Jobs, Dollars, and the Safety Of Virginia's Natural Gas Pipelines

As the race is on to build three natural gas pipelines through the Heart of Virginia, residents still have a lot of questions.

Concerns about money, jobs, and the safety of a natural gas pipeline running in your backyard. Governor Terry McAuliffe shares those concerns, but believes pipelines, like Dominion's Atlantic Coast Pipeline, are a part of Virginia's new economy.

McAuliffe was all smiles on September 2nd, as he stood side-by-side with executives from Dominion Power, endorsing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. McAuliffe and Dominion CEO Tom Farrell touted the riches Virginia will reap, thanks to the ACP. Farrell proclaimed "The benefits of the project to the Commonwealth are clear: Thousands of construction jobs, Five Billion Dollars in privately funded capital investment."

The numbers Farrell quotes come from a report conducted by the Chmura Economics Firm in Richmond. In the Chmura report, funded by Dominion, construction spending on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through 2019 would directly support just under 5-thousand jobs, with an additional 38-hundred jobs supported indirectly - things like vendors or suppliers. That's around 1.4 billion dollars in spending in Virginia alone.

But how many of these jobs will actually be filled by Virginians? Constance Brennan, chair of Nelson County's Board of Supervisors, is skeptical on the employment impact in her county, saying "We imagine that they would be bringing in their engineers and construction people that know how to do this. I don't think we have a great wealth of people here in Nelson County that know how to build a pipeline."

Natalie Cox from EQT Energy, the company behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline, doesn't try to dispute that, although while she says "It's true, in any type of major construction process, particularly in pipelines, there is a need for specialized, highly technical skill set, that could come from out of state.", she does say Virginians could be working on the line. Cox also says the economic benefits of spending with vendors and local retailers for resources that are necessary for construction, can only benefit the Commonwealth.

While that may be EQT's plan, Governor McAuliffe insists local workers will be working on Dominion's pipeline. When pressed, he insisted "Local jobs - oh no no no. I've had long discussions with Dominion, these are going to be local jobs, I've been very insistent on that".

Local or not, workers will be on the pipelines. But, for how long?

The Chmura report says once the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is operational in 2019, the number of jobs plummets. From 5-thousand workers, to just 39 directly working on the pipeline. Those numbers don't add up to Constance Brennan, saying "You know, it was misleading, I think, in a certain respect because - sure, there may some jobs initially during the construction phase, but after that, what jobs?"

Governor McAuliffe looks at it in a different way.

During a stop in Appomattox earlier in the month, McAuliffe said the pipelines give Virginia an advantage in recruiting companies to the Commonwealth. "What it'll allow me to do as Governor, just like what we're doing here, I can compete against ANY manufacturing company in the globe, and bring them here to Virginia."

While in Appomattox, the Governor boasted about what pipelines can do.

But the people here already know about the power of a gas pipeline.

In 2008, a gas pipeline from Williams Company exploded, shooting flames into the Appomattox sky, leaving the Earth scorched, and leveling two nearby homes. One eyewitness described it, saying "It looked like it was coming at you, like it would consume you any second."

Williams was fined almost one million dollars, for negligence. In this instance, amazingly, no one was hurt.

EQT says modern pipeline science will keep lines, like the Mountain Valley, from deteriorating like the one in Appomattox in 2008. She elaborated "Once the pipeline is operational, we've got state of the art technologies that monitor, in real-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's simply to make sure if we need to react, we can react quickly."

Joao Barroso, a retired Chinese diplomat, had planned to move his family to West Virginia, right along the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

His idea of the American dream, he says, is being overrun by Dominion. And he doesn't see a happy ending for his family, lamenting "I don't think I'm going to risk moving my family to that land. That land for me, if that happens, it's condemned. So yeah, if Dominion comes across and tells me 'I'll buy the whole property.' Ok, I'll consider that. But, other than that, this is a disaster, as far as I'm concerned."

While a majority of counties, like Nelson, have officially announced their opposition to the Atlantic Coast pipeline, Buckingham County's Board of Supervisors announced in late September they passed a resolution in favor of the ACP.

Cassandra Stish from the 5th District voiced her opinion on her Facebook page, saying the County wants to be open to all potential economic and financial benefits the pipeline may afford for her community.

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