By Steve Kiggins
The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been scrapped after years of legal challenges and construction delays.
The project’s developers, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, announced the pipeline’s cancellation in a joint statement on Sunday, citing “increasing legal uncertainty” — less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court approved a critical permit that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice celebrated as an “exciting” victory.
“This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States,” Dominion CEO Tom Farrell and Duke CEO Lynn Good said in the statement. “Until these issues are resolved, the ability to satisfy the country’s energy needs will be significantly challenged.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, expressed disappointment in the project's cancellation in a statement, calling it "yet another reminder of why it is critically important we work together to find a responsible balance between the environment and economy."
The 600-mile natural gas project had faced opposition since its 2014 introduction from environmental advocates, landowners and activists who argued that the pipeline would scar pristine landscapes while also questioning its necessity.
After the cancellation was announced, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway reached a nearly $10 billion deal to buy Dominion's natural gas transmission and storage assets. Berkshire Hathaway Energy will pay $4 billion in cash and take on $5.7 million of existing debt.
"Today's announcement further reflects Dominion Energy's focus on its premier state-regulated, sustainability-focused utilities that operate in some of the most attractive regions in the county," Farrell said Sunday in a news release. "Over the past several years the company has taken a series of steps — including mergers with Questar Corp. and SCANA Corp. and the divestiture of Blue Racer Midstream and merchant generation assets — to increase materially the state-regulated nature of our profile, enhance the customer experience, strengthen our balance sheet, and improve transparency and predictability."
Shares of Dominion stock had fallen by more than 10% to $74.20 as of noon Monday. It closed down 11% at $73.60.
The proposed $8 billion pipeline, which would have crossed under the Appalachian Trail and carried natural gas from West Virginia into North Carolina and Virginia, had been touted by supporters as a boost to economic development.
“This is a victory for all the communities that were in the path of this risky and unnecessary project. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was wrong from the start,” said Greg Buppert, senior attorney for the Virginia-based Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented more than a dozen conservation organizations who stood against the project, including the Sierra Club.
Virginia Democratic Delegate Elizabeth Guzman credited "the voices of everyday people and grassroots organization" for driving the energy companies into submission.
“Do not discount the magic of activism," said Guzman, co-founder of the Virginia Green New Deal Coalition, whose mission is to create sustainable jobs while addressing climate change and restoring the state's economy, according to its website.
The Columbia-headquartered S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce also hailed the decision, calling it "great news for S.C. coastal communities and renewable energy" in a statement.
"The increased reliance on natural gas has delayed what we really need to address the energy needs of this county — investment in renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency," the statement read. "The most immediate impact of the ACP abandonment is a sigh of relief by South Carolina coastal communities. Many of our coastal residents have been properly concerned that the ACP would be brought into South Carolina and terminating on our coast."
In his statement, Manchin contended that project developers took "meaningful steps" to ensure environmental protection and lamented the loss of "good paying construction and manufacturing jobs for hard working West Virginians."
Justice, the West Virginia governor, thanked the Supreme Court for “doing the right thing” in a celebratory news release.
“This was absolutely the correct decision and it’s exciting beyond belief because it means we’ll be able to bring in thousands of jobs and countless opportunities for our hard-working West Virginians,” Justice said. “Not to mention, the multiplier effect that the increase in natural gas production will give our entire state is off the charts.”