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Dominion tells FERC that Atlantic Coast construction should go on

A Dominion Energy Inc. unit told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that construction can continue as authorized on the 1.5-Bcf/d Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline.

Dominion Energy Transmission Inc. gave its opinion in an Aug. 7 letter soon after the commission stopped a nearby pipeline project that, like Atlantic Coast, lost federal agency authorizations due to a court order.

Dominion Energy Transmission said that although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit vacated a U.S. National Park Service permit for crossing under the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Atlantic Coast route will remain the same. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit dockets 18-1082, 18-1083)

"Given the very specific guidance from the court's opinion, Atlantic is confident that the [National Park Service] will quickly issue a new permit resolving the court's concerns," Dominion Energy Transmission said. The National Park Service right of way permit, issued in December 2017, applied to about one mile of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast route.

Energy industry analysts have said FERC could order a stop to construction on Atlantic Coast similar to the halt the commission placed on Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC's 2-Bcf/d pipeline project after the 4th Circuit stripped authorizations from the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a 3.5-mile crossing of the Jefferson National Forest. In the Mountain Valley case, FERC said the process of regaining those authorizations could alter the project's 300-mile route. (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit docket 17-1271)

Differentiating Atlantic Coast from Mountain Valley, Dominion Energy Transmission said the National Park Service is unlikely to make changes to Atlantic Coast's route because it already follows the best path. On the route from West Virginia to Virginia, the pipeline cannot feasibly go around the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs about 470 miles from Rockfish Gap in Virginia to Swain County, N.C., and the current plan to use horizontal directional drilling to place the pipeline under the parkway would have minimal impact, the company said. The right-of-way permit granted construction for a segment under the Blue Ridge Parkway in Augusta and Nelson counties in Virginia.

Analysts said they were skeptical of how quickly the National Park Service would restore the permit for Atlantic Coast, which could cause delays to the pipeline's in-service date. Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the project will keep a late 2019 in-service date.

Dominion Energy Transmission also told FERC that the 4th Circuit's explanation of an earlier order in which the court vacated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service incidental take statement, which allows limited disturbance of wildlife, would have no additional effect on Atlantic Coast.

The $6 billion to $6.5 billion pipeline project is a joint venture backed by Dominion, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co. The 42-inch-diameter pipeline, which received a FERC certificate order in October 2017, will run through parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. (FERC docket CP15-554)