The discovery of a natural gas pipeline rupture in Alabama on September 9th temporarily raised gasoline prices in Virginia and other mid-Atlantic and Deep South states, and also prompted worries about environmental contamination. That leak, plus the release of a new study that concludes the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not necessary, has emboldened protesters in Augusta and Nelson Counties. WMRA Reporter Jessie Knadler has the story.
Sign carrying protestors have been gathering near Dominion’s offices in Staunton every Wednesday in September, seeking support from passing motorists.
[passer-by honks horn]
JENNIFER LEWIS: We have an election coming up. We’re hoping to remind our elected officials that people are going to vote “no pipeline”….We keep saying pipelines explode. They explode a lot more frequently than people think.
Jennifer Lewis is the president and founder of Friends of Augusta, a local pipeline opposition group. She is referring to the rupture of a pipeline owned by Colonial that the company estimates has spilled roughly 300,000 gallons of gasoline in Alabama. Here’s protestor Bill Limpert:
BILL LIMPERT: I find it hard to believe that their pipeline breaks and the public has to pay for it through increased gas prices.
The Colonial leakage coincides with the federal government temporarily halting construction of a pipeline that was supposed to transport crude oil across the Dakotas after heated protests by Native American nations. Here’s Jennifer Lewis again:
LEWIS: We’re here in support and solidarity of the folks fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. We are very excited to see that the federal government is actually stepping in in this situation.
Although both incidents are unrelated to the proposed 600 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, they both involve pipelines, and that has provided fresh grist for local opposition groups armed with a new report that concludes more pipelines running through the region aren’t necessary.
LEWIS: We have so many pipelines we don’t need this pipeline.
The study found that existing pipelines are sufficient to supply more than enough fuel to power the region through 2030.
These conclusions are not surprising given who commissioned the study, points out Aaron Ruby of Dominion, the energy company behind the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
AARON RUBY: I think folks should take this report at face value. It’s an anti-pipeline report paid for by anti-pipeline groups.
He points out that demand for natural gas in Virginia and North Carolina is expected to grow 165 percent over the next twenty years. Existing natural gas pipelines – some 2,200 miles of them already crisscrossing the state -- are already operating at full capacity.
RUBY: The authors don’t seem to understand how the natural gas pipeline system works. What they’ve basically done is they’ve looked at the region as a whole. There may be available capacity on some of the pipelines in the region. What they haven’t done is demonstrate how any of that available capacity could actually be transported to the regions where it’s needed.
In Hampton Roads, Virginia, for example, natural gas usage has already been hindered for large industrial customers during peak demand periods. In North Carolina, currently one natural gas pipeline serves the entire state.
Scott and Anne Seaton of Waynesboro say protestors represent a very small, but very vocal minority in the debate. Most Virginians, they say, recognize the need for more power to support Americans’ energy hungry lifestyles.
ANNE SEATON: This is a bipartisan supported concept. Virginia is going down in ranks as a business friendly state. One aspect: our lack of power. Governor McAuliffe, Democrats and Republicans see the need for this pipeline and are supporting it.
SCOTT SEATON: What I would like to see is lower priced energy so that more businesses come to our area so that our children can stay in our areas, find good paying jobs instead of finding those good paying jobs elsewhere.
Dominion announced it has signed a construction contract with Spring Ridge Constructors to build the pipeline, even as the project awaits approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But as the Virginia Supreme Court agreed last month to hear an appeal against the pipeline, protesters say they aren’t going anywhere. Bill Limpert’s home in Bath County sits right in its path.
LIMPERT: We bought it for our retirement. And now the pipeline is proposed to cut it right in half. The trees there are between 140 and 160 years old. So they haven’t been cut through the time of the Civil War.