Dominion says it will cut methane emissions. Environmental group: What about that pipeline?

Dominion Energy's downtown Richmond building. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Dominion Energy, Virginia's largest electric utility and a major U.S. energy company, is headquartered in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In a news release, Dominion Energy announced Tuesday its plans to reduce methane emissions by 50 percent over the next decade.

Under its new initiative, the company will prevent more than 430,000 metric tons of methane, the primary component of natural gas, from entering the atmosphere, “the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road for a year or planting nearly 180 million new trees,” the news release states.

But at least one environmental group called the utility out on its claims.

“The best way for Dominion to reduce methane emissions is to abandon its plans to build its controversial and unnecessary $7.5 billion pipeline,” Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Wallace contends, will emit nearly 68 million metric tons of “planet-warming gases,” he said, offsetting any gains the utility makes in its newly-announced initiative.

In its release, Dominion states it will prevent methane from entering the atmosphere by instituting new technology that will capture the gas during planned maintenance and inspections, which is “the largest source of methane emissions from Dominion Energy’s transmission and distribution pipeline system.”

Instead of releasing the gas, the utility will capture it and recycle it for use in other parts of the system.

“Instead of venting methane when we do maintenance or inspection, we’re now capturing, recycling and reusing it so it stays in our system and out of the atmosphere,” Diane Leopold, president and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group, said in the release.

Additional efforts to limit methane emissions include replacing old equipment and expanding leak detection programs across Dominion’s pipeline system.

“We recognize we need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further combat climate change,” Leopold said. “We’ve made significant progress, but we’re determined to go much further.”

In his statement, Wallace conceded that “it’s refreshing that Dominion acknowledges that methane is harmful to our planet.” But the utility could “make real and significant progress toward a stable climate” by not building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

“We’ll know they’re serious about climate change if they start taking meaningful action to build a grid that is powered by 100 percent renewable energy,” he said.