PEMBROKE — Opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are charging that pipeline developers are planning to extend the pipeline into South Carolina instead of ending the line in Pembroke.
Pipeline developers, however, say that is not true.
Dan Weekley, a senior executive of Dominion Energy, the lead developer and eventual operator of the proposed 600-mile natural gas pipeline that would run from West Virginia, through Virginia and North Carolina and end in Pembroke, was secretly recorded recently during a presentation to industry representatives saying that the pipeline would extend into South Carolina.
“Everyone knows it’s not going to end in Lumberton … . We could deliver gas into South Carolina whichever way the pipeline turns — because it will turn … .We’ll turn one way or the other,” Weekley said.
The statements by Weekley are the first time that there has been any mention of an “undisclosed plan” to extend the pipeline south of its proposed ending point in Pembroke, pipeline opponents say. That revelation is adding to their discontent over what they contend has been the developers refusal to be transparent with the project since it was first announced in May 2014.
Pipeline opponents also are questioning whether the pipeline is really needed to supply natural gas to businesses and industries that could potentially boost local economies along its planned route, or whether the long-term plan of the developer centers around getting gas to areas where it can be easily transported to overseas markets.
Dominion in a strong response to the allegations contends it has no specific plans to expand the pipeline.
“From the very beginning we have been clear and consistent that the infrastructure could be expanded in the future, while continuing to meet the needs already identified in Virginia and North Carolina,” according to the statement. “Dan Weekley’s remarks were made in response to a comment from the panel moderator, noting that South Carolina also desperately needs more natural gas and natural gas infrastructure … . Dan responded that the focus is on completing the project as proposed, but it could be expanded in the future. As Dan noted, the nature and timing of any future project would depend on market needs that have not yet been specified.
“Absolutely no decision has been made about a potential expansion beyond what has been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” the statement continued. “And, any expansion would have to go through a full regulatory review process. If the ACP were expanded at some point in the future to reach new markets, that would have absolutely no impact on our public utility customers in Virginia and North Carolina. We have 20-year contracts with those utilities, and those contracts are binding.”
Robeson County opponents to the pipeline said that they are not surprised that the proposal would be extended.
“We couldn’t understand why Dominion would choose a route through the most vulnerable environment and vulnerable populations, including over 30,000 Native Americans along the proposed route,” said the Rev. Mac Legerton, the executive director of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton. “But the information today makes full sense of this route. It’s just passing through. It’s not coming here for us at all. The environment and people of rural counties are being used as sacrifice zones for gas pipelines.”
The proposed pipeline has been controversial since its announcement. Opposition has come from property owners and others in all three states where it is proposed to pass through.
Robie Goins, whose family owns property where the pipeline is proposed to end in Pembroke, said it appears the developers of the pipeline have “misled the public.”
“If they try to extend the pipeline and change their application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, I hope they have to start the whole process over again,” Goins said.
So far, the pipeline has not been given the green light by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nor has it received the necessary state permits that will allow it to be constructed and operated.
In addition to Dominion Energy, developers of the pipeline includeDuke Energy and Southern Company Gas.
In addition to providing natural gas that proponents say is needed to entice industry and new jobs, the owners of the pipeline would pay property taxes on infrastructure.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.