By Nigam Trivedi, Lehigh University
In recent years, natural gas has been touted as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to both non-renewable and renewable energy sources. Utilities hold strong incentives to build for natural gas supply where they can, and Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline is no exception. In fact, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLP boasts a myriad of supporters in the form of state government officials, private companies and state-level organizations from West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
The pipeline’s stated goal is to replace coal power to help reduce carbon emissions. The pipeline plan, however, is not without some significant drawbacks and dangers. In order to construct this pipeline, Dominion Energy has asked for, and has been granted, a right of way through residential homes. The construction of such a pipeline not only gives the corporation the power to supersede ownership rights of so many homeowners, but it also presents a significant safety risk to them as well.
Heidi Cochran of Nelson County, Virginia, has been struggling against Dominion for more than two years to keep the ACP off of her property. Dominion insists on the safety of the pipeline that would run underneath her home. However, one employee of the utility informed her that in the event of an explosion, its radius would measure at 1,100 feet from one side of the pipe, and that such an explosion would set any buildings in the vicinity ablaze. Cochran’s home would stand about 50 feet from this leg of the ACP.
Such catastrophes are not relegated to the imagination, as a fire triggered by the explosion of an underground natural gas pipeline destroyed a block of a San Francisco suburb in 2010. It is worth emphasizing that an explosion such as this carries with it the risk of fatalities as well as significant financial costs of property damage. Solar and wind farms, by comparison, do not present such a risk.
Furthermore, in the aftermath of a pipeline explosion, energy dependent customers would be bereft of that much power until Dominion mustered up the capital to reconstruct it. A wind farm or a solar farm would have the distinct advantage of a decentralized generation layout; a hit to one turbine or a few PV panels wouldn’t knock out miles of power, whereas a break anywhere in the pipeline very well could.
As Dominion continues to insist that the construction of an interstate natural gas pipeline is the quickest path to a cleaner energy future, one must realize that it is not necessarily the safest and most environmentally friendly one. Energy consumers will continue to lose the opportunity to effectively use their own naturally occurring resources while they simultaneously find their property eaten up by a utility that seems to be willing to build at the expense of the consumer.
In his next post in this series, Nigam will explore the pipeline and eminent domain issues surrounding it.