Massive project could be good for Sampson

Last updated: September 04. 2014 7:00AM - 755 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentMichael Thompson of Dominion N.C. Power talks about the benefits of a massive natural gas pipeline project spanning three states, a small portion of which will sneak into Sampson County.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentMichael Thompson of Dominion N.C. Power talks about the benefits of a massive natural gas pipeline project spanning three states, a small portion of which will sneak into Sampson County.
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A 550-mile interstate natural gas pipeline extending from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina will have a segment in Sampson County, a prospect lauded by commissioners and the county’s economic developer.

On Tuesday, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas announced the selection of Dominion N.C. Power to build and operate the natural gas pipeline, called the “Atlantic Coast Pipeline.” Company officials ended the day in Sampson, explaining the importance of a project that would see about 8 miles of pipe constructed in the northern part of the county.

The project will meet the region’s rapidly growing demand for natural gas, add a cleaner, less expensive resource for residential and commercial customers and potentially lead to more economic development opportunities, said Michael Thompson of Dominion.

“Southeastern North Carolina is energy-starved, so to bring this project … is a great thing,” Thompson said.

The project, also known as Southeast Reliability Project (SERP), is expected to serve as a key infrastructure engine to drive economic development and create jobs, helping counties on the pipeline’s route attract new, energy-dependent businesses and industries, especially along the Interstate 95 corridor in eastern North Carolina.

Thompson said it was an area of the country that was “energy starved.”

Sampson Economic developer John Swope agreed, alluding to the positive effects the project would have in Sampson, which will have about 8 miles of pipeline across the northwestern tip of the county, affecting 73 parcels.

Thompson said he was honored to end a big day in Sampson County, one of many such meetings with local county officials to be held in the coming weeks and months.

The pipeline has an estimated cost of between $4.5 billion and $5 billion, an initial capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, and a target in-service date of late 2018. The project will require Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, which Dominion will seek to secure by summer 2016.

The pipeline’s main customers are six utilities and related companies that collectively will purchase a substantial majority of the pipeline’s capacity to transport natural gas, including Duke Energy Carolinas, Duke Energy Progress and Piedmont Natural Gas.

The purchases will be made through 20-year contracts, subject to state regulatory approval. The pipeline’s owners are negotiating with other potential customers as well. Gas will be carried through a 42-inch-diameter pipe in West Virginia and Virginia, and a 36-inch-diameter pipe in North Carolina.

In a joint statement, the four companies’ CEOs — Dominion’s Thomas Farrell, Duke Energy’s Lynn Good, Piedmont’s Thomas Skains and AGL Resources’ John Somerhalder — said the pipeline represents a major step forward for the region’s energy security, economic future and carbon reduction:

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a transformational project for our region. It will create thousands of construction jobs during development and significant new revenue for state and local governments throughout North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The expanded source of gas will also help fuel economic development across the region as businesses and homes rely more on natural gas.”

Natural gas is increasingly important for advanced electricity generation, contributing to significantly lower greenhouse gas and other emissions, the CEOs said. “The project will also provide more reliable access to new sources of natural gas, keeping consumers’ energy costs down — even during the coldest and hottest weather,” their statement read.

Currently, North Carolina is served primarily by only one major interstate natural gas pipeline traversing the state’s western and central regions, transporting natural gas largely from the Gulf Coast region.

Last winter’s extremely cold temperatures, which resulted in high demand and high prices for natural gas across much of the U.S., underscored the national need for more natural gas pipelines. Earlier this year, Duke and Piedmont sought a new, second natural gas pipeline that would transport additional large-scale supplies — from different sources — into the state.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will meet those objectives, project officials said.

The pipeline will begin in Harrison County, W.Va., at an existing natural gas transmission facility, then travel southeast through four other West Virginia counties and 13 Virginia counties before entering North Carolina.

A separate, 70-mile extension pipeline will split off from the main pipeline at the Virginia-North Carolina border, traveling eastward through southeast Virginia to that state’s Hampton Roads region, which includes Norfolk and other cities served by Virginia Natural Gas, an AGL Resources subsidiary.

In North Carolina, the pipeline will enter the state in Northampton County, travel southwest through six other counties including Sampson, then end in Robeson County at existing Piedmont Natural Gas transmission facilities. While that is the basic path, the exact route has not been finalized.

“The final pipeline route has not been selected, so in that way it is a very fluid project,” Thompson told commissioners.

Dominion is conducting surveys and will determine the best route based on landowner input and an assessment of environmental, historic and cultural impacts. Of those properties in Sampson, more than 80 percent have given their permission to Dominion to survey, Thompson noted.

Regardless of the final path, Thompson pointed to the potential of boosted property tax revenues and economic development activity, as well as economic activity for local businesses during construction and operation. Swope echoed those statements.

The Board of Commissioners praised the project, thanking Thompson and others for choosing to extend the project into the southeastern part of the state.

“This is a great day for Sampson County and eastern North Carolina,” Commissioner Billy Lockamy said.

“This is one more big step for eastern North Carolina,” Swope remarked.

To read more about the project, visit www.dom.com/ACpipeline.

Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

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