Utilities planning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have altered the route to avoid environmentally sensitive areas. But they say there's no change in the projected cost or 2018 completion date.
Four energy companies are seeking federal approval for the $5.1 billion project, which was announced in 2014. The 600-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from shale oil fields in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to power plants in Virginia and eastern North Carolina.
Planners have shifted the pipeline away from sensitive habitats, including national forests in Virginia and West Virginia. And they've made smaller route changes in North Carolina, including Cumberland and Johnston Counties, and in Virginia.
That has added about 36 miles, bringing the total to 600, but officials say that won’t affect the cost.
The route will parallel I-95 from the Virginia border to Robeson County, near Lumberton.
Duke Energy is among the owners. Spokesman Tom Williams says shale gas, produced by fracking, is a cheaper and cleaner fuel for Duke’s growing number of gas-fired plants. Which are replacing those that burn coal.
“In essence, there's been a shale revolution, where there's been lots of very low-cost gas fields that have opened up in the West Virginia, Pennsylvania region. Also across Ohio, other regions, New York. This is a way to access that gas, and bring it to eastern North Carolina,” Williams said.
Duke owns 40 percent of the project, Piedmont Natural Gas 10 percent, and AGL Resources of Atlanta 5 percent. Virginia energy company Dominion is building the project, and owns the largest share - 45 percent.
Duke and Piedmont plan to merge later this year, and terms of the pipeline venture require them to sell part of their stake, to keep Dominion as the largest shareholder.
The pipeline, the first of its kind in eastern North Carolina, also will serve Piedmont's industrial customers. Dominion already has signed up customers for 96 percent of the gas.
Not everyone thinks the pipeline is a good idea. Some individual property owners have objected, especially in Virginia, says Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Kit Konolige.
“If you said we're going to put a gas pipeline or a gas storage tank in your backyard, most people are not going to really want that to be there,” he said.
On the other hand, he says, 20 years of cheaper electric and gas bills. “It’s a very significant benefit for themselves and their families over a long period of time,” he said.
Meanwhile, a collection of environmental groups oppose the pipeline because it will carry gas harvested by fracking, which they say pollutes air and water and causes other environmental damage. And they're concerned about ecological disruption along the pipeline route.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plans hearings May 20 in West Virginia and May 21 in Virginia on the route changes. Then it will draft a report on how the project will affect the environment and local communities.
Pipeline officials expect to get their FERC permit in early 2017, and begin construction a year from now. Gas could begin flowing in late 2018.
See maps for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on the project website.