Big-picture perspective needed as pipeline proposals advance

The George Washington National Forest, pictured above, is one of many pristine, undisturbed areas potentially impacted by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is one of four developing natural gas projects in the region. (© Brent McGuirt)

Friday energy companies filed a formal request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to build the 564-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, despite intense opposition from local communities. The pipeline is one of four projects slated to cross the central Appalachians between Giles County, Virginia, in the south and Shenandoah County, Virginia, in the north.

All four projects aim to bring natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline alone would cross about 30 miles of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, including through an area the Forest Service refers to as “the wildlife core of the central Appalachians.”

SELC is working with local leaders in Virginia and West Virginia whom are deeply concerned about the impacts of the proposed pipeline on agriculture and tourism—two top economic sectors in the region. Local businesses, private property, drinking water supplies, working farmland and forestland, and national forest land are all at risk.

The pipelines were proposed in the wake of dramatically increased natural gas production from the Marcellus shale. Decisions made now, in this frenzy of interest, about how and where to locate pipelines will resonate for decades, but there is no plan to guide this build-out. SELC is working to protect our communities and environment by promoting a regional examination of supply, demand, and pipeline siting to avoid redundancies and over-building.

To achieve this, federal officials need to undertake a comprehensive regional Environmental Impact Statement to study pipeline capacity, the need for new pipelines, and their effects on communities and the environment. Authorizing several different pipeline projects in the same region, without a comprehensive analysis of alternatives and long-term impacts, would work against the principles of effective planning, judicious land use, and coordinated management. Now, before these projects proceed any further, is the right time for officials to take a step back and capture the bigger picture.

Read a story from this weekend's Richmond Times-Dispatch examining some of the many questions arising as pipeline proposals proceed.

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