FERC issues draft environmental statement for IW-Surry gas pipeline expansion

Published 12:44 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a draft statement on the potential environmental impacts of a proposed natural gas pipeline expansion that will pass through Isle of Wight and Surry counties.

Residents have until June 5 to comment on the draft online or by mail.

Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Canada-based TC Energy unaffiliated with Columbia Gas of Virginia, is seeking federal approval for what the company has termed its “Virginia Reliability Project.” The work entails replacing an existing 1950s-era 12-inch pipeline that passes through Isle of Wight, Surry and Southampton counties, and the city of Suffolk, with a 24-inch one to meet growing demand for natural gas across Hampton Roads.

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FERC solicited public comments in 2022 ahead of drafting an April 2023 environmental impact statement that will inform its decision as to whether the project is in the public’s interest to proceed.

Much like the state-level “certificate of public need” process Riverside Health Systems went through in 2021 and 2022 to secure permission to build a 50-bed hospital in Isle of Wight County, the federal Natural Gas Act requires companies to obtain a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from FERC before they’re allowed to build new pipelines or expand existing ones.

The draft statement predicts that with mitigation measures, there would be “some adverse environmental impacts” but “reduced to less than significant levels.”

The draft states project workers would use a horizontal directional drill to cross the Rattlesnake Swamp, Villines Swamp and Farm Pond in Isle of Wight County, as well as the Terrapin Swamp in Surry County. It will also cross the Isle of Wight County-owned Blackwater property, which consists of 2,507 acres of forestland along the Blackwater River open by one-day or annual permits for hunting and other outdoor activities.

There would be six private wells in Isle of Wight within 150 of the Virginia Reliability Project workspace, according to the draft statement, and one private well within three feet in Surry.

The work is to pass within 1.4 miles of the approved but not yet operational 20-megawatt, 193-acre Solidago solar farm in Isle of Wight near the county courthouse, and would pass roughly 2.6 miles from the Align RNG biogas processing facility approved for Surry County last year at the Surry-Sussex county line.

The Isle of Wight Family Campground near the Villines Swamp is also within 0.1 miles of the work area.

The draft statement can be downloaded from https://ferc.gov/news-events/news/ferc-staff-issues-draft-environmental-impact-statement-deis-virginia-reliability.

The project has already drawn opposition from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an environmental group that sent representatives to Suffolk in March to air concerns over the project’s proximity to the Great Dismal Swamp, Chesapeake Bay, Nansemond River and public schools. Former Surry County Supervisor Michael Drewry, in an April 3 YouTube video, has also taken issue with the project’s proximity to his family-owned agritourism farm.

Comments can be filed using the eComment feature on www.ferc.gov under the link to FERC Online, or by using the eFiling feature on FERC’s website, also under the FERC Online link. Paper comments referencing docket No. CP22-503-000 or CP 22-502-000 can be mailed via the U.S. Postal Service to Kimberly D. Bose, secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St. NE, Room 1A, Washington, D.C. 20426. Submissions sent by any other carrier must be addressed to Kimberly D. Bose, secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 12225 Wilkins Ave., Rockville, MD 20852.

Mary O’Driscoll, a spokeswoman for FERC, told The Smithfield Times in February that FERC plans to issue a final environmental impact statement on Sept. 15. FERC and other agencies will then have until Dec. 16 to issue federal authorizations for the project.