Cancellation of Atlantic Coast Pipeline surprises West Virginia officials

CHARLESTON — The companies behind the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project announced the cancellation of the project Sunday, taking state leaders by surprises.

According to a statement from Dominion Energy and Duke Energy Sunday afternoon, the pipeline project to bring natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina was canceled due to additional regulatory hurdles and uncertain market conditions.

“A series of legal challenges to the project’s federal and state permits has caused significant project cost increases and timing delays,” the joint statement read. “These lawsuits and decisions have sought to dramatically rewrite decades of permitting and legal precedent including as implemented by presidential administrations of both political parties.”

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court — in a 7-2 decision — reversed a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that said the U.S. Forest Service did not have the authority to issue a right-of-way easement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project to cross underneath a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

The pipeline would bring natural gas from Harrison County and four other West Virginia counties 600 miles through Virginia to North Carolina. The project, started in 2014, has a price tag of $8 billion — an increase from the original price tag of $5 billion. In Dominion and Duke’s joint statement, they cite additional federal court cases — including a case on Montana that overturned federal permit authorities for waterbody and wetlands crossings — which also could cause substantial delays.

Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion Energy chairman, president, and chief executive officer; and Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy chair, president, and chief executive officer, issued a statement.

“We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Farrell and Good said. “This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States. Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.”

Shale Crescent USA, a pro-Natural Gas production advocacy group, expressed disappointment regarding the decision to scrap the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Greg Kozera, a spokesperson for Shale Crescent, said the decision will be devastating for pipeline construction jobs.

“Sadly when jobs are needed the most, the pipeline construction people, their families and the businesses that support them will not be going back to work,” Kozera said. “Before the antis celebrate too much, I suggest they visit a pipeline worker and their family to see the real damage done to real people. A few low-wage solar panel installer jobs won’t replace the pipeline and manufacturing jobs the pipeline would have brought.”

The announcement took state leaders by surprise. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led an 18-state group last December in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

“I’m deeply disappointed about this decision to cancel construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Morrisey said. “The concept of one district court judge paralyzing the construction of pipelines across our country is very disconcerting. My office will look even more closely at this matter and will keep up our all-in fight for West Virginia jobs. We should and must not quit fights like these.”

The state’s congressional delegation weighed in on Sunday’s announcement. Both U.S. senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called the cancellation a huge blow for the state’s energy sector and employment.

“I’m disappointed to learn plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have been cancelled,” Manchin said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is yet another reminder of why it is critically important we work together to find a responsible balance between the environment and economy. We must take steps to modernize our nation’s energy policy by passing the bipartisan American Energy Innovation Act.”

“The news that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction has been canceled is terrible and will cost WV thousands of construction jobs,” Capito posted on Twitter. “Our country has experienced tremendous growth in energy production over the last several years, which presents a huge opportunity for WV’s economy…WV is energy rich, and we should make it easier to use energy resources produced right here at home to meet demand across the country.”

1st District Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., echoed the comments of Manchin and Capito. Harrison County — the starting point of the project — is in the 1st Congressional District.

“Disappointed in the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” McKinley said in a statement Sunday evening. “The pipeline would have created thousands of jobs for West Virginians and allow us to transport energy sources in a safe and reliable manner. Ground activists created challenges every step of the way and caused the destruction of much these much-needed jobs and tax revenue. West Virginia is energy rich and we should make it easier for energy sources to be produced domestically.”

Also announced Sunday, Dominion Energy is selling its natural gas transmission and storage assets to Berkshire Hathaway Energy in a $10 billion deal. Berkshire would also assume $6 billion of Dominion’s debt. Both companies expect the deal to be finalized by the end of 2020 once the deal overcomes regulatory hurdles.

The office of 2nd District Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. — whose district includes four of the counties where the pipeline would have gone through, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Gov. Jim Justice said the Governor would address the ACP cancelation today during his coronavirus briefing. A request for comment from the Sierra Club was not returned.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.


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