Updated 6:35 p.m.
North Carolina environmental regulators have issued a key water permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It's one of the last permits needed before construction begins in the state.
Virginia-based Dominion Energy is leading development of the 600-mile pipeline, which will carry gas from fracking wells in West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. Duke Energy is a co-owner of the $5 billion project.
The state Department of Environmental Quality says the water quality certification comes comes with several requirements. Those include monitoring and protecting waterways, sending the pipeline under the Neuse River bed, instead of resting on the river bottom, testing private wells near the pipeline – both before and after construction.
"DEQ left no stone unturned in our exhaustive eight month review of every aspect of the 401 application,” DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. “Our job doesn’t end with the granting of the permit but continues as we hold the company accountable to live up to its commitments.”
In a statement, Atlantic Coast Pipeline spokesman Aaron Ruby said the permit is one of the final approvals needed before pre-construction activities can begin in the state.
"After more than three years of comprehensive study, representing the most thorough environmental review of any infrastructure project in state history, the agency concluded that the project will preserve North Carolina’s water quality under stringent state standards," he said.
Also today from West Virginia environmental regulators approved a construction stormwater permit.
Dominion is still waiting for an air quality permit for a compressor station in Northampton County, and several stormwater permits in Nash and Cumberland counties. The pipeline's northern North Carolina segment also needs approval for an erosion and sediment control plan, according to DEQ.
The pipeline also is awaiting a federal water quality permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a Virginia erosion and sediment control permit. Once all those permits are in hand, the project will get construction approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
A Dominion spokesman said the company expects to have all the approvals in time to to start construction in early spring. The pipeline would begin service in late 2019, he said.
Also Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that Dominion, Duke and the pipeline would contribute $57.8 million to a fund for environmental mitigation initiatives. Those are to include "reducing the carbon footprint and expansion of renewable energy sources. Funds can also be used to ensure that local communities benefit economically from the pipeline by having have access to natural gas from the pipeline." No further details were announced.
Opponents of the pipeline criticized the permit approval. Jim Warren of NCWARN called the project "a loser" for North Carolinians. In a statement, he said:
"The ACP may well be stopped in the courts or on the ground, but Duke and Dominion keep wasting billions of dollars and precious years going in exactly the wrong direction – at a time when global heat and climate disruption are accelerating beyond predictions and when cheaper, cleaner energy technologies are outpacing dirty fuel in non-monopoly markets both in terms of cost and job creation."
Amy Adams, a former North Carolina water quality regulator now working with the environmental group Appalachian Voices, said: “It will be impossible for the agency to do all of the monitoring and enforcement to prevent widespread damage”
See the certification document on the DEQ website.