If approved by federal regulators, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles, starting in West Virginia, traveling through Virginia and routing 160 miles through eight counties in eastern North Carolina. In Robeson County, the ACP would then connect with a Piedmont line, and continue through Scotland and Richmond counties to the South Carolina border. The pipeline is co-owned primarily by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy.
The public comment period on the 1,000-plus page Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been open since Dec. 30. It ends April 6. However, several key supplements, some totaling hundreds of pages, have trickled in since then, some as late as March 31.
Those documents contain concerns from federal wildlife officials that rare, threatened and endangered species, such as Atlantic sturgeon, several species of mussels and the Neuse River Waterdog, could be inadvertently killed as a result of the pipeline’s construction. In most cases, construction crews would horizontally drill beneath a waterbody to core out space for the 36-inch diameter pipeline, roughly the size of a hula hoop. While less disruptive than actually carving into the stream bed — a method planned for part of the Neuse River — horizontal drilling carries risks of “inadvertent return.”
In other words, mud and other drilling materials, although non-toxic, could back up into the drill and spill into the waterway or its buffers. That material could then block or fill the waterway, not only cutting off streamflow, but also essentially suffocating aquatic life.[bctt tweet=”Dirt and mud could block or fill part of the waterway suffocating aquatic life.” username=”NCPolicyWatch”]
According to the documents filed by Dominion, there is a low risk of a spill where the pipeline would burrow under most North Carolina waterways — the Roanoke, the Tar and the Cape Fear, for example. However the risk is “unknown” for Contentnea Creek. It receives water from the Buckhorn Reservoir and is the main drinking water supply for the City of Wilson.
In some cases, the pipeline’s construction would use water from municipal systems. This is a change from the original plan to withdraw water from rivers to clean drills, for example, and other uses. That would financially benefit the towns along the route that provide the water since Dominion would have to pay for it. But if those water supplies were to run low because of a drought, for example, those withdrawals could be problematic.
Dominion laid out plans to remove fish, salamanders and other aquatic life from rivers and streams during pipeline construction. This includes catching them in nets or, when necessary, electrofishing — temporarily stunning the fish with electricity so that they can be retrieved. Electrofishing is technique commonly used by wildlife officials in field surveys.
The utility also detailed plans for holding and relocating the aquatic life upstream. All these activities require state, and in some cases, federal permits. Aquatic life that accidentally dies — known as “vouchers” — will be preserved and shipped to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
Forests in the eight North Carolina counties would also be damaged by the ACP. The filings show that more than 220 acres would be cut from inside the forests to make room for the pipeline corridor. Because of the clear-cutting another 1,500 acres of adjacent woods would no longer be classified as “interior” forest.
This forest fragmentation, as NCPW reported in February, can also displace animals and birds, some of whom never return. In their comments, federal wildlife officials also advised Dominion to hire independent monitors to ensure that sensitive species in these areas are protected; work on the pipeline would also be curtailed during migratory bird season.
Supplemental documents also found 18 more culturally and historically significant sites that must also be avoided. These include two Civil War battlefields, a Rosenwald School, several historic houses and farms, two fire towers and the Fayetteville Cutoff, part of the 130-year-old Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.
The ACP would also run through many low-income, minority communities, although FERC, which rarely disapproves any pipeline project, found there would be no disproportionate impact.
Based in Virginia, Dominion has a 48 percent ownership stake in the ACP; Duke Energy has 40 percent, with Piedmont ACP and Maple Enterprise owning 7 and 5 percent, respectively.
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