BUCKHANNON — Proponents of — and opponents to — the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline poured into the Buckhannon-Upshur High School auditorium Monday night to talk about the line’s potential effect on one critical resource — water.
While some of those who turned out for the two-hour public hearing — one of only two held in the state — said construction of the natural gas pipeline was safe and would have minimal impact on water quality, staunch environmentalists countered that contamination of water was a very likely possibility. The only way to prevent that contamination, they said, is to not build the pipeline.
Monday night’s hearing centered on the question of whether the DEP should issue what’s called a State 401 Water Quality Certification to the builders of the pipeline, primarily Dominion Energy. According to the Clean Water Act, 401 certifications must be issued “for activities that will or may discharge or fill into the waters of the state,” according to the DEP website. If certification is issued, the project will proceed; however, if it is denied, construction will be delayed at the very least.
The 600-mile-long, 42-inch pipeline will run for 99 miles through West Virginia, crossing through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties before traveling into Virginia and then south, ending in eastern North Carolina. Hosted by W.Va. DEP communications director Jake Glance, people both for and against issuance of the 401 certification had the opportunity to speak.
Those in favor of allowing the project to proceed with 401 certification argued that the pipeline will bolster West Virginia’s economy and tax revenue base.
Charlie Byrd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, called the ACP “a vitally important infrastructure project to all West Virginians.”
“Energy-efficient clean-burning natural gas produced in West Virginia will in part provide the much-needed additional supplies of natural gas to our region … to meet the ever-growing energy demand,” Byrd said. “The ACP route is the result of years of comprehensive studies and surveys to avoid and minimize impact on sensitive areas. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has accommodated over 300 reroutes in an effort to reduce impacts to the environment and cultural and historic resources.”
Atlantic Coast Pipeline is being developed by four energy companies, including Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas; however, Dominion Energy will construct and operate the pipeline.
Byrd added that the ACP will generate jobs, tax revenue and is “critical to the West Virginia economy” as well as a “step toward energy independence.”
“IOGA urges you to not delay this very necessary and environmentally friendly project,” Byrd said.
Ryan Houser, an employee of J.F. Allen Company in Buckhannon, also urged the DEP to issue the certification.
“In front of us there is a golden opportunity to move our region’s natural resources to the world, benefitting not only West Virginia, but all of America,” Houser said.
Houser pointed out that the Mountain State is ranked 50th in job growth and labor force participation, according to the current issue of U.S. News & World Report.
“It’s about time we started investing in ourselves, our state and our infrastructure,” Houser said. “Infrastructure, when done properly, enhances quality of life.”
In addition, Mike Herron, executive director of the Lewis County Economic Development Authority, came to Monday’s hearing to express his support for the pipeline.
“Please do not delay this necessary and safe project,” Herron said. “Lewis County believes that this is a vitally important infrastructure project. We understand the benefits of supplying energy to existing but also emerging markets. This project is good for our producers, it’s good for our farmers, who, in most instances, are the royalty owners, good for business and ultimately, it’s good for our tax base.”
“Natural gas produces far less carbon emissions than coal, so I urge you to approve this project, and let’s get started,” Herron said.
Several people opposed to the DEP issuing the 401 certification pointed out that many who spoke in favor of the pipeline only discussed revenue, jobs and the tax base — not the effect the pipeline could potentially have on the area’s water.
Paul Richter, with the Buckhannon River Watershed Association, said, “This hearing is about only one item — whether the state of West Virginia should issue a 401 certification to the ACP project. That’s the issue —not jobs, not profits, not a lot of other things.”
Likewise, Laura Yokochi, a resident of Harrison County, said the people who were pro-pipeline seemed to be skimming over the heart of the matter, the ACP’s effect on the environment.
“I was listening to the speakers that are for the pipeline and they emphasized that there would be lots of jobs and they’ve already invested lots of money in this project, but simply investing money in something is not a reason to approve it,” Yokochi said. “Most of these (pipeline-related) jobs are temporary, and I’m not completely against gas … but this is intended to ship gas other places. The DEP’s job is to protect the water, protect the environment for us, for the future, not to make it easier for companies to make money.”
Kevin Campbell, of Buckhannon, and also a member of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, also spoke out against the pipeline, claiming the ACP, when completed, will cross Buckhannon River tributaries nine times.
“That’s nine chances to contaminate our single source of water,” Campbell said. “The best engineering in the world cannot guarantee that our water will not be contaminated. The only way to avoid contamination with this pipeline is to not build it.”
Justin Raines, who described himself as a “sixth-generation West Virginian,” disputed pro-pipeline speakers’ claims that natural gas was safe and clean.
“I’ve heard a lot today about good management practices, about all the effort and study that’s gone into ensuring this pipeline will be environmentally sound,” Raines said, “and I’d like to address a phrase I’ve heard a lot tonight, and that is ‘safe, clean natural gas.’”
“I spent 12 years working on the rigs in this state, and I can assure everyone here there is no such thing as safe, clean natural gas,” Raines continued. “This is not going to make us rich; they want to bury a bomb in our backyard.”
Bill Rice, who drove up from Charleston for Monday’s public hearing, said West Virginia should have learned how valuable water is in the aftermath of the Jan. 9, 2014 Elk River chemical spill.
“I want to talk about the economic impact of water,” Rice said. “(When the chemical spill occurred), business after business after business closed down. Job after job after job was lost because we did not adequately protect our water system. So you want to talk about the economy? Fine, talk about it in a real way. Talk about the impact on tourism in this area if this pipeline goes through.”
Holding up a 42-inch wide circular prop, Rice said, “Imagine this going through your backyard. Imagine this going by our schools. The DEP doesn’t know what the impacts will be because this (401 certification) application lacks the basic analysis of what those impacts will be.”
The comment period on 401 certification for ACP opened July 7, according to the DEP’s website. Glance, the DEP’s communications director, said that as of Monday night, the DEP had received “several hundred” mailings, about half of which were for issuing the 401 certification, while the other half were against.
“I’d say it’s been about 50/50,” Glance said following Monday night’s hearing.
A second public hearing on 401 certification was held Tuesday night in the Pocahontas County High School auditorium; however, the DEP will accept written comments through Friday, Aug. 4. Comments may be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to WVDEP, Division of Water and Waste Management, ATTN: Laura Cooper, 601 57th St. SE, Charleston, WV 25304.