Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets another NC permit; one more to go

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring natural gas here from Pennsylvania and West Virginia
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring natural gas here from Pennsylvania and West Virginia

North Carolina officials on Tuesday issued the latest state permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, bringing the $6 billion interstate natural gas pipeline just one state permit away from the finish line.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality permit for a compressor station to be built in Northampton County; the station will push the natural gas under high pressure through the pipeline to the other end of the state in Robeson County, where the pipeline currently is scheduled to end.

The 600-mile project still requires a state stormwater permit for a construction yard in Cumberland County. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a federal permit for stream and wetland impacts, and the Department of Environmental Quality issued its state water quality permit in January.

In clearing the way for the compressor station, the state agency said it received more than 3,700 public comments and modified the permit based on the comments.

The station will release 19 tons of nitrogen oxide a year, adding to the area’s total nitrogen oxide emissions of 9,114 tons from cars, trucks and other sources, the agency said. Nitrogen oxide is a byproduct of combustion that reacts with oxygen to produce ozone, an irritant to the eyes and lungs.

The Sierra Club denounced North Carolina’s permitting decision, saying that a compressor stations is a noisy and dirty industrial piece of equipment that will be built near poor and minority communities.

“They are widely known for leaks of methane and other toxic chemicals that can cause a litany of health impairments to communities,” the environmental organization said in a statement. “Not only do compressor stations emit harmful pollution, they can catch fire or explode. They also produce noise pollution around the clock, sometimes spiking to levels compared to a 747 passenger jet taking off.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is being built by an energy consortium led by Charlotte’s Duke Energy and Richmond’s Dominion Resources. It will carry natural gas from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to provide fuel for Duke Energy power plants as well as for residential and business customers of Piedmont Natural Gas. Construction is scheduled to be completed in late 2019.

When the pipeline received a major state permit last month, it gained clearance to cross through and under more than 300 streams, ponds and other waterways across eight counties. Gov. Roy Cooper simultaneously announced that the companies would donate $57.8 million into a fund to be used for environmental mitigation, economic development and renewable energy projects. Critics denounced the fund, which was under the governor’s control, as inappropriate; the state legislature intervened and decided the money would be spent instead on public schools near the pipeline’s route.

“The permit for the Northampton County air compressor station brings the state one step closer to growing North Carolina’s economy, producing cleaner energy, and lowering energy costs for consumers and businesses across the region,” said Tammie McGee, Duke Energy spokeswoman. “The Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the compressor station will provide millions in tax benefits to Northampton County and support an economic overhaul that will make eastern North Carolina competitive in attracting new businesses, winning manufacturing sites and revitalizing whole communities.”

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski