Environmental groups and landowners are challenging plans for a 55-mile natural gas pipeline to be constructed from Spartanburg County to Greenwood County as government regulators consider issuing approval.
The pipeline proposed by Dominion Resources Services is unneeded and would benefit only the company and its customers in the Lowcountry while Upstate residents would lose private property and bear the brunt of its impact, according to Upstate Forever and the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.
Dominion officials say the pipeline, part of their Transco to Charleston Project, will help serve increasing demand and support economic development with clean-burning fuel.
The project is pending a decision to be issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
There is no statutory timeframe by which that decision must be made, according to FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen, though Jan. 17 was a date suggested by FERC staff for other federal agencies to issue opinions.
Construction could begin once Dominion obtains FERC approval and related authorizations, including from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
That would needlessly negatively and permanently impact hundreds of acres, dozens of bodies of water and drinking-water suppliers in the Woodruff Roebuck Water District, the city of Clinton and the city of Newberry, according to Shelley Robbins, a project manager with Upstate Forever, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural resources and fostering responsible economic development.
“Our Upstate natural resources already face so many challenges as we try to balance growth and our own needs,” Robbins said. “An unnecessary project that threatens our water while also taking away private property is simply unacceptable. FERC needs to hear from us and stop rubber-stamping these pipelines. We strongly encourage Upstate citizens to tell FERC not to approve this project.”
Greenville residents Scott and Neel Hipp, who with their children own more than 900 acres near Cross Hill, would see the pipeline cross their land, though they’ve fought its construction from the outset. It would cover more than a linear mile on their property.
“Although they may claim it is only 8 acres, it will have a negative impact on the entire tract,” Neel Hipp said. “I resent the potential danger of highly flammable natural gas and the possible environmental impact on our land, including our possible liability for something Dominion causes. I have been told that this project doesn’t represent the hazard of other petroleum products, but talk is cheap. I resent being told I have to comply and have no choice about it. I object to the impact on the future developmental value of this land.”
If no agreement between the Hipps and Dominion is reached, eminent domain could force the family to turn over the land.
Dominion already has reached agreements with about 60-percent of the easements required for the project, according to Dominion spokesperson Kristen Beckham. The company is in the process of selecting a construction contractor, procuring materials and seeking federal, state and local permits to begin construction in early 2017.
“Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission’s customers will have increased access to domestic sources of clean-burning fuel, making their businesses more secure and supporting the economic health of the region and the regional environment,” Beckham said. “Spartanburg, Laurens, Greenwood, Newberry, Dorchester and Dillon counties will benefit from additional tax revenue, and this project will help position and enhance South Carolina’s opportunity to recruit future economic development projects.”
The pipeline could be complete by the end of 2017. It calls for a permanent 50-foot right-of-way easement along its length.
“Reliable access to natural gas will provide lasting economic benefits for South Carolina,” Beckham said. “As utilities and industries are using more natural gas, additional infrastructure is needed to meet the demand. This project will provide the natural gas needed to heat and power homes and businesses and contribute to cleaner air in our communities.”
Upstate Forever and SCELP, the nonprofit public-interest law firm with an office newly opened in Greenville, say the pipeline simply isn’t needed, and they say it stands to negatively affect 255 acres of agricultural, forested and residential land while crossing bodies of water 73 times, presenting environmental damage and risk.
Following an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to authorize the pipeline facilities, filed in March, FERC issued an environmental assessment that found no significant impact.
Upstate Forever and SCELP are challenging that finding and calling for FERC to require a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement.
“In my experience with these projects, the agencies and the permittee always try to avoid preparing an Environmental Impact Statement,” said Michael Corley, SCELP’s Upstate coordinator and staff attorney. “I’m disappointed but not too surprised because it’s a battle that we’ve had to fight before.”
The project is to include about 55 miles of 12-inch-diameter pipeline underground from Moore to Chappells — only about 14-percent of which would be located with existing electric transmission or other rights-of-way — as well as about five miles of 4-inch-diameter pipeline in Dillon County.
Associated pipeline support facilities would be included above-ground, and the existing Moore Compressor Station in Spartanburg County would have two new 1,400-horsepower compressor units installed.
“The Upstate already bears the brunt of energy infrastructure in this state between existing interstate pipelines and large interstate transmission lines,” Robbins said. “This project doesn’t benefit the Upstate, and it isn’t even needed in the Lowcountry, especially with the VC Summer nuclear units coming online.”
Robbins said groups could continue to fight the pipeline’s construction even if it’s approved by FERC.
Corley encouraged Upstate residents to contact FERC through its website, ferconline.ferc.gov, and reference project CP16-98-000 to share concerns, and comments to DHEC can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’ve fought a lot of these legal battles on environmental permits, and the best way for them to be defeated is for there to be a large vocal opposition from the public,” Corley said. “The law is what the law is, but unless you have the backing of the public and an outcry that the public does not want to see it, it’s tough to defeat projects like this. It feels to me like that opposition is building here among landowners, among general members of the public and maybe even eventually among the people that are involved in local government.”