Homeowners and communities are unprepared for an invasion of their cherished private yards and public spaces.
The Mid-Atlantic region is facing an expansion of natural gas transport infrastructure that threatens communities’ health, safety and homes. With increased hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), the gas industry needs supporting infrastructure. Beyond drilling wells, energy companies are building compressor stations and laying thousands of miles of pipelines. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America has estimated that from 2011 to 2035 the industry must build nearly 15,000 miles of subsidiary lines — each year.
It is hard to ignore the compressors and pipelines extending quickly through the Mid-Atlantic. Last month, Dominion Power gained the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a plan to convert a dormant LNG import facility at Cove Point on the Chesapeake Bay into a major exporting facility for fracked gas. With the FERC’s green light, Dominion will start exports from the Lusby, Md., facility in 2017.
Now, residents are engaged in battles to protect their families and neighborhoods: Until 2012, Lusby was a peaceful town of more than 20,000 people who happily raised children in a safe and quiet environment. Dominion’s plans will turn their lives upside down, threatening quality of life, health, safety and property values.
Families are distraught. Approximately 360 homes lie within 4,500 feet of the site, to which large trucks will regularly haul heavy equipment and construction will generate noise. While an increase in pollution is undisputed, Dominion has easily satisfied the FERC’s pollution-abatement requirement by buying clean-air credits from elsewhere in Maryland — which will not alleviate the toxic conditions around the facility.
Moreover, the possibility of an explosion is undeniable. Homeowners know that, unlike with oil-based fires that burn locally, an LNG fire could trigger an explosion that could race along the pipeline.
In Myersville, Md., citizens learned in 2011 that Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) proposed to build a noisy compressor station less than a mile from the town’s only elementary school. The 16,000-horsepower compressor is expected to emit 23.5 tons of nitrogen oxides and 53,892 tons of greenhouse gases every year.
Myersville’s residents and officials have been battling to stop the compressor. The town’s council rejected DTI’s request for a zoning variance, but the FERC authorized the project.
The threats from gas industry juggernaut may seem to be local rather than regional. They are not.
This could be your actual back yard: In Nelson County, Va., DTI notified homeowner Charlotte Rea of plans to survey her property, which lies along the proposed route of a 550-mile pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. Rea was advised that DTI may use eminent domain if homeowners resist. Her reaction is unnerving: “It’s a violation,” she told a reporter in Charlottesville. “It’s a desecration. It makes you feel totally powerless.” While eminent domain takings may sometimes be necessary for energy infrastructure serving our needs, they support Dominion’s profit-driven exports.
Communities must mobilize to protect themselves. If your home or town lies in the path of pipelines or near a planned compressor, you will have little warning: Lusby’s residents did not see the notice of Dominion’s application in the Federal Register — and it allowed parties only two weeks to intervene. To be sure, corporations have rights, and businesses may pursue profits. But the playing field should be level for homeowners.
Communities must wrest back local control. They must demand that states repeal laws that enable the gas industry to invade private property and challenge state laws preempting local lawmaking. They should pass bills making people’s rights trump corporate privileges. Unless we rise up and are vigilant, this may be in our own back yards soon.
The writer, a lawyer, has worked on U.S.-funded democracy programs and local economic development in Eastern Europe.
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