The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:
President Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill Tuesday, but an energy project that promises more benefits to North Carolina is quietly advancing.
It’s the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will carry natural gas 550 miles from West Virginia across Virginia and through North Carolina on a north-south line roughly tracking Interstate 95.
Surveying is underway. Public meetings in affected communities have been held. A permit must be granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and that will require studies of the potential impact on the environment, cultural and historic resources, public safety and other concerns. If all goes according to plan, the pipeline could be operational by late-2018 at a cost of $4.5 billion to $5 billion.
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The pipeline will be built and operated by Dominion, a Richmond, Va.-based energy company, and jointly owned by Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources.
While the construction will create some jobs and boost spending in communities along the route, and the new infrastructure will add to local property tax bases, the greatest benefit will come from easier access to the abundant quantities of natural gas found in the Utica and Marcellus shale basins of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
North Carolina currently is served by a single pipeline delivering natural gas from the Gulf Coast to the western and central parts of the state. The new project will steer what Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called an “energy superhighway” to Eastern North Carolina. It will make supplies more stable and likely reduce costs. Those are important returns on investments for Piedmont Natural Gas and its growing customer base and for Duke, which continues to convert coal-burning power plants to cleaner natural gas. Also, new industries will find a warmer business climate where they can be assured of reliable, inexpensive energy.
The pipeline will end in Robeson County, at an existing Piedmont Natural Gas storage and transmission facility.
This project won’t carry the stigma of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transmit oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada. Extracting that oil leaves a far heavier carbon footprint than does natural gas extraction, even by means of hydraulic fracturing.
Clearing a path for the pipeline could have some detrimental effects, and some landowners will object. Yet, the federal regulatory review process likely will be more stringent for this project than the state has required to allow fracking.
What’s not known is the impact on potential natural gas exploration and extraction in North Carolina. With supplies coming in greater volume and at potentially less cost from gas-rich states to the north, any advantage of drilling in North Carolina, where gas deposits are spottier, may decline. But much more about that will be known by 2018.
For now, the new pipeline looks like an opportunity to assure that North Carolina natural gas consumers will be better served for a long time to come.
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