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Pipelines; A Bird's Eye View Part 1


Nearly three years after E-Q-T Partners proposed the Mountain Valley Natural Gas pipeline, decision day is approaching. If approved, it would carry the fuel, underground, 300 miles across Virginia. But that prospect continues to fuel vigorous debate about pipelines: how they’re planned, how they’re approved, and whether they’re even necessary.  Robbie Harris has more.   

The Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania was discovered in 1839. But it wasn’t until earlier this century, that it became the largest producer of liquid natural gas in the country, spurring not only an energy boom but a pipeline boom as well.

Greg Buppert:  “What we’ve seen with the growth of the Marcellus Shale is really octopus of pipelines coming out West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, reaching in all directions.”

Greg Buppert is Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center:

“How many of these new projects are needed? We dug into that question deeply and what we learned is pretty interesting; most existing pipelines in the country and in our region are half full.  They’re only using 50-per cent of their capacity.”

But is a pipeline half full or half empty? EQT Spokeswoman Natalie Cox says the Mountain Valley line will run at its full capacity of 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.  She wrote in an email that, it is –quote-‘“...fully subscribed through long-term shipping contracts.”  And that, “Roanoke Gas Company has announced plans to tap the line at two places in Virginia, in Montgomery and Franklin Counties - to serve existing and new customers…” Additional taps could also be installed.

But the Mountain Valley is not the only pipeline proposed to go into the ground in Virginia. The Atlantic Coast pipeline aims to do the same thing farther north, and others have been discussed as well. Southern Environmental Law Center’s Greg Buppert says that’s why it’s time for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to change the way it determines weather to approve proposed pipelines.

Greg Buppert:  “What FERC does is, it looks at pipeline projects in isolation from each other, so we never have an assessment of, ‘What are the regional needs for a new pipeline coming out of the agency?’

Buppert acknowledges, that approach may have been fine before the gas boom, when fewer pipelines were proposed.  While the Marcellus is producing at its highest capacity yet, some suggest it could be at or near its peak output, while renewable energy continues to gain market share

“Yet there ‘s no comprehensive evaluation of whether or not this shale play will be over built. And those are the kinds of questions the agency needs to consider if it wants to use its authority in a responsible way.”

FERC’s former chairman, Norman Bay said as much after he stepped down in January; That it might be to rethink how the regulators determine whether there is a public need. But right now, FERC can’t make any major decision or policy determinations until vacancies on the commission are filled. Spokeswoman Tamara Young Allen says President Trump has nominated 2 people ( FOR WEB ONLY:  Neil Chatterjee an aid to Senator Mitch McConnell’s and Robert Powelson, President of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners.) Both have been confirmed in committee and are awaiting confirmation by the full senate.

But observers suggest it’s unlikely a Republican led commission would change current approval procedures for natural gas pipelines.

FERC’s Final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to come out next Friday (June 23) That would start the clock on a 90-day decision period by the commission about whether to authorize the $3.5 billion dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline project.

TOMORROW, in part 2 of our report, we’ll get a 3-hundred-sixty degree view when we fly over some of the proposed route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in southwest Virginia.