FERC: Developers submit plan to undo $8B pipeline

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Developers of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast pipeline have submitted a plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for dismantling the $8 billion natural gas project, which would have crossed West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Utility companies Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. have proposed a roughly two-year timeline for decommissioning parts of the pipeline that were almost complete and restoring disturbed land. In the FERC filing, dated Dec. 16 but made public yesterday, the developers outline where they want to clean up felled trees and where they intend to leave them.

The plan also proposes abandoning about 31 miles of pipe that has already been placed in the ground. An additional 83-mile stretch of terrain has been cleared with no pipe laid, the developers said.

Dominion will not release easement agreements with landowners to use their property, spokesperson Aaron Ruby confirmed in an email to E&E News.

While Dominion and Duke were able to negotiate voluntary agreements with some landowners, they seized the land of others through eminent domain. Many landowners are still fighting the eminent domain proceedings in court and have yet to receive compensation.

Protesting landowners argue that there should be a higher burden of proof on energy companies before FERC approves taking private land for projects deemed to be a public need. FERC says the agency has taken steps to improve its handling of landowner disputes.

Lewis Freeman, a board member for the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, said not releasing the easements could cause confusion for landowners whose agreements prohibit activities like planting trees or building barns on land near the defunct project’s 600-mile path.

“Many of the landowners who signed easements want to know if they can use their land again, since there’s not going to be a pipeline built,” he said.

Freeman said he’s not sure why Dominion would want to keep the easement agreements, since the company is “out of the pipeline business.”

Dominion last summer announced the sale of its gas transmission arm, Dominion Energy Transmission Inc., to Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

“So why would they want to keep the easements?” Freeman said. “That just makes no sense.”

Ruby said Dominion does not currently have plans to sell the easements but did not say why the company is keeping them.

Freeman said it will be up to FERC to approve Dominion’s proposal, which will be weighed by a full complement of commissioners at the independent energy agency.

Republican FERC Commissioner Mark Christie, who was nominated by President Trump last year along with Democrat Allison Clements, a longtime energy lawyer, was sworn in to the agency Monday. Clements joined FERC last month.

Christie was previously the chairman of Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, where he had served for nearly 17 years.

FERC’s other commissioners include Republican Chairman James Danly, Republican Neil Chatterjee and Democrat Richard Glick.

When the Atlantic Coast pipeline was announced in 2014, it was met by fierce backlash from landowners, activists and environmental advocates, who said it would damage the landscape and harm wildlife. Opponents also questioned the need for more natural gas.

The project’s supporters said it would create jobs in the region and help transition the nation away from coal. But legal battles led to mounting delays, and last summer, Dominion unexpectedly announced plans to abandon the project.

Reporter Carlos Anchondo contributed.