BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Commission on Thursday tabled a request from an Atlantic Coast Pipeline official to pass a resolution in support of the 42-inch pipeline that is planned to stretch from the northwestern to the southeastern portions of Upshur County.
At the commission’s Feb. 16 meeting, Ben Hardesty, advisor to ACP — a company formed by four major regionally based energy companies including Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas — appeared before the commission with two requests. Hardesty, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, asked that the commissioners pass a resolution in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project and draft a letter of correspondence to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline project will run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, transporting natural gas. Approximately 23 miles of the pipeline is routed through Upshur County.
Christine Mitchell, external affairs specialist with Dominion, appeared before the commission to address some of the concerns residents brought forward at the Feb. 16 meeting. Dominion will oversee pipeline operation from its White Oaks station in Bridgeport. One of the concerns Upshur County resident Brandi Miller had voiced was the pipeline’s proximity to the Upshur County Regional Airport, the state police barracks and Buckhannon-Upshur High School. Mitchell reported that the closest distance between the pipeline route and the office building of the airport is 0.6 miles, and the distance between the pipeline route and the end of the runway is 0.39 miles.
Commission president Terry Cutright asked Mitchell whether Dominion would be willing to work with local officials to come up with an EOP, or emergency operations plan.
Mitchell also touched on concerns about an evacuation plan, should the pipeline leak or explode.
“Dominion is committed to having our operating personnel and our safety and security personnel work with the commission and the LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Commission) to form an emergency evacuation plan,” Mitchell said. “Our operations folks have committed to work with you to come up with a plan.”
Commissioner Sam Nolte said, “That’s definitely one of the biggest concerns with the citizens, the ‘what-if’ scenarios.”
Upshur County resident Don Nestor came to show his support for the ACP.
“I think we need to think about what’s best for our county and our community long-range,” Nestor said. “We have a real responsibility to all of our citizens to especially to our youth. We need to have jobs to keep youth in West Virginia. There’ll be some immediate jobs, but it’s all about, ‘Where can we go from here?’ What’s the future so we don’t struggle just to maintain and maybe lose ground? I encourage you to support this. I encourage you to continue to work with this. I think it can be a significant part of our future.”
At least four residents, however, voiced their opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project — two of whom were residents Mike Choban and April Pierson-Keating.
Choban said the pipeline will run right through his 63-acre property, and thus far he has caught Dominion land agents on his property without permission. Another two times, flags marking the route had been erected without Choban’s knowledge.
Addressing Nestor’s comments about the future, Choban said, “Those pipes are going to be rusty problems in the future. I don’t see where the economic advantage is over the long haul. Fossil fuels are a declining industry. I see it as this effort to hurry to get stuff out of the ground before it loses value and throw out a few incentives, and the incentives are being offered by a questionable agent. I’d have to be a fool to trust promises that have already been broken. It’s a hope. We’re pitting known disadvantages against hoped-for advantages.”
April Pierson-Keating said she’s read through the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, and wanted to cite a few facts. Pierson-Keating said only 22 permanent jobs will be created by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and that there will be 125 to 150 truck trips back and forth during construction.
“When we talk about taxes, we think about deficits that we’re facing in the state this year,” Pierson-Keating said. “There is no guarantee that the state is going to send us money to pay for the wear-and-tear on the roads, and counties themselves can’t tax pipelines. As far as safety and dangers, these are real things.”
Pierson-Keating said pipeline explosions are “not rare,” and she is concerned about there being too few inspectors in the state — only 55, she said. In addition, she’s concerned that the pipeline is only 2,200 feet away from the high school and 1,200 feet away from the state police barracks. She also told the commission that the county should be taking advantage of opportunities to develop solar energy.
“The growing solar industry could provide jobs to those lost in the coal industry,” Pierson-Keating said. She additionally mentioned the growing of medical marijuana and hemp as potential sources of revenue for the county and the Mountain State as a whole.
Cutright said he agreed that wind and solar sources of energy need to be further developed, but until they are, he thinks natural gas needs to fill in the gap.
Pierson-Keating responded, “This pipeline will lock us into fossil fuel production for decades. Fracking is a problem for water, air and soil.”
Citing the potential revenue that would spring from the installation of the pipeline, Cutright countered, “The businessman in me says profit’s not a bad thing.”
Pierson-Keating said, “I’m saying that we have to look at the safety aspects and future economic development. People will not move here if they feel that there is a safety danger.”
Cutright asked for a motion, stating, “I just want to say that I’m pro-pipelines. I think we need it and definitely as the county’s budget coming … we need the revenue since coal’s just about been put out of business. We’re really struggling on a county basis.”
Commissioner Sam Nolte said he could understand both sides of the issue.
“Here in West Virginia, we sit on a lot of gas,” he said. “We’ve drilled a lot of wells. This gas has not been put to use. Can Upshur County stop the pipeline? No, the pipeline’s going through. The pipeline is just right over the hill from my house. If we based decisions on all the risks that could happen, we would never build anything. I’m not trying to minimize the possibilities that could happen.”
“One frustration I have is that I wish that the state would maybe have tried to take more advantage of it,” Nolte continued. “The state should be benefitting more from the pipeline. It’s tough. I know we have people on both sides.”
Pierson-Keating requested that the commission table its decision.
“If you think it’s going through anyway, FERC doesn’t need your approval,” she said. “Approving it means you think the drawbacks are worth less than a few tax dollars. [Methane and the natural gas industry] is literally going to kill us. We have spring and summer-like temperatures here in February.”
Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady weighed in on the discussion, saying he didn’t think there’s “a good answer to this.”
“There is a problem because the big companies do whatever they want to,” Brady said. “Mike Choban does not want the 42-inch line going on his property. I do not want a 42-inch pipeline going through my property.”
Brady and Choban are neighbors.
“I don’t think we’re going to stop the pipeline,” Brady continued. “I guarantee there’ll be a problem with the pipeline, because pipelines rust. With the pipeline being so close to the high school — does that concern me? Yes, it does. With that being said, the pipeline has some benefits to Upshur County. I appreciate my neighbor’s point of view because he is my neighbor. With that being said, I think the pipeline is a benefit because if you look at all the people in the oil and gas industry, and pipelines are the best way to move gas. The reason you have more explosions is because you have more pipelines. You can’t produce oil and gas if you don’t have a way to move it.”
Pierson-Keating pointed out that the company Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC is self-insuring.
“If they go bankrupt, then there is no money there,” she said. “It doesn’t protect our community.”
Nolte said the need for energy is inescapable.
“Energy is how we live our lives,” he said. “The bottom line is we’ve become more responsible with fossil fuels. We can’t live without it.”
Pierson-Keating interjected, “We can’t live with it. The methane is going to destroy everything.”
Nolte replied, “Well, you have both sides,” to which Pierson-Keating retorted, “No, you have facts.”
Nolte made a motion that the commission take no action until the county talks to Dominion and an emergency response plan has been developed.
“I do not oppose the pipeline,” Nolte said. “I just think we need to wait until a plan is in place.”
Brady seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
“It’s going to go through whether we endorse it or not,” Brady said. “There is a danger to anything you do.”