Dominion plans large liquified natural gas facility in Person County near Rougemont
Residents concerned about air pollution, fire, explosion risks from plant, which could house two 25 million-gallon tanks of LNG
Dominion Energy provided this photo illustration of the proposed liquified natural gas facility — LNG, for short — in southeastern Person County. The large tank can hold 25 million gallons of LNG.
Mangum’s Store anchors a corner of Moriah and Mt. Harmony Church roads in rural Rougemont, where it sells a little bit of everything: groceries, gasoline, even sleds – which actually get some use in Person County because it lies above the “snow line” in central North Carolina.
Up the road, Sweet T Farm raises pork, poultry and beef on pasture. Just south, the Elderberry Co-housing Community is home, as resident Theresa Ahrens put it, “to 24 old people there who want to live peacefully and in harmony in this beautiful place.”
Now this small community could get a new neighbor: Dominion Energy, the main corporate actor behind the defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline, plans to build the Moriah Energy Center, two 25-million-gallon liquified natural gas facilities on 485 acres in southeastern Person County, about two miles from the Durham and Granville county lines. The facility itself would require just 50 to 60 acres, but the additional space would serve as a safety buffer – and space for a possible expansion. Dominion spokesperson Persida Montanez told Newsline a second LNG operation could eventually be built onsite. “That’s the reason for the project – market demand.”
That demand – spurred by a 2.8% increase in the number of Dominion customers in the Triangle – does not include Roxboro or Person County. The population in those two areas remained flat or declined slightly between 2010 and 2020, according to census data.
When: Thursday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m.
Where: Person County Office Building, Room 215, 304 S. Morgan St., Roxboro
The planning board is advisory only. The county commissioners can accept or reject its recommendations.
Natural gas is composed mostly of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change. Globally, 2023 was the hottest year on record because of climate change, which also contributed to catastrophic flooding, droughts and wildfires worldwide.
Gas from fracking operations outside North Carolina would arrive at the Moriah Energy Center via either of two Dominion Energy transmission pipelines, which are fed by the Transco pipeline. (The Transco pipeline ships gas from fracking operations and runs through a dozen states between Texas and Pennsylvania.) Alternately, the LNG would be shipped to the Moriah Energy Center by tanker truck.
The gas would then be chilled to 260 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and stored in the tank. At peak demand times, usually during the winter, the gas would be vaporized and re-injected into the pipeline system. It’s unknown how often that would occur, although it could be as few as eight days a year.
Even if demand is low, the facility will emit air pollution as part of its operation, as well as fugitive emissions, such as leaks from valves and connection points, and dust from trucks.
Facility-wide, the Moriah Energy Center could emit 65,579 tons of greenhouse gases each year, according to Dominion’s air permit application to the state. In addition, annual potential emissions include 35 tons of nitrogen oxide, 95 tons of carbon monoxide, 52.4 tons of volatile organic compounds, four tons of hazardous air pollutants and another four tons of fine particulate matter.
If the project is approved by county and state officials, construction could begin as early as next spring, with operations beginning in late 2026.
At a community meeting this week, about 50 residents of Rougemont and nearby Timberlake discussed what the LNG facility and the rezoning could mean for their neighborhoods: deforestation, light, noise, the risk of an explosion, air emissions, and the 360,000 gallons of water siphoned from the aquifer that would be stored in a tank onsite in case of a fire.
“The forestland, wetlands, farmland – it will be lost,” a local farmer said. “I hope we can protect our farms.”
The company is making several promises to local residents, including the purported safety of the facility and the economic benefit to the county –$810,000 in annual tax revenue for 25 years. However, it would create just 12 permanent jobs, none of which are guaranteed to go to Person County workers.
The gas would not be exported, and it would serve only Dominion’s North Carolina customers, Montanez said. Nor would the gas be shipped to Duke Energy when that company converts its nearby Roxboro coal-fired plant to natural gas.
But the business terms could change as soon as 2024, even before construction has begun.
Dominion’s stock has plummeted more than 40% over the past year, prompting the company to sell many of its assets, including an LNG export facility in Maryland. In September Enbridge, based in Calgary, Canada, announced it had purchased the Public Service Company of North Carolina, also known as PSNC Energy, from Dominion. The deal, which would include the proposed Moriah Energy facility and Dominion’s existing LNG plant in Cary, is awaiting approval from federal regulators.
Enbridge’s natural gas network transmits about 20% of all gas consumed in the U.S., according to the company’s website. It also supplies natural gas to four LNG export facilities on the Gulf Coast, with three more that are pending. The deal with Dominion would make Enbridge the leading transmitter of natural gas in North America.
Although the Rougemont/Timberlake neighborhood is rural, it’s by no means desolate. Homes line Helena-Moriah Road, some of them shrouded in trees or set back far from the road. There would be homes as close as a quarter mile away from the proposed Moriah Energy Center site.
Many neighbors at the community meeting said they are concerned about the potential for fires or explosions. Vapor clouds are composed not only of methane, but of flammable refrigerants that can ignite.
Since 2011, 30 incidents involving LNG fires have been reported to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, also known as PHMSA. Of those accidents, one person died in September after a tank explosion in Yakima, Wash. Last year, a methane leak caused an explosion at an LNG facility in Freeport, Texas, the second largest in the U.S. No one was killed or injured, but the plant went offline for several months. Federal investigators attributed the explosion to human error.
Dominion has an option to buy the five parcels for the Moriah Energy Center pending a rezoning decision by the Person County planning board and the county commissioners. The company would also have to receive approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission and an air permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality. LNG plants are regulated by PHMSA.
If the planning board rezones the parcels to allow for industrial uses, then other major polluters could locate there even if the Moriah Energy Center is never built – or when it’s mothballed.
As one resident cautioned, “Anything could go there.”
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