The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, already more than a year behind schedule, missed another deadline Wednesday when North Carolina regulators said they would not issue an environmental permit by Dec. 15 as had been expected.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality sent the pipeline’s developers a request for more information on Monday, saying the request indefinitely suspends the Dec. 15 deadline to issue an air-quality permit for a planned compressor station that will push the natural gas downstream through the underground pipeline. The date to issue a decision on the air-quality permit will now depend on the promptness of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s responses and the amount of time it takes state officials to review the materials.
The Department of Environmental Quality, part of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration, had previously submitted four rounds of questions seeking additional information from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s developers. The agency is headed by career environmentalist Michael Regan, a former Southeast Regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund and a former official in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a partnership of Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy, was slated to begin construction in early 2018. Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the latest hiccup doesn’t affect the project’s schedule.
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“The air-quality permit only relates to the compressor station and doesn’t have any impact on our pipeline construction schedule,” Ruby said. “We don’t plan on beginning construction on the compressor station until spring or summer.”
Dozens of organizations have lined up against the project, saying it poses environmental risks and will effectively commit North Carolina to fossil fuels, as opposed to renewable resources, for decades to come. Duke Energy has said it needs the pipeline to import natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale formations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to operate more than a dozen natural gas-fueled power plants, some already built, others under development and still others projected in the future.
The proposed 600-mile underground pipeline would cross West Virginia and Virginia, traversing eight largely rural counties in North Carolina along the Interstate 95 corridor. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline issued a statement Wednesday saying that environmental regulators in West Virginia waived a water-quality certification for the project, removing one regulatory obstacle to full approval in that state. The Sierra Club denounced the decision as a “dereliction of duty.”
In North Carolina, the project requires numerous permits. It will need an air-quality permit to operate the compressor station in Northampton County; under state law, the permit decision must be issued within 30 days of the public hearing, which took place Nov. 15. Now the state agency says its request for more information stops the clock indefinitely until regulators are satisfied with responses and materials, which will require computer modeling and other advanced analyses.
The project also requires a water-quality permit to let the pipeline cross several hundred creeks, brooks and other waterways. It also requires two storm water permits, as well as two approvals for sediment- and erosion-control plans.
On Wednesday the North Carolina agency said it approved one of the sediment and erosion plans, with modifications.