Federal regulators should review as a whole separate energy company proposals to build a network of natural gas pipelines through West Virginia and Virginia to assess their overall environmental impact and need, a coalition of pipeline opponents said Monday.
They argued that individual reviews by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be piecemeal and conducted in a vacuum.
The Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and local activists said the region is amid an unprecedented era of proposed pipeline construction, requiring a single review called a programmatic environmental impact statement.
Besides assessing the need for the energy and the pipelines that would deliver it, the review would analyze the overall environmental and social impacts of hundreds of miles of new pipeline construction.
The various routes of the pipelines could potentially slice through national forests in Virginia and West Virginia, traverse farmland and travel through environmentally sensitive areas.
"Given the surge in pipeline proposals within this region, the reliance on a project-by-project environmental review has become increasingly ineffective and inadequate," said Tammy Belinsky of Preserve Craig. The Mountain Valley Pipeline's proposed route would go through Craig County in southwest Virginia.
Through a spokeswoman, FERC said it does not comment on pending projects.
Energy companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline filed their formal application Friday with FERC. The $3 billion, 300-mile pipeline would run from West Virginia to Southside Virginia.
One month earlier, Dominion Resources Inc. filed with FERC its application for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 564-mile, $5.1 billion project. It also would run from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina.
The other proposed pipelines are the Appalachian Connector Pipeline and the WB Express Project. They have not progressed as far as the other proposed pipelines and have not filed with FERC.
The pipelines, as well as others, would deliver natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Energy companies have said the pipelines would deliver energy that is cheap, abundant and cleaner than coal. They also have cited billions of dollars in economic benefits.
While politically popular, the proposed pipelines have stirred strong pockets of opposition along their proposed routes among landowners who don't want a pipeline on their property and environmentalists who oppose fossil fuels in favor of solar and other climate-friendly approaches, among others.
"Solar is the wave of the future," Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said on a conference call with the anti-pipeline groups. "Certainly we shouldn't be putting all of our eggs in natural gas."
In a statement, one of the principals in the Mountain Valley Pipeline said it would be impractical for FERC to consider the pipelines in a consolidated review.
"MVP and the other pipeline projects in the region are not similar actions because of the different purposes and needs for the projects and the disparity in geography and time," EQT Corp. said in the statement.