projects a boost in West Virginia’s economic activity with the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but advocacy organizations have said the pipeline’s long-term environmental effects would negate any short-term economic bump.
The FERC staff’s draft report on the $5.1 billion pipeline said its construction would result in local governments collecting more than $58 million in property taxes in eight years, the generation of $15.6 million in annual spending and the creation of thousands of jobs in West Virginia. The pipeline, on its currently proposed route, would go through five West Virginia counties and two national forests.
According to the report, the construction would generate increased sales and payroll taxes, which would benefit the state and area communities.
“Atlantic and [Dominion] would purchase goods, materials, and services locally when possible,” the report states. “Workers on both projects would also most likely spend a portion of their pay in local communities on items such as housing, food, automobile expenses, entertainment, and miscellaneous other items.”
“Those arguments seem to be the most compelling, and West Virginia has a history of extractive industries,” she said. “But any economic boost would be short-lived. We would be better prepared looking at solar, instead of relying on gas.”
Pierson-Keating said the report’s claim of the pipeline’s construction creating an estimated 3,093 jobs is too large to be realistic and would only be temporary. After the construction phase, the report states that 74 jobs would be created in West Virginia for pipeline operations.
The FERC will review the staff’s report once it’s finalized before determining whether to approve the pipeline’s construction or not.
The draft report being favorable toward its construction, maintaining that, as long as Dominion follows the proper guidelines, environmental impact will be minimal, is a win for pipeline supporters.
“We already have the gas needed to bridge us from dirty to clean energy. Existing infrastructure can meet our demands for natural gas for at least the next 15 years,” said Greg Buppert, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a joint statement with other organizations. “This is a Dominion self-enrichment project, not a public necessity.”
Pipeline proponents, such as J. Winston Porter, an energy and environmental consultant, say the opportunity for additional jobs and investment is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“Thanks to our low-cost and abundant supply of natural gas, demand for this gas has soared,” Porter wrote in a Sunday op-ed for the Gazette-Mail. “New pipelines are needed to get gas from areas of production, such as West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, to major population centers where demand for natural gas is growing fastest.”
Despite a recent drop in natural gas prices from an influx in supply, the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research projected in its economic outlook report that natural gas output will rise again in the coming years as its use expands in electricity generation.
The pipeline’s environmental impact remains the biggest concern. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and related Supply Header Project would cross 1,989 bodies of water, 5 miles in the Monongahela National Forest and 16 miles in the George Washington National Forest. The FERC staff said “the linear nature” of the pipeline, combined with the forests’ boundaries, prevented Dominion from avoiding national forests entirely.
The FERC staff maintains that alternatives to the proposed route do not offer any significant reduction in environmental impact or aren’t economically viable. It added that, as long as the pipeline construction and operations follow proper guidelines, the environment will be minimally affected, outside of vegetation.
The pipeline’s proposed route also crosses 32.5 miles of karst terrain, landscape characterized by underground drainage systems like sinkholes, caverns and springs. The terrain introduces the possibility of sinkhole development and a chance of change in local groundwater flow and quality. The FERC staff said overland construction techniques would be used in these areas to minimize risk.
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