Buckingham approves compressor station for Dominion pipeline

Article Courtesy of the Richmond Times Dispatch
By ROBERT ZULLO

After a five-hour public hearing Thursday night, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a controversial compressor station, part of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project spearheaded by Dominion, over the objections of dozens of opponents.

“In all the board has been part of a full and wide discussion of this matter,” said Supervisor Donald E. Bryan, who added that the board had been grappling with the compressor station proposal for about two years and said he had consulted other counties with compressor stations and found no evidence of detrimental health or noise effects.

Two supervisors abstained, one because he works for Dominion and the other because he has interest in land “pertaining to the pipeline.”

Annie Parr, born and raised in Buckingham, where her family has owned hundreds of acres of land for generations, was incensed by the vote.

“Shame on every one of you,” she told the supervisors at the end of the hearing, during which 95 speakers signed up and the board’s 141-capacity chambers were packed with pipeline and compressor station opponents from Buckingham and elsewhere in Virginia.

***

The proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina is being developed by a partnership led by Dominion but also consisting of Duke Energy and its Piedmont Natural Gas subsidiary and Southern Company Gas, owner of Virginia Natural Gas in Virginia Beach.

“It’s an injustice, if for no other reason than eminent domain for private gain,” Parr said before the meeting. “It’s a lot of issues involved, but that’s the bottom one.”

The 53,783-horsepower compressor station would create the pressure to push the gas from Marcellus shale plays in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio through the pipeline on a 68-acre parcel along state Route 56 in western Buckingham, where the ACP would intersect with the Transco Pipeline.

The county Planning Commission has already approved the permit, with a lengthy list of conditions related to noise, lighting, site layout and air pollution controls. The Board of Supervisors tacked on some additional conditions, though those were not available Thursday night. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality must still approve an air permit for the station.

Irene Leech, a 58-year-old cattle farmer, said the proposed pipeline would bisect land that has been in her family for 100 years.

“Our land is our heritage,” she said. “It’s not a commodity I could sell to take care of myself. ... I can’t imagine having to put my head down every night in that blast zone.”

Most of the 95 people who signed up to speak, which included members of the Friends of Buckingham community group and the Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, a nearby spiritual community that opposes the pipeline and compressor station, implored the board to deny the permit.

“Mitigation means that there is something wrong stirring in our spirits that we are worried about,” said Dhyani Simonini, a retired teacher.

“There is something wrong here. I know that the boards of Buckingham County have always cared about two things: They have cared about prosperity for the county and jobs. And there is nothing wrong with those values. But you have to watch out. … I ask you to turn down this compressor and to say, ‘This is an agricultural county, and we have everything we need to find the jobs.’ ”

The objections centered on safety hazards, emissions and noise from the proposed station, which would have a footprint of about 18 acres on the parcel, as well as environmental justice and racism arguments, given the fact that the Union Hill location is in a predominantly black community.

The Rev. Paul Wilson, pastor of the Union Hill and Union Grove Baptist churches, told the supervisors that approving the permit amounted to a violation of the 10 Commandments.

“Dominion is not a god; Dominion does not have a soul,” he said. “God will hold you accountable, the church will hold you accountable, the people will hold you accountable. ... Let there be no blood on your hands.”

Some speakers also worried about “blowdowns,” when gas is vented from the pipeline for maintenance or during emergencies.

Evan Johns, an attorney for Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and other speakers said the compressor station was ineligible for a special-use permit because the pipeline is not a public utility and the station is a transmission compressor, not a distribution compressor.

The agricultural district in question permits only “public utility booster or relay stations,” a category that does not extend to the proposed Buckingham station, they argued.

The hearing came less than a week after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft environmental impact statement that said the $5.1 billion pipeline would have “some adverse and significant environmental impacts,” though most would be reduced to “less-than-significant levels” with mitigating measures proposed by the partners building the pipeline and recommendations by federal regulators.

***

The Buckingham station is one of three proposed to maintain pressure in the pipeline, which would bring gas from the Marcellus shale fields to southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina.

Carla Picard, a spokeswoman for the pipeline, told the Board of Supervisors that North Carolina, in particular, is “starved for this particular resource.”

The Buckingham station would allow the new pipeline to move natural gas to and from the Transco line, which extends up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico. And though critics of the pipeline have questioned its necessity and alleged that the pipeline is really about connecting shale gas to export terminals, Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby called that “total misinformation.”

“All of the natural gas will be purchased by public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina,” he said. Ruby said the pipeline has already reached easement agreements with more than half of the 2,900 private landowners along the route, including in Buckingham. He called eminent domain “an absolute last resort.”

Picard and Ruby said the compressor station would be equipped with best-in-class features to limit emissions and noise.

The feared blowdowns would occur only about once every five years, Picard said, with other release of gas being kept to a minimum.

“The methane that runs through this pipe is our product,” she said. “We’re highly motivated to keep it in the pipe.”

A noise study Picard presented said the compressor station would be barely perceptible over background levels.

“Dominion employees and contractors have been exposed to far more methane venting than the general public and have not suffered any headaches, nosebleeds or any other health effects,” the ACP presentation to the board said.

Picard added that the station would be subject to rigorous federal and state requirements and would be continuously monitored. The station and pipeline would also provide $8.7 million in tax revenue to the county in its first eight years of operation, according to the pipeline presentation.

“Maybe you’re really hoping against hope that Dominion is going to become Santa Claus for the county with no risk,” Jeff Kamen, a former journalist who lives near the proposed station, told the board. “They’re not Santa Claus. … We are flyover for them, whatever they told you tonight.”

Not everyone was against the pipeline, however. Kevin Battle, a union boilermaker, said he and other workers were eager for the chance to help build the compressor station.

A few speakers took aim at the opponents.

“Every person here, when they go home at night, wants their heat on and cold food in the refrigerator,” said Jared Turner, who said he makes his living building and maintaining power plants. “Did anybody walk to this meeting?”

Dominion hopes to secure federal approval later this year and begin construction by this fall.

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