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Energy & Environment

Experts: 1 Pipeline Each For NC Natural Gas, Fuel Is A Concern

Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Atlantic Coast Pipeline
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Dominion Energy and Duke Energy said in July 2020 that “recent developments have created an unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays” for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline designed to cross West Virginia and Virginia into North Carolina.

North Carolina is particularly susceptible to energy interruptions because gasoline and natural gas supplies originate mainly from two pipeline systems, energy industry experts told a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Representatives of utility giants Duke Energy and Dominion Energy were among those who addressed the chamber's energy panel in light of this month's ransomware cyberattack upon the Colonial Pipeline. North Carolina motorists were hit particularly hard — 43% of the state's gas stations remained out of fuel Tuesday afternoon, according to GasBuddy.

Up to 75% of each day's supply of refined petroleum products in North Carolina run through the Colonial Pipeline, said David McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council. And the Transco pipeline is currently the lone interstate natural gas transmission line for North Carolina. Both lines move products south to north.

Natural gas increasingly fuels electric generation. A lack of diverse distribution and redundancy in distribution networks make widespread outages for electricity and natural gas hard to overcome quickly, whether from natural disasters or cyberattacks, said Ed Finley, the former chairman of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

“When it goes out, people’s lives are disrupted,” Finley said, adding that the inability for consumers and businesses to turn on electricity and natural gas “would be crippling to the state’s economy.” Finley said hardening the electrical grid against physical damage and cyber attacks should be considered.

Duke Energy, which uses natural gas to generate 30% of its electricity during the coldest weather, has backup fuels at most of these plants, said Nelson Peeler, a company senior vice president. But the diesel fuel immediately available only would last a couple of days, he said.

Efforts to diversify natural gas supplies in North Carolina, particularly by moving the fuel from deposits in the north, have stalled in recent years.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed by Dominion Energy and Duke, was canceled last summer after legal challenges, construction delays and ballooning costs. And a proposed extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline from Virginia into North Carolina is in jeopardy after the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality denied a water quality certification.

Rusty Harris, a Dominion Energy vice president, said that without expanding natural gas being piped into North Carolina, the utility may have to look to creating more storage facilities to plan for an interruption. Harris and Peeler said separately that alternative forms of energy, such as solar, wind or a greener form of natural gas, can diversify fuel sources. But they cautioned the technology or economics don't yet make them a reasonable or reliable substitute.

Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican, retired Duke Energy executive and committee member, said during the meeting he was concerned that natural gas production limitations in North Carolina could stunt the state's economic growth.

“The message from today’s hearing couldn’t be clearer: North Carolina’s reliance on a single pipeline is a critical vulnerability," Newton said in a news release after the meeting.