Category Archives: Compressor Stations

Environmental Justice in Buckingham County

A March 25, 2018, article in the Atlanta Black Herald discusses How a Historically Black Virginia Community is Taking On a Pipeline and Rebuking the Gospel of Fossil Fuels.

“God wants to build a pipeline. More specifically, he wants the Koch brothers, the controversial right-wing billionaires and petrochemical moguls, to shepherd this divine intervention of natural gas along a 600-mile path from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through rural Buckingham County, Virginia, south of Richmond. This was the largely veiled message behind a well-attended December 2016 gospel event held at a community center in Richmond’s East Highland Park neighborhood where hundreds of mostly African-American area residents praised the skies above while celebrity musical acts commanded the stage.

“Unbeknownst to many attendees, the mission of the event itself was anything but holy. Part of a well-funded propaganda campaign, the concert was sponsored by Fueling US Forward, a fossil fuel advocacy group supported by Koch Industries, and included an intermission panel with industry lobbyists promoting an increased reliance on fossil fuels and such giveaways as the paying-off of attendees’ power bills….

“But some area residents know a false prophet when they see one. ‘We’re dealing with environmental injustice because here in the Union Hill communities it’s predominantly Black,’ said John Laury, a native of Buckingham who raises cattle on his scenic 98-acre farm. ‘They anticipated choosing us here in a predominantly Black area because they anticipated the least resistance. But they have received more resistance than they had anticipated.'”

As a bonus, listen to John and Ruby Laury, living in the compressor station target zone in Buckingham County, speak on environmental justice.

Read the full article here. Another article on the same topic is here.

Buckingham Judge Dismisses BREDL Suit


On January 29, 2018, Buckingham Circuit Court Judge William Alexander dismissed the case dealing with a proposed compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in a minority section of the county. Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League brought the case, appealing the Buckingham Board of Supervisor’s permitting of the ACP compressor station in Union Hill. The judge said the notice of appeal filed did not meet the requirements, and petition for appeal was filed past the 30-day window against actions from the county.

Pastor Paul Wilson, of Union Grove Baptist Church, said, “The decision, of course, did not go in our favor where we were asking for the county motion or ruling to be set aside in their activities for granting the conditional permit for the proposed compressor station,” and added that they plan to appeal the decision to dismiss the case. Judge Alexander said he was uncertain about parts of the case, since the plaintiff had good arguments, and he hopes the case will be reviewed by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Video: Beyond the Pipeline

A new video, Beyond the Pipeline, focuses on ways individuals and communities in Augusta, Nelson, and Buckingham counties are coming together to stand up against the ACP.

Lee White: “It starts on the local level. We have to act. We have to step up. It’s our responsibility.”

Richard Averitt: “We’re fighting an extraordinarily powerful enterprise. And really, at its core, we’re fighting things that are so hard-baked into our legal system, and our society, and the incentives that are there, that you recognize when you get into this that it’s not really about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. That’s a symptom of a much, much bigger problem, and it’s going to take all of us to turn it around.”

Join us in the fight!

(A production of Amanda Joy Photographics, Conservation Division.)

2017 in Review

2017 was a busy year in the pipeline fight. Here are some highlights – there are a lot!

On December 30, 2016, FERC released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC extended the usual 45-day period for public comment so the deadline was April 6, 2017. Over January-March 2017 FERC held public hearings on the DEIS, where the majority of speakers (once beyond Dominion’s front-loaded supporters) pointed out omissions and inaccuracies in the DEIS, as well as numerous instances where Dominion had not provided required information. Thousands of groups and individuals, some property owners along the route and others not, filed comments with FERC.

On January 5, 2017, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors ignored their constituents so thoroughly that after five hours of testimony almost totally opposed to the ACP compressor station in Buckingham County, they read a PREPARED statement approving the station, having obviously reached their decision well ahead of the meeting. On February 2 a complaint for declaratory relief was filed against the Supervisors and Dominion asking that the special use permit for the station be vacated.

FERC Commissioner Norman Bay resigned on February 3, and with only two remaining commissioners, FERC no longer had a quorum and could not issue decisions.

Judge Michael T. Garrett ruled in Nelson County Circuit Court on February 6, 2017, that Dominion may have access to survey for the proposed ACP on the property of landowners who had steadfastly denied access. The landowners filed a joint notice of appeal with the Virginia State Court of Appeals in early March.

On February 15 Oil Change International released two studies finding that if built, the controversial Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would together contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 45 coal-fired power plants — some 158 million metric tons a year. ACP basic facts: http://priceofoil.org/2017/02/15/atlantic-coast-pipeline-greenhouse-gas-emissions-briefing/ ACP full briefing: http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2017/02/atlantic_coast_pipeline_web_final_v3.pdf

In mid-March, Friends of Nelson released the Steep Slope Report by Blackburn Consulting Services, which concluded that “Dominion has not adequately identified those soils and landforms that are prone to debris flows (and) landslides.” The report also states that “the potential for debris flows in the very steep mountainous portions of Nelson County is underestimated by the reports submitted to FERC by Dominion.” Steep Slopes Study by Blackburn Consulting:
http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Final-Steep-Slope-Report-March-2017.pdf

On April 5 Friends of Nelson submitted comments to FERC on the DEIS – 96 pages including charts, diagrams, maps, and photos. Read it here: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20170405-5161

On April 6, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality announced that both proposed Virginia pipelines, the ACP and the MVP, would be subject to DEQ water-quality review. This meant that DEQ would require water quality certifications under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act for each segment of both projects that crosses or potentially affects water bodies. But the next day, on April 7, 2017, DEQ provided water quality certification for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2017 Nationwide Permits, thus issuing a blanket Clean Water Act section 401 certification for pipelines that are covered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit number 12. And in late May DEQ said they would not require specific water quality impact analysis for water crossings for the proposed ACP or MVP. On June 5, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) filed suit against the DEQ in state Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, asking the court to rule that DEQ issued a Clean Water Act section 401 Water Quality Certification for construction of utility lines, including natural gas pipelines, in state waters without legal authority to do so and without ensuring water quality would be protected.

On April 27, a briefing paper released details on how Dominion intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of ACP construction, flattening them by anywhere from 10 to 60 feet. See http://friendsofnelson.com/press-release-acp-would-require-extensive-mountaintop-removal/

June 17-July 2: Walking the Line. Group walks the proposed ACP path for 150 miles, through Bath, Augusta and Nelson Counties, into the heart of Virginia, Buckingham County, where the walk ends at Union Hill, the site of the proposed compressor station.

On June 29, 2017, the Virginia Conservation Network, along with its partners Southern Environmental Law Center and Shenandoah Valley Network, sent a letter (signed by over 80 organizations) to Governor McAuliffe, DEQ Director David Paylor and the State Water Control Board asking them to use their full authority under the Clean Water Act to conduct a thorough and transparent review of stream and wetland crossings along the proposed ACP and MVP fracked gas pipeline routes and ensure that Virginia water quality standards are met.

And then there was one: Friday June 30, 2017, was FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable’s final day at FERC. Although a pair of Trump administration nominees remain on the sidelines awaiting Senate votes, Honorable’s a departure leaves the already quorumless panel with a single member.

At their meeting on July 4, members of Wintergreen Property Owners Association voted overwhelmingly for a new covenant prohibiting construction of “any lines, facilities, structures, or other appurtenances related to the transmission of utilities” if they do not provide services to the Association or its members.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final Environmental Impact Statement on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on July 21, 2017. FERC has 90 days to make a decision on issuing a certificate of approval for the project. The full statement can be found here: https://ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2017/07-21-17-FEIS.asp. The summary statement from FERC staff said, “The FERC staff concludes that construction and operation of ACP and SHP would result in some adverse effects,” but that with adherence to mitigation measure and FERC staff recommendations “most, but not all of these impacts, would be reduced to less-than-significant levels.” FERC said their determinations were based on information provided by Dominion and ACP, with no mention of extensive contradictory information filed by a variety of experts.

Also on July 21, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision to authorize the use and occupancy of National Forest System lands for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Forest Service release statement is available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd551404.pdf.

In July Friends of Nelson posted interactive maps showing the ACP route through Nelson County. See http://friendsofnelson.com/information-resources/maps/

Through August, DEQ held public hearings to receive comments on draft water quality certifications designed to protect water quality along the routes of the proposed ACP and MVP.

On August 3, 2017, the Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson. They join Cheryl LaFleur, who had been the sole member of the five member commission, so FERC now has a quorum.

In mid-August, Friends of Nelson submitted extensive comments to DEQ on the proposed 401 Water Quality Certifications for the ACP. See http://friendsofnelson.com/friends-of-nelson-submits-comments-to-deq/ And a group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the DEQ on August 22, finding that DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cause to Virginia’s waters. See http://friendsofnelson.com/failure-to-meet-minimum-standards-of-scientific-proof/

On August 22, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed without argument to hear on appeal the survey suit against the ACP brought on behalf of six Nelson residents by Lollar Law. Briefings will take place in autumn 2017, and the oral arguments before the full seven-justice court will take place in late 2017 or early 2018. See http://friendsofnelson.com/virginia-supreme-court-to-hear-survey-case/

On August 22 in a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that a Florida pipeline project would deliver to power plants.

A lawsuit, filed September 5 in Washington D.C. federal district court, on behalf of 57 Landowners, Bold Alliance and Friends of Nelson, challenged the constitutionality of the eminent domain provisions of the Natural Gas Act, and seeking to end the unconstitutional and unconscionable process of taking citizens’ private property via eminent domain for a corporation’s profits — and not for “the public good” as the Constitution intended.

September 15-17: No Pipeline Action Camp held in Nelson County, sponsored by Friends of Nelson, Greenpeace, and Blue Ridge Rapid Response.

In mid-September North Carolina delayed by three months its decision on certification of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. This followed West Virginia’s September 7 announcement that the state was vacating its water quality certification for the proposed MVP in order to reevaluate. Virginia’s DEQ pressed ahead, even as other states hit the brakes.

In late September, Dan Weekley, Dominion Energy’s vice president and general manager of Southern pipeline operations, told attendees at an energy conference ‘everybody knows’ the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — currently slated to pass through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina — is not going to stop there, despite what the current plans say, and that the ACP will be extended into South Carolina.

The NC DEQ disapproved the erosion and sedimentation control plan submitted to the agency by the ACP, Their September 26, 2017, letter of disapproval, cites 17 specific deficiencies in the submitted plan as grounds for disapproval.

Late on Friday evening October 13, FERC approved both the ACP and the MVP. Authorization had been widely expected by both supporters and opponents of the pipelines. The certificates granted by the commission came with dozens of conditions, and other necessary permits for both projects are still pending. The approval was issued with a highly unusual dissenting opinion by Commissioner Cheryl A. LaFleur. The FERC permit is not the final word on the projects. VA, NC and WV must still issue environmental permits.

Meeting in Richmond on October 16, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) voted to approve Dominion’s application for 11 land conversions of open-space easements on the route of the proposed ACP through southern Highland, northern Bath, Augusta and Nelson counties, and approved a single swap for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline near Roanoke.

On October 18 Dominion released a proposed construction plan, see http://friendsofnelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dominion-construction-plan20171018-5002-32464467.pdf, When they sent their original “we want your land” letters in spring 2014, Dominion planned to start construction of the ACP in the Fall of 2016 and have the pipeline in service sometime early in 2018. But Dominion did not expect so many people and organizations to fight back!

On November 2, 2017, the Senate approved Trump’s final two nominees to FERC, giving the Commission the full five members for the first time in two years.

On November 13, a motion was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting a rehearing of the Commission’s order issuing a certificate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The petition, filed on behalf of 22 organizations (including Friends of Nelson) and 10 individuals. See https://www.abralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Petition_for_Rehearing_to_FERC_20171113.pdf.

On November 14 Friends of Nelson filed a Request for Rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on FERC’s decision to issue a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The filing is on behalf of 63 property owners and citizens of Nelson County, and 4 community organizations.

The NAACP released a report on November 14, Fumes Across the Fence Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities. “The life-threatening burdens placed on communities of color near oil and gas facilities are the result of systemic oppression perpetuated by the traditional energy industry, which exposes communities to health, economic, and social hazards. Communities impacted by oil and gas facility operations remain affected due to energy companies’ heavy polluting, low wages for dangerous work, and government lobbying against local interests.”

On November 17, the US Forest Service released a final Record of Decision (ROD) approving amendments to the Forest Plans for the Monongahela National Forest and the George Washington National Forest to accommodate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

Late in the afternoon on December 7, 2017, after two days of hearings, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The vote was 5-2, with members Roberta Kellam and G. Nissa Dean dissenting.

On December 12, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted 4 to 3 to approve certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, the approval does not immediately grant the 401 water permits requested by Dominion; it is subject to certain conditions and to information which must be provided by the ACP. The permit can’t take effect until several additional studies are reviewed and approved by DEQ, including soil and erosion control plans and stormwater management plans. Although this is not an outright denial of the permits, it does not allow Dominion to move forward at this time.

SO…. As we move into fourth year of the pipeline fight, we know the ACP is closer to receiving all final approvals, but we continue our work to stop this economically unnecessary and environmental damaging project. Legal challenges to some approvals have already been filed, more are being evaluated. No, the pipeline is NOT a done deal.

Dominion Sues to Condemn Properties

On December 12, 2017, NBC29 reported that Dominion had begun the process to take land for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by asking a federal court to allow it to use eminent domain for certain properties along the proposed route. Some of the affected landowners first learned of the suits against them from news reports.

Jonathan Sokolow’s article in Blue Virginia on December 18, 2017, has the eye-catching headline, Dominion Sues to Condemn Ralph Northam’s Family Farm to Build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Everything but the Ralph Northam part is true – but less well known and less powerful Virginians are not so lucky.

“Dominion, the main company behind the ACP, is not deterred by the fact that the Virginia State Water Control Board just refused to issue a permit to start construction until further studies are completed. Nor is Dominion deterred by the fact that three of the seven members of the Board voted outright to kill the project – meaning one more no vote in the future, which is very possible, would stop the pipeline in its tracks. These facts did not prevent Dominion from ruining the holiday season of many Virginians.”

Sokolow writes about property owners with 2 acres, 5 acres, 10 acres “sued by Dominion in federal court on December 8 in an action to ‘condemn’ – that’s the word Dominion uses -” their properties. Dominion also sued Variety Shade Landowners of Virginia to condemn a 1.86 plot they own – ironic, because Variety Shade previously sold Dominion 68 acres in Buckingham to build the massive compressor station. But Dominion now wants that additional 1.86 acres.

Imagine you own and live on one of these small plots. “Dominion wants ‘immediate entry and possession’ of the property. It claims that it ‘must begin construction of the ACP project as soon as possible’ because that is the timetable Dominion set. Dominion wants the unfettered right to ‘construct, operate, maintain, replace, repair, remove or abandon the ACP Project’ – yes, they want to reserve the right to abandon the project – and it wants the right to ‘change the location of the installed pipeline’ on the property ‘as may be necessary or advisable.’ …. Dominion wants the right to enter and leave the property ‘through any existing roads on the Property’ – for example, a driveway – and that Dominion intends to use those roads ‘to transport pipe, vehicles, machinery, persons, equipment, or other materials to and from’ the property. And Dominion seeks a court order to allow it ‘to fell trees and clear brush or other vegetation as necessary.’ …. Dominion tells the court that the owner of the property can still live there and use his property ‘in any manner that will not interfere with the use and enjoyment of Atlantic’s rights.'”

Yes, the rightful owners may use the property as long as they do not interfere with Dominion’s “use and enjoyment.” And to top it off, Dominion says it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the properties are not condemned immediately, while the harm to landowners would be “slight at best.”

(For a description of what “slight at best” might mean just during the construction process, read the December 18, 2017, article about Atlantic Sunrise construction by Jack McCallum, What happens when a pipeline is built in your backyard.)

Harking back to his startling headline, Sokolow says, “We have commented elsewhere about the failure of many Democrats, particularly in Northern Virginia, to speak out against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines – what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the ‘appalling silence’ of the good people. One wonders whether Ralph Northam would stay silent if the land being condemned belonged to him. What if these condemnation proceedings were taking place in Arlington, or Alexandria, or Falls Church, or Fairfax, or Reston? What if Dominion wanted to take your land and was telling a court that the harm you would suffer would be ‘slight at best?’ Would you stay silent?”

Read Sokolow’s full article here.

“The Appalling Silence of Good People”

Writing in Blue Virginia on November 27, 2017, Jonathan Sokolow reminds us that, “In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested as part of the Birmingham Campaign, an effort to bring national attention to systemic racism in one of America’s most segregated cities. As he sat in a jail cell, King wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which would become a bedrock document of the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to leaders who, despite good intentions, failed to speak up against injustice, King famously wrote: ‘We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.’ In Virginia, we are now suffering from an ‘appalling silence’ over the environmental racism at the heart of Dominion Energy’s controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. …. The appalling silence over Dominion’s plans comes from many who Dr. King would consider to be ‘good people.’ But the silence has become deafening, particularly with the environmental racism of the linchpin of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – Dominion’s proposed compressor station in Union Hill in Buckingham County, Virginia.”

Sokolow reviews Dominion’s purchase from the white descendants of what was once a large tobacco producing slave plantation known as Variety Shade to build the compressor station in Buckingham County that would service the ACP for 200 miles in each direction, reminds us of the environmental and health hazards of such compressor stations, and writes that “The population within one mile of the proposed facility – an area commonly referred to in pipeline planning documents as the ‘incineration zone’ in case of an accident – is 85% African American. Many of those residents, as well as unknown others buried in unmarked cemeteries, are descendants of the slaves who worked that plantation and freedmen who acquired some of the land after the Civil War. Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources is considering naming Union Hill as a state Historic District and Preservation Virginia has listed it as a ‘Most Endangered Historic Place.'”

Sokolow tells us that the November 13, 2017, filing to FERC by a number of environmental and community organizations asking for reconsideration of the ACP approval, “offers the most detailed and compelling evidence to date that the Union Hill compressor station and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline overall should be rejected. And it should be rejected not just because construction and operation of another massive fracked-gas pipeline will worsen climate change and cause lasting damage to Virginia’s land and water, but also specifically because of the health and other dangers posed to all people who live in the pipeline’s path — and particularly to communities of color. Virginia’s leaders – including Democrats who presumably do not want to be complicit in an act of environmental racism that affects people’s health – should pay attention to the evidence of the health effects of the proposed compressor station as discussed in the FERC filing.”

After listing numerous examples of environmental racism and injustice along the pipeline route in both Virginia and North Carolina, Sokolow says, “The proposed Union Hill compressor station is just one window into the fact that the entire Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is infected with environmental racism.”

He reminds us that “all people of good will can help break the silence by attending the Water is Life Rally and Concert in Richmond on December 2, by writing or calling their elected representatives or by taking any of the easy actions outlined here.”

Read the full article here.