On Thursday, April 27, 2017, President and CEO of Dominion Energy Diane Leopold delivered the following remarks on the continued progress of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project in an executive press briefing. She was joined by Dominion Energy’s Leslie Hartz, Vice President of Pipeline Construction.
The press briefing came after the conclusion of the public comment period of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement created by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, during which thousands of comments were submitted to FERC. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline team was pleased by the positive outpouring during this period, and is excited about the progress made so far.
Thank you all for joining us this morning.
It has been awhile since Leslie and I provided a formal update on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, although there has been no lack of information or news in recent weeks and months.
As we head into the final stages of the permitting process, we thought it would be good to discuss where the project stands, outline important next steps, and highlight some of the areas where we’ve made significant progress. I am pleased to say the project continues to move forward on all fronts.
But first, I want to briefly reiterate the urgent public need for this project and why it’s so important to the future of the region. That sometimes gets lost.
Public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina are depending on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to bring new supplies of natural gas to generate cleaner electricity, provide home heating for a growing population, and power new manufacturing plants and other industries. The region’s existing pipeline infrastructure is fully tapped and unable to meet these growing needs. New infrastructure is required, and that’s why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is so important.
While the status of the Clean Power Plan may be up in the air, there is no doubt about the increasing role natural gas will play in power generation. Utilities in Virginia, North Carolina and around the country have made that clear. The environmental benefits, abundance and low cost of natural gas is making it a core component of new 24/7 power generation. Natural gas also is playing an important and growing role as a partner with renewable energy.
By bringing new and lower-cost supplies of natural gas into our region, this pipeline will lower energy costs for all consumers. And, by providing the natural gas supplies utilities need to support new industries, the project will help stimulate economic growth and create thousands of new jobs.
So let’s talk about some of the important milestones we’ve reached and the key areas where we continue to make significant progress:
Favorable Draft Environmental Impact Statement
I’ll begin with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process.
We reached a very significant milestone in December of last year when the FERC released a favorable draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The draft report concluded that we’ve adopted all necessary measures to minimize environmental impacts and protect public safety. Importantly, the draft report said that the mitigation measures we have adopted minimize impacts on air quality, land use, aquatics, groundwater, soil, surface water, wetlands and noise. And, further, the report concluded that the project provides benefits from using natural gas at power plants to produce electricity by reducing air emissions through reduced use of coal and fuel oil.
This was the culmination of more than two years of exhaustive study and meaningful engagement with landowners and communities along the proposed route. The report drew from nearly 100,000 pages of reports we’ve submitted to the FERC, and more than 35,000 public comments.
This process has left no stone unturned, and it has addressed all of the important environmental and safety issues that have been raised. Rarely – if ever – has a project in our region received such intense scrutiny.
The next step is for the FERC to release a final Environmental Impact Statement on June 30th. We have every reason to believe the favorable draft EIS and – ultimately – the final EIS will provide a strong foundation for final approval of the project later this summer or in the early fall. We certainly hope and expect that the FERC will have a quorum by that time.
Key local, state and federal approvals
With all the attention paid to the FERC process, many people forget there are other federal approvals needed as well as strong state and local oversight. We continue to work diligently to meet all federal, state and local requirements, and we have made significant progress. I want to highlight just a couple examples.
Earlier this year, we received local approvals to build our compressor stations in Buckingham County, Virginia and Northampton County, North Carolina. We received those permits with the unanimous support of the zoning commissions and elected boards in both counties. There was strong support expressed by the local residents in both cases.
We also need approval from the U.S. Forest Service to cross approximately 20 miles of the national forests, and to drill underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail. Earlier this month, the Forest Service gave its preliminary approval of our plans to cross under the Parkway and the Trail. While the Forest Service will not make a final decision on our permit until later this year, receiving a favorable preliminary decision is a very positive step forward.
Surveying virtually complete
Now let’s talk about the surveys we’ve conducted to choose the safest and most environmentally responsible route for the pipeline.
We’re pleased to report that the surveys are virtually complete and the route is essentially finalized. We’ve now completed more than 98 percent of the surveys. Based on those surveys we’ve made more than 300 route adjustments to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and minimize impacts on individual properties. This is in addition to the hundreds of other route adjustments we made based on conversations with landowners and others.
The result of this exhaustive process is a stronger route that will have fewer environmental impacts and fewer impacts on individual landowners. The process shows that through careful study and cooperation with landowners, we can resolve many issues and build infrastructure in an environmentally responsible way.
Securing easement agreements with landowners is another important part of the process, and it’s an area where we’ve made a lot of progress over the last year.
To date, we’ve signed mutual easement agreements with more than 60 percent of landowners, and we’ve provided compensation to all of those landowners.
For a project that is at least five months away from beginning construction, we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made. We expect that progress to accelerate as we get closer to construction.
We’re also making significant progress in securing the materials we need to build the pipeline.
To date, we’ve completed production on more than 65 percent of the steel pipe we will use to build the project, and we expect to complete production later this year. As you may remember, this pipe is being 100% fabricated in the United States, putting hundreds of people to work.
Overall, we’ve procured almost 85 percent of the land, materials and services we need to build the pipeline.
Public support remains strong
Finally, I want to document the strong public support for the project. Opponents may receive much of the attention. It is their right to speak out. But, it is clear that the majority believes this project should and must be built.
More than 25 city, town and county governments all along the route have publicly endorsed the project. They’ve spoken very powerfully about the need for this infrastructure to provide cleaner energy and affordable home heating in their communities, rebuild their local economies and strengthen the region’s energy security.
Labor unions have come out strongly in favor of the project. They know it means thousands of good-paying jobs for their members. And, they stand side-by-side with business leaders who know that economic development depends on access to more energy. The EnerySure coalition, created to support the project, has more than 250 member organizations representing hundreds of thousands of individuals.
The project has also received the bi-partisan support of more than 80 state and federal lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – from across the region. This is an acknowledgement of how important this project is. Last month the bipartisan leadership of the West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina state legislatures sent a very powerful letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging its approval of the project. That action may be unprecedented.
But most of all, I want to thank the landowners who have endorsed the project that will cross their properties. In today’s environment, it takes special courage to stand up like that. Some have gone so far as to appear on camera or in the media providing testimonials. They recognize how important this project is to their friends and neighbors – and to people they will never meet. These are special individuals.
Those are just a few examples of the backing the project has.
Developing infrastructure to meet the energy needs of millions of people is a major undertaking. It requires years of preparation, billions of dollars in private capital and dozens of government approvals. It also requires sensitivity for the environment, and the people whose community and property will be impacted. This is a project where you can’t cut corners, and we won’t.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is essential to the economic vitality, environmental health and energy security of our region. This project will result in more economic opportunity, a cleaner environment, and lower energy bills for consumers and businesses. Most importantly, public utilities in our region are depending on this project to meet the growing energy needs of the millions of customers they serve.
We are committed to seeing this project through, and we are confident of a successful outcome. The project is moving forward on all fronts. It has received a thorough and exhaustive environmental review, which has resulted in a project with fewer impacts on the environment and landowners. We believe the process has worked, and it will lead to a final approval this fall.