While the Dakota Access Pipeline is making headlines, there’s a storm brewing in the East. Dominion wants to lay down nearly 600 miles of natural gas pipeline across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina to service energy companies across the region.
While seizure of private property for public uses has a long-established history, taking land for a privately owned and operated natural gas pipeline — as is happening more and more across the U.S. — is a troubling step.
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Dominion argues that it will improve access to safe, cleaner energy generation that will stabilize and lower prices for customers across the region. Rather than investing in actual clean energy, however, the firm apparently wants to continue relying on fossil fuels.
The governors of the three states involved all support the pipeline, but their populations are delivering mixed reviews.
When it was first presented, plans indicated that the pipeline would cut across national forests. Now, it will slice through more a populated landscape, including properties protected under conservation easements.
Like pipeline opponents in many places, people are concerned about the environmental impacts of transporting fossil fuels to generate energy, as well as the ecological fallout of pipeline construction in potentially vulnerable areas.
Even if the pipeline meets official scrutiny to move forward, habitat fragmentation is a serious concern.
For those with conservation easements, the proposed pipeline carries an especially bitter sting.
Numerous property owners are being ordered — via lawsuit — to turn over their land to the company. Those with easements, however, put land into easement specifically to forestall development.
Conservation easements are an incredibly valuable tool for protecting the landscape, as well as natural resources. But they only work when they’re perpetual — when someone buys land with a conservation easement, they must honor it.
This formalized protection is being shredded with threats to seize such property for pipeline construction, which requires a 75-foot swath of clearance — in addition to access for repairs and inspections.
Last year, multiple protesters were arrested after forming a blockade in opposition to the pipeline. This year, protesters planted and harvested sacred corn grown from seeds cultivated by the Ponca Tribe before it was expelled from its land.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is currently reviewing substantial data from both sides of the debate. The group will need to make some challenging decisions balancing the law, public interest, pressure from Dominion and concerns of the people who will be directly affected by the pipeline.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is only one among a slew of planned pipelines across the United States. Unfortunately, many don’t attract attention until protest reaches a critical mass, which makes them much more challenging for opponents to fight.
If you want to keep a closer eye on the proposed construction, FERC notices are a good place to start. They represent an early intervention point, providing information about project proposals and offering an opportunity for formal public comment.