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Dominion confident it will win Atlantic Coast Pipeline legal challenges

Highlights

Exec not worried partners, end users will abandon project

Pipeline has faced delays, cost increases amid opposition

Boston — Dominion Energy expects to win one of two legal challenges its Atlantic Coast Pipeline faces within the next four to six weeks and be able to resume construction on a portion of the 600-mile route after that, an executive said Tuesday.

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Donald Raikes, senior vice president for gas transmission operations in Dominion's Gas Infrastructure Group, added that he believes the US Supreme Court will agree to hear the second legal challenge, involving a permit to cross the Appalachian Trail, and ultimately rule in the operator's favor, allowing it to complete the project.

The optimism comes as Dominion holds to its current timeline to begin partial service in late 2020 and full service in early 2021. The up-to-$7.5 billion project has been beset by delays and cost increases, largely because of opposition from environmental groups that has resulted in the legal challenges. Atlantic Coast Pipeline is among several Northeast gas infrastructure projects designed to boost takeaway capacity from the Appalachian Basin that have been delayed or stalled because of regulatory and legal hurdles.

"This is not about Duke, or Dominion or Southern," Raikes said at the LDC Gas Forums conference in Boston. "This is about the industry. This is about all of us."

Also at the conference on Tuesday, attendees received updates on pending Northeast gas projects involving Enbridge and Iroquois Gas Transmission. Officials said that while not all Northeast projects are seeing permitting headwinds, the ones in the region that seem to be advancing of late utilize existing infrastructure, rather than call for building from scratch.

The 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a joint venture of Dominion, Duke Energy, Southern Company and Duke's Piedmont Natural Gas that will be operated by Dominion. It is being designed to move gas production from points in West Virginia to markets and pipeline connections in Virginia and North Carolina.

The federal government is expected to back with its own appeal Dominion's Supreme Court appeal of a 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision that invalidated US Forest Service authorizations for the project to cross the Appalachian Trail.

While the government's support could bolster Dominion's case, success is not assured. Some analysts have questioned whether the high court will hear the case, and if it does whether it will make a favorable decision in a timely way to allow the operator to keep to its current in-service schedule. The 4th Circuit has become a very difficult venue for Dominion.

During a separate presentation at the conference, Dan Diefenbach, manager of facility planning and design for Dominion Energy Transmission, said 35 miles of the pipeline are now in the ground in West Virginia and North Carolina.

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Asked if Dominion was worried some of its partners or end-users may abandon Atlantic Coast Pipeline if it is delayed further or its costs rise further, Raikes said he believes the operator has taken a conservative approach to the outcome of its two major legal hurdles.

He also compared the questions Dominion faced about the ability to finish the company's Cove Point LNG export terminal in Maryland, which began shipping cargoes in March 2018, to the current issues faced by Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

"Some people said Cove Point would never get done. Dominion said it would," Raikes said.

Speaking about Atlantic Coast Pipeline, he added, "We're very confident we will get it done, and are on the right side of it."

-- Harry Weber, Harry.Weber@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com