The 600-mile natural gas pipeline is planned to run from West Virginia’s natural gas fields through Virginia and North Carolina. The $6 billion project backed by Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Richmond-based Dominion Resources is moving steadily through a thicket of federal and state requirements and its developers expect to complete the permitting process by mid-December. But disputes over access to local property and legal objections from environmental groups could still stall the massive tree cutting, tunneling and trenching needed for the pipeline.
Such obstacles may be temporary given the resources and political clout of the developers, but they are necessary and welcome. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to allow for a full public assessment of the pipeline before it granted approval. Appeals of that decision by various environmental and consumer advocacy groups will buy time for a fuller assessment of the need for the pipeline, its impact on the land and waterways and the risks it poses to residents who would live near it.
Representatives of Duke Energy and Dominion Resources acknowledge the need to reduce carbon emissions and say their companies are doing so. They note that coal-fired power plants have been converted to facilities fueled by cleaner burning natural gas, and Duke Energy has made large investments in solar power.
That’s fine, but it’s hardly enough. Natural gas is a cleaner source, but extracting it through hydraulic fracturing leads to extensive leaks of methane, a far more potent heat-trapping gas than than the carbon dioxide that coal plants emit. And while Duke has invested in solar power, renewable energy provides only a small fraction of its overall power generation. Allowing Duke to tap into a huge new supply of natural gas with the costs passed on to ratepayers will only increase the utility’s dependance on natural gas when it should be weaning itself off fossil fuels.