It died six months ago, and its burial will remain intact.
That doesn’t mean the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will rest in peace anytime soon. The West Virginia wetlands and mountain ranges disturbed by the project won’t, either.
The restoration plan that Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC proposed in a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission made public Tuesday after developers canceled the $8 billion project in July amid legal and regulatory challenges details a nearly three-year time frame for concluding cleanup along the West Virginia portion of the pipeline route through Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties.
The pipeline would have transported natural gas supplies from West Virginia to public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina and was designed to span 600 miles.
West Virginia will be the last of the three states to see cleanup and restoration begin, according to the plan. Cleanup is scheduled to begin in West Virginia in April 2022 and finish in December 2022, with a seeding and mulching phase taking place from May 2022 to January 2023 and a monitoring and maintenance phase lasting from May 2022 until November 2023.
But in Virginia and North Carolina, all three phases are slated to start before the end of 2021.
The project sequencing is mostly based on weather conditions, according to Aaron Ruby, media relations manager for Dominion Energy, which partnered with Duke Energy in developing and later canceling the project.
“We’ll start in the south this fall and then make our way north the following spring once it’s warmer in West Virginia,” Ruby said in an email.
The proposed later start for the Mountain State disappointed Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. The conservation group opposed the ACP, joining individuals and other environmental groups in voicing concerns about the impact of a 42-inch pipeline crossing through steep slopes, hundreds of streams and the Monongahela National Forest before continuing into Virginia and North Carolina.
“I would hope we’d get more attention more quickly,” Rosser said.
Rosser is also concerned about properly controlling erosion in the restoration effort.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection cited developers of the pipeline in 2018 for failing to control erosion on an Upshur County construction site, which sediment-laden water migrated from.
“What we’ve seen in other pipelines even smaller than this one is land subsidence or landslides, a catastrophic effect,” Rosser said. “[It’s] not just a runoff effect but a whole side of a mountain running down into a stream. Stabilization and revegetation, it’s really important that it’s done and done quickly.”
The restoration plan notes that work in steep West Virginia terrain may require cut-and-fill grading to create a flat surface for vehicles and equipment, a process that usually requires additional workspace and stabilization efforts.
Temporary sediment barriers, including reinforced silt fence and straw bales, will be set up following clearing to prevent disturbed sediment from moving off the construction workspace, Atlantic Coast Pipeline said in the filing, reporting that it had developed measures to help reduce slips on steep slopes and incorporate permit requirements from the state DEP, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, FERC, and the U.S. Forest Service.
No buried pipe is scheduled for removal. Pipe will instead be abandoned in place to avoid further land disturbance, Ruby said, adding that developers had secured landowner agreements allowing them to leave the pipe in place on all the properties where it was installed.
Most of the installed pipeline is in West Virginia, according to the restoration plan. Of the 31.4 miles of pipe that were installed, 21.8 miles are in West Virginia, which had a higher incidence of disturbances such as pipeline installation, timber felled, clearing and grading than Virginia and North Carolina.
Of the project’s 92.8 miles through West Virginia, only 32.1 miles were left undisturbed, a much smaller undisturbed area compared to Virginia and North Carolina.
About two-thirds of land tracts that the project crosses have had no ground disturbance or tree-felling activities, according to the restoration plan, which noted that Atlantic Coast Pipeline had contacted 154 of the 600 landowners with felled trees on their property to discuss tree processing and restoration activities. Of the 154 contacted, 101 will allow felled trees be left in place and have signed easement amendment agreements, according to the filing.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline plans to keep the easement agreements that it had on landowners’ properties, including those secured through eminent domain. Ruby said that the company reached voluntary easement agreements with more than 95% of landowners.
“We purchased the easements at fair value, so we plan to keep them,” Ruby said.
Rosser questioned why Atlantic Coast Pipeline would keep the easements.
“[W]ould they hand those over to someone, another company at some point?” Rosser said. “Would they have plans to develop another pipeline on those right-of-ways?”
The company will not compensate landowners who have filed legal challenges to recoup costs that they claim they incurred due to the project.
“Landowners have been fairly compensated for access to their property and any work that was done,” Ruby said.
Proponents of the project said it would be an economic boon for West Virginia. In a joint statement, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said that the pipeline supported more than 17,000 jobs.
But one of Rosser’s biggest takeaways after reading the restoration plan is that nothing would have been disturbed for naught had Atlantic Coast Pipeline held off construction until legal battles over permits were resolved.
“It didn’t need to happen in the first place,” Rosser said.