Several recent court rulings appear to have stalled Dominion Energy’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In considering this project, we must reflect on important points that go beyond Virginia: first, the lessons from Hurricane Harvey show the risks of concentrating so much of America’s oil and gas infrastructure on the Gulf Coast; and second, the link between New York’s decision on a gas pipeline and regional access to natural gas for New England during our recent cold winter.
Full disclosure: I was US Ambassador to Azerbaijan from 1994-1997 when the groundwork was laid for what became the 1,760-km Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. This pipeline crosses three national borders and through environmentally sensitive regions where local populations had legitimate concerns about the construction and operation of such a massive project. Completing the project successfully required the successful engagement of the stakeholders – governments, companies, local populations – in a good faith effort to achieve the goal of building the pipeline while addressing legitimate environmental and related concerns.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would enhance US energy security, by decreasing threats from weather events like Hurricane Harvey that expose vulnerabilities to our traditional energy infrastructure concentrated on the Gulf Coast. Pipelines– especially for natural gas – located in our region will help enhance the resilience of our national energy infrastructure system.
Just this past winter we saw the consequences of New York Governor Cuomo’s decision to block a gas pipeline project that would have provided gas to customers in New England. Because the Jones Act prevents shipments of LNG from the US Gulf Coast via foreign-flag LNG vessels., New England was forced to import LNG from Russia to meet its winter power needs.
My experience in Azerbaijan convinces me it is possible to address the legitimate concerns of Virginia property holders and ratepayers (and taxpayers I might add) in the case of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This process can engage pipeline critics willing to discuss how security, reliability, and environmental protection can be enhanced. About 32% of US electrical power was generated by natural gas in 2017 so this is an important energy issue for the people of Virginia and of the region generally. The US needs the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.