The con at the heart of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

By Robert Zullo

It can’t be said enough, and it’s something that’s easy to lose sight of amid the labyrinthine legal and permitting debates around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which could be getting federal approval to start full construction in Virginia any minute now.

The need for Dominion Energy’s 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is far from proven — certainly not in Virginia — despitethe  propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the project that company CEO, president and CEO Thomas Farrell got published Sunday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Your case should be ironclad before a federal agency gives your company the authority to blast, trench and tunnel your way across 600 miles in three states, trampling on private property rights, national forests and parks, sensitive habitats and waterways and through aquifers remote communities rely on for drinking water.

In fact, the preponderance of evidence points to Dominion being well on its way to foisting a massive con on its 2.5 million ratepayers here, as opponents of the pipeline have warned all along.

Another newspaper editorial page, The Virginian-Pilot, also recently parroted the company line on the project, that the hundreds of landowners and communities along its 600-mile path are the unfortunate eggs that must be broken to cook a reliable, affordable energy omelet for the rest of us.

The only way you can still believe that is if you steadfastly refuse to look behind the curtain.

Dominion will point you to the voluminous work done as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s certification process for natural gas projects, but what they won’t tell you is the agency’s review of actual public need is stunningly cursory.

“The shippers on the ACP project supply gas to end users and electric generators, and those shippers have determined that natural gas will be needed and the ACP project is the preferred means of obtaining that gas. We find that the contracts entered into by those shippers are the best evidence that additional gas will be needed in the markets that the ACP project intends to serve,” the commission wrote in its certificate authorizing the project last year.

Who are those shippers? They’re almost all subsidiaries of the energy companies developing the project, which comes with a 14 percent rate of return they’ll try to recoup from their ratepayers.

FERC brushed that aside though.

“The fact that five of the six shippers on the ACP project are affiliated with the project’s sponsors does not require the commission to look behind the precedent agreements to evaluate project need,” the certificate says.

Because it has basically become a rubber stamp for an industry that is on a wild overbuilding spree, FERC is currently in the midst of a lengthy processto review how it evaluates pipeline projects.

It’s become so out of whack, in fact, that politicians from different sides of the ideological divide, from Democratic Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, have introduced legislation to reform the FERC’s pipeline approval procedures.

The agency has also shown itself toothless in trying to combine or modify duplicative or dubiously justified projects like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, evidenced by FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’srare dissenton the projects.

“My balancing determination was heavily influenced by similarities in their respective routes, impact and timing. ACP and MVP are proposed to be built in the same region with certain segments located in close geographic proximity. … Both projects appear to be receiving gas from the same location, and both deliver gas that can reach some common destination markets,” LaFleur wrote. “I am particularly troubled by the approval of these projects because I believe that the records demonstrate that there may be alternative approaches that could provide significant environmental advantages over their construction as proposed.”

The commission staff looked at a merger of the two projects, but ultimately dismissed the idea.

“Commission staff eliminated this alternative from further consideration because it failed to meet the project’s objectives, in particular that it would ‘result in a significant delay to the delivery of the 3.44 Bcf/d of natural gas to the proposed customers of both ACP and MVP’ due to the significant time for the planning and design that would be necessary to develop a revised project proposal,” according to LaFleur’s dissent.

Translation: We didn’t make them do it because the pipeline companies didn’t want to. However, ACP did appear to get some credit from LaFleur for at least taking the trouble to sign up subsidiaries, which is more than MVP did.

She noted that while “Mountain Valley has entered into precedent agreements with two end users … for approximately 13 percent of the MVP project capacity, the ultimate destination for the remaining gas will be determined by price differentials in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast markets, and thus, is unknown.”

Still in need of something to read?

The story above is an abbreviated version of something that first appeared in The Virginia Mercury.  It is an online publication that mostly covers happenings in Virginia, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. For one perspective on the pipeline approval process, issues it raises, etc. check it out.  Three pipeline stories (including the full version of the one above)  appear here:


There will probably be more in the future.