FERC: Southgate pipeline would have ‘some adverse impacts’ that could be reduced

Workers had begun laying portions of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Roanoke County near the Blue Ridge Parkway last summer. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - July 26,2018)

The proposed Southgate pipeline, which would link the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia with North Carolina, “would result in some adverse impacts” that could be “reduced to less-than-significant levels,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said in a draft environmental impact statement released Friday.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an environmental impact statement must be prepared for any project “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” before a permit can be issued. The favorable draft statement is one hurdle cleared for the extension, though more federal review remains before it is approved.

If built, the 73-mile underground line would traverse almost 27 miles of Virginia, beginning in Chatham and crossing into North Carolina at Berry Hill just west of Danville, and would permanently disturb about 170 acres in the state. A 29,000-horsepower compressor station would also be built in Chatham. (By comparison, the compressor station slated to be built in Buckingham County as part of the stalled Atlantic Coast Pipeline has a horsepower of 54,000.)

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, the consortium of natural gas companies headed by EQM Midstream Partners, LP, that is behind the project, has said that the Southgate pipeline is necessary to meet the “growing supply needs” of Dominion Energy, the line’s anchor natural gas shipper. This year, Dominion finalized its acquisition of SCANA, a South Carolina utility holding company that was the parent of PSNC Energy, which supplies natural gas to 578,000 customers in a 28-county service area in North Carolina.

Dominion’s own Atlantic Coast Pipeline, intended to cut through Virginia on its way to North Carolina from West Virginia, remains snagged by court rulings stripping it of several permits.

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension. (FERC)

FERC’s draft statement found that the Southgate project would have only “minor” geologic and soil impacts and “would not significantly affect water resources” in any of the 224 water bodies that it will cross.

“The primary effect of pipeline facility construction would be cutting, clearing, and/or removal of existing vegetation,” the statement found. “The majority of vegetation affected by construction of the [pipeline] would be upland forested land, which would result in long-term impacts.”

The agency noted that the project could potentially affect five federally listed federal or endangered species — the northern long-eared bat, Roanoke logperch, James spinymussel, small whorled pogonia and smooth coneflower — but concluded that it “would not likely adversely affect these species.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is still under construction in Virginia, where it has faced numerous legal hurdles, including the overturning of key permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service.

In April, the Roanoke Times reported that one of the project’s main partners had noted in a financial report that it “appears unlikely” that the pipeline will be complete by the end of 2019. The pipeline is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on behalf of the Department of Environmental Quality alleging hundreds of environmental violations and a criminal investigation as well.